Breaking news: Landmark victory for victims of the tobacco industry in Quebec!
I made these sketches last winter, while observing the Blais-Létourneau tobacco trials here in Montreal. You may check back here and read about my experience as a first time court room reporter, and my initial impressions on the sides of the argument.
Yesterday afternoon Justice Brian Riordan (sketched above) published his 236 page ruling – coming down clearly against the tobacco companies. He says:
“Knowingly exposing people to the type of dangers that the Companies knew cigarettes represented without any precaution signals being sent is beyond irresponsible at any time of the Class Period. It is also intentionally negligent.”
So there it is. A straightforward conclusion that the tobacco companies knew they were poisoning people, that they intentionally hid the truth, and profited from those lies of omission.
What this actually means for the industry, and those who are seriously ill remains to be seen – but here’s the meat of the ruling:
Justice Riordan awarded $6.86 billion in moral damages to the almost 100,000 Quebec smokers whose serious illness makes them eligible to be members of this class. Once interest and other charges are added, the total could be $15.5 billion.
Those who have lung or throat cancer will receive $100,000 if they started smoking before 1976 and $80,000 if they started smoking after 1976. Those with emphysema will receive $30,000 if they started smoking before 1976 and $24,000 if after. Once interest is considered, these amounts could be doubled or more.
I believe this means that it is the justice’s opinion, that the warning labels on the packages are insufficient defense – probably they came too late after knowing about the credible threat. (I have not read the report in detail, but this would be my guess as to why complying with labeling was rejected as a defense).
I must also assume that the ‘everyone knows smoking kills’ argument did not absolve the industry. Considering their knowledge that people could not overcome their addictions, despite the warnings and jokes about ‘cancer sticks’ and ‘coffin nails’, it’s not sufficient to say ‘don’t do this thing that I know you can’t resist doing and that I am so seductively advertising to you’.
And then there is the ‘well, motorcycles kill, and we still sell motorcycles’ defense – which apparently also did not hold water. I would imagine the logic is that motorcycles have the potential to be used safely, given proper precautions – whereas there is no safe use for cigarettes.
So damn! We kind of all knew this, but it’s rather incredible to see it happen in court.
I’m excited to see what comes next. Does this mean then that the sale of cigarettes will be banned in Quebec? What will happen at the appeal? I will be watching with curiosity. I’m not sure I will have the opportunity to make any more drawings on the subject – but it was tremendous to be able to be there sketching on that historic occasion.