Big Tobacco facing Class Action in Quebec

by John McKiggan

In 1993 Jeffrey Wigand was interviewed as part of an investigative report by 60 Minutes. His efforts to hold the tobacco industry accountable became the subject of a Hollywood movie starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

Last week he took another major step toward bringing down big tobacco, when he testified in a Montreal class action that cigarette companies have been downplaying the potential health risks of their product.

Biggest Class Action in Canadian History?

Wigand’s testimony was part of a $27 billion class-action filed on behalf of 1.8 million smokers in Quebec against Canada’s big three cigarette companies: Imperial Tobacco, JTI MacDonald and Rothmans Benson & Hedges. After Wigand testified in a similar class action against tobacco companies in the United States, the lawsuit resulted in a $368-billion settlement.

If the Quebec lawsuit is successful, it could potentially be the biggest class-action in Canadian history.

Deny, Deny, Deny

Wigand testified that the tobacco industry knew of the health risks associated with tobacco use but encouraged what they called “friction” about the scientific understanding with the public. He said they engaged in obfuscation, criticism and denial of the facts.

Blame the Smokers

Michel Descoteaux, a retired tobacco spokesman who headed Imperial’s public-relations department for over two-decades also testified in the Quebec trial. His evidence was that cigarette users must have been “blind” if they thought that smoking was not harmful.

He pointed to reports going back to the 1960s that showed the negative health implications of tobacco.

Industry Just Realized Risks

Descoteaux worked for the tobacco industry for almost 40 years, from 1963 until he retired in 2002. According to The Huffington Post Descoteaux claimed the industry understanding of the potential health effects of tobacco evolved over time; from their initial view that there were no ill effects from tobacco to an understanding that there may be health risks.

According to Descouteaux it wasn’t until the year 2000 that Big Tobacco realized there may be health risks associated with smoking.


You have to wonder if Descouteaux was able to keep a straight face during his testimony.

What do you think?

Were smokers just willfully blind to the fact that tobacco was bad for their health? If so, should they be entitled to compensation for developing lung cancer, emphysema and other health problems?

Were the big tobacco companies deliberately misleading the public? Were new tobacco users mislead into trying the product until they became addicted and unable to quit?

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