A judge has awarded more than $12 billion to Quebec smokers in a case that pitted them against three giant tobacco companies. The case is believed to be the biggest class-action lawsuit ever seen in Canada. Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan said in his decision that by choosing not to inform health authorities or the public directly of what they knew, the companies chose profits over the health of their customers. The judgment calls on the companies to issue initial compensation of more than $800 million in the next 60 days, regardless of whether they elect to appeal. The judge will decide at a later date how to distribute those funds. JTI-Macdonald, Imperial Tobacco, and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges say they will appeal.
The Quebec case marked the first time tobacco companies had gone to trial in a civil lawsuit in Canada and involved two separate groups of plaintiffs: some of whom became seriously ill from smoking and others who said they couldn't quit. Riordan denounced the firms' actions. "The companies earned billions of dollars at the expense of the lungs, the throats, and the general well-being of their customers," he wrote. "If the companies are allowed to walk away unscathed now, what would be the message to other industries that today or tomorrow find themselves in a similar moral conflict?" The industry argued people knew about the risks of smoking and that the products were sold legally and with federal government approval and strict regulation.