EDITORIAL-Get ready to sue tobacco companies

2014-07-24 18:30:00

If there has ever been a good fight it is the struggle of the anti-tobacco lobby against tobacco companies.  They were fighting against heavy odds.  This is true in other countries too.  The profit-making ethic by definition rebels against even the slightest loss.   When the long-term advantage is considered it makes perfect economic sense to employ massive resources to counter any moves that cut in on the profit-making action.  This is why, for example, Washington is infested with lobbyists.  Legislation that can impact companies negatively have to be stopped at all costs.

 That has been the story of the struggle launched by the anti-tobacco lobby.  The tobacco industry fought back ferociously.  It bought time through stay orders.  It had the bucks and therefore the ability to retain top legal teams to beat down and demoralize its detractors.  Even the Minister of Health was once forced to acknowledge that the tobacco industry had more power.

 And yet, the anti-tobacco lobby scored a significant victory when the Supreme Court determined that tobacco products had to carry pictorial warnings with effect December 31, 2014.  That’s just part of the battle, of course.  There’s only so much that legislation can do. In the end, the most effective blow to the tobacco industry would be abstinence, i.e. a non-smoking society.

 On the other hand, it cannot be said that the anti-tobacco lobby has squeezed out every last advantage that can be obtained through legal action.
 For Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, the court decision (where 60% of the surface area of cigarette packets would have to be covered with pictorial warnings) was only a consolation since the entire Parliament voted for an 80% ‘coverage’.

 It is laudable that the minister has not rested on the lesser laurels.  He has correctly identified that the tobacco industry (like any other industry) needs to be hit where it hurts: profit.

 He said on Thursday that family members of those who had died of smoking-related ailments could and should sue the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) taking a cue from a US Court ruling that Reynolds Tobacco Co. -- that country’s second largest cigarette maker, to pay a record US$23.6 billion (nearly Rs 3000 billion) to the widow of a cancer victim.

 There is a lot that ordinary people can do. One individual took US$ 23.6 billion from the relevant tobacco company.  There are hundreds of thousands of smokers.  Thousands have died and continue to die every day.  Those who die have relations - dependents.  These dependents can and must take the relevant companies to Court.

 The Court decision which offered that compensation package has to be taken as licence to fight back.  It has immense empowering potential.
 The Health Minister has openly said that the ministry was ready to help.  It is incumbent on the general public to seize the opportunity. It is now incumbent on the citizens to gather medical as well as circumstantial evidence relevant to this kind of litigation. 

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