Three cigarette companies in court appealing 2015 landmark Quebec judgment

MONTREAL – After being on the losing end of a $15-billion ruling in 2015, three major tobacco firms began their appeal on Monday in an effort to overturn the historic verdict.

Lawyers for Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and Rothmans-Benson & Hedges began arguments in front of Quebec’s Court of Appeal during hearings that are expected to last until Friday.

In June 2015, Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan ruled that the tobacco companies chose profits over the health of their customers in an lengthy 276-page ruling in a case that what was believed to be the biggest class action in Canada’s history.

The companies were targeted by two separate lawsuits heard at the same time, which were filed in 1998 and only argued in court in 2012.

One lawsuit was started by people who were addicted to cigarettes and couldn’t quit, and the second was brought by those who had suffered from cancer or emphysema.

Some 76 witnesses testified and nearly 43,000 documents were deposited as evidence, including internal tobacco company documents that showed smokers didn’t know or understand the risks associated with cigarettes.

The three cigarette companies argued their customers knew the risks of smoking. Moreover, the firms claimed their products were sold legally under strict regulation by the federal government.

The legal battle is separate from an effort by the province to recoup health-care costs from tobacco firms.

All Canadian provinces have filed medical cost recovery lawsuits seeking compensation for costs stemming from smoking-related disease.

Quebec used legislation adopted in 2009 to bring an ongoing, $60-billion suit against Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and Rothmans-Benson & Hedges.

In May, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear JTI-MacDonald, which was trying to invalidate that provincial legislation.