NEWS RELEASE / COMMUNIQUÉ
FOR RELEASE - MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2006
MORE THAN 100 PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS AND MEDICAL OFFICERS OF HEALTH URGE ONTARIO TO SUE BIG TOBACCO
TORONTO - More than 100 prominent Ontario health officials including 22 medical officers of health, leading experts in medicine and public health, and heads of health agencies and institutions pressed Premier Dalton McGuinty again today to ensure that the province of Ontario join British Columbia and other provinces and hold the tobacco industry accountable for the massive disinformation campaign it waged in Canada over several decades, a campaign that led to tens of thousands of premature tobacco deaths. As part of the accountability process, they want Ontario to sue tobacco manufacturers to recover health care costs to the province alleged to have been caused by tobacco industry fraud and negligence.
It has been estimated that any claim related to tobacco industry misconduct would be in the tens of billions of dollars. In 2000, the Mike Harris administration claimed that the Ontario government's losses from the tobacco fraud were US$40 billion. Current annual losses for Ontario from tobacco-caused health care costs are pegged at CAN$1.7 billion.
The widespread support for the province taking legal action is revealed in a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty dated April 11, 2006, a letter released to the media for the first time today. The letter is signed by more than 100 Ontario officials. They are making the letter public because members of the group are concerned that a failure by the province to act would, once again, allow tobacco manufacturers to evade responsibility for their illegal, predatory marketing. The release of the April 11 letter will show the overwhelming demand in the health community for the tobacco industry to be brought to justice.
"The McGuinty government has shown real leadership on the tobacco file, for which we are grateful," said Dr. David McKeown, Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health. "But it may not yet recognize that there can be important public health benefits from a health care cost recovery lawsuit. Litigation is not just about billions of dollars that rightfully belong to the province. It is also about seeking justice for the victims of tobacco, for the smokers that the industry addicted as children, and for the deterrence of similar misconduct by these companies and others. Also of great importance, it is about the disclosure of internal documents that would reveal the industry's repugnant behaviour in Canada."
"It is critical that the public understand the enormity of the tobacco industry's misdeeds and its role in the creation and perpetuation of the tobacco epidemic," said Eric LeGresley, a lawyer, consultant to the Mayo Clinic and an expert in tobacco industry documents obtained in litigation. "The industry lied about the risks of its products, about addiction and about the manipulation of nicotine. The disclosure of documents that would accompany litigation and expose this behaviour would be enormously beneficial to public health."
"The disinformation campaign and the failure to warn which has led to our recommendation to litigate could prove to be the largest and most destructive fraud in Canadian history," said David Hill, Senior Partner, Perley-Robertson, Hill and McDougall, Ottawa. "It would be a terrible indictment of our system of justice and the rule of law if the province of Ontario failed to hold an industry accountable when it caused tens of thousands of deaths and wreaked financial havoc on the province's health care system."
"Fifty states settled with the American tobacco industry for US$246 billion in response to litigation over negligence and fraud that was virtually identical to the predatory conduct that took place in British Columbia and Ontario," said Garfield Mahood, Executive Director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. "It would be difficult for Ontario to explain how 50 states and several Canadian provinces stepped up to the plate and demanded the recovery of billions of dollars for fraud while Ontario let such a massive claim disappear into the ether."
"By releasing our letter today," said Dr. Liana Nolan, President, Association of Local Public Health Agencies of Ontario, "we are showing the province that it has massive support for this litigation, that a lawsuit could be a huge win for public health, especially for our kids. When tobacco manufacturers have their backs to the wall, they will agree to public health concessions that it might take years to extract from the normal law reform process."
"To block being sued," said Michael Perley, Director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, "tobacco manufacturers have been travelling around the country claiming that governments are 'senior partners' with the manufacturers in the tobacco industry. Governments like Ontario must not remain silent in the presence of the smear. Governments did not run massive disinformation campaigns about the risks of tobacco or claim for decades that there was a 'controversy' over the risks of tobacco. Litigation in this case is all about the pursuit of truth and justice related to the cause of the tobacco epidemic."
"We believe that when the dust settles the Ontario government will join British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and sue to recover these costs," said Dr. Robert Cushman, former Ottawa Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Champlain Health Integration Network. "The government was defrauded of billions of dollars by those responsible for the disinformation campaign. This money is an asset that belongs to all Ontarians. But it has to be returned through litigation. We believe any government practicing stewardship with public money has a responsibility to sue to recover this money. We believe the Ontario government will do the right thing."
The organizations that the signatories of the April 11th letter represent have constituencies that number in the millions. In addition to these organizations, the Ontario Medical Association also wrote to Premier McGuinty demanding that the province sue to recover health care costs.
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Garfield Mahood (416) 928-2900, (416) 964-6279 or cell (416) 451-4285
Michael Perley (416) 340-2992, cell (416) 709-9075