A Canadian court on Monday ordered three tobacco companies to pay about $12 billion in damages to Quebec smokers for failing to warn them about the health risks associated with smoking. The firms reportedly said that they would appeal the ruling, which marks the largest award for damages in the country's history.
The lawsuits were filed by the smokers against Imperial Tobacco Canada, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC; JTI-Macdonald, part of Japan Tobacco Inc; and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, which is a subsidiary of Philip Morris International Inc. The companies reportedly issued a statement on Monday, stating that they disagreed with the ruling by Brian Riordan, a judge at the Quebec Superior Court.
The firms argued that Canadians have been aware of smoking health risks since the 1950s. "That awareness has been reinforced by the health warnings printed on every legal cigarette package for more than 40 years," JTI-Macdonald said in a statement, according to BBC.
The class-action lawsuit, which sought $27 billion in damages, was reportedly filed in 1998, but legal proceedings began only in March 2012.
"It's a big day for victims of tobacco, who have been waiting for about 17 years for this decision. It was a long process -- but arrived at the destination and it's a big victory," Mario Bujold, executive director of the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, reportedly said.
The court ordered Imperial Tobacco Canada to cover 67 percent of the damages; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges to cover 20 percent; and JTI-Macdonald to cover the remaining 13 percent.
Imperial Tobacco Canada, which has been asked to cover the bulk of the damages, said it would appeal against the decision.
"Today's judgment ignores the reality that both adult consumers and governments have known about the risks associated with smoking for decades, and seeks to relieve adult consumers of any responsibility for their actions," Tamara Gitto, vice president of law and general counsel at Imperial Tobacco Canada said, according to Reuters. "We believe there are strong grounds for appeal and we will continue to defend our rights as a legal company."