Big Tobacco’s Big Mistake

Few corporate so called legal “persons” are as heartless a big tobacco. When it comes to crushing their opponents, there is no low they won’t stoop to in their legal tactics, or, for that matter, their threats of violence towards whistle blowers (see The Insider, a movie about former tobacco company executive Jeffrey Wigand) and others who dare cross them.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when they dispatch an army of high priced lawyers to a small claims court in Rimouski Québec with the intention of scaring the shit out of the plaintiff, a small town teacher named Cécelia Létourneau, who decided to take them to court back in ’98, for a lousy 300 shekels (the cost of her nicotine patches, apparently) and her legal fees, which at the time amounted to pittance of $33. To cut a long story short, the suits at Imperial Tobacco where either too scared or too stupid to read the writing on the wall of their legal situation, and decided they would mount a vain rearguard legal action against the growing number of lawsuits being filed against them.

The result? They are now facing a class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of 1.8 million Québec smokers worth a staggering 27 billion dollars in Quebec’s Superior Court! Oops.

Don’t expect a resolution to this matter anytime soon. As Judge Brian Riordan put it (my translation): “we know when it started but we never know when it will finish!” Some experts estimate that we’re looking at a trial that might be as long as two years!

However, we can be certain that, in making their case, the tobacco giants will employ every trick in the book to deceive the public into believing the cornerstone of their classic legal defense, repeated to the press by Imperial’s chief defense lawyer Mistress Suzanne Côté (my translation): ‘It’s a matter of free will and that the illness that the claimants have suffered is not necessarily caused by cigarettes.”

While the negative effects of cigarettes are well documented, the simple causality between the drug and the variety of health problems associated with it can be tricky to prove in court. It’s worth remembering that in order to establish a tort (délit) under our civil code, there generally has to be a causal link between the harm suffered and the damages claimed.

That said, Mme Létourneau’s epiphany moment came when she paid her doctor a visit, and he suggested to her that her problem with quitting wasn’t a lack of will power but rather the addictiveness of the vile weed itself! It is now well established, though denied for years by corrupt tobacco executives and their puppets in government and the scientific community, that not only was her doctor right but that industry chemists like Jeffrey Wigand were being paid by their bosses to find ways of increasing nicotine (the most addictive property in cigarettes) content in their product.

So much for the argument that smoking or not smoking is simply a matter of personal choice.

This pattern of deception and obfuscation of the truth seems to have become the MO of that other corporate monster, big oil, and their notorious attempts to suppress the reality of climate change. Which begs the question: might there be a way that we could take the oil industry to court over the insidious damage that they continue to do to our environment and the health of every living creature on earth?

Then maybe we could expose their lies and the people they pay to repeat them in public the way we have shone a light on the evils of the tobacco business. An evil that I finally extinguished from my life only two years ago after having smoked for roughly 15 years.

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One comment

  • Hi there,

    Would you mind adding a bit more context concerning what is going on politically or historically? Without it, I feel that this piece comes off a bit self-righteous. I hate what these guys have done as much as anyone, and am disgusted by how they’ve tried to conceal the effects of cigarettes over the decades, but I would think that there’s a more constructive conversation that can be had here.

    This could emerge from discussing what can concretely be done to recover the costs related to health care, addiction, false advertising and outright lying, and properly supervise these companies, without an outright ban on the products or seeing these companies as evil boggiemen to be feared and reviled.

    Mentioning things like the US Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, whereby Big Tobacco agreed not to target kids, disband lobbying groups and pay annual damages for health costs, in exchange for immunity from individual tort and class action lawsuits, would help. Or provincial Tobacco Health Care Recovery acts. These are progressive steps, looking to move things forward and not just find a new way of framing the same old Big Bad Guy routine.

    Talking cogently about what people are doing, and the framework within which we can get the present and future damages and help those who really need it, can elevate the conversation, in a way that I think you really can. Love your posts, BTW


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