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Australian government urged to sue tobacco companies

Australian government urged to sue tobacco companies

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First it was Canada and now Australian state and federal governments are being urged to go ahead and sue to tobacco companies. Billions of dollars are being spent in treating tobacco-related diseases and ailments of the general public and some of it could be compensated this way feel experts.

Image Credit: Pe3k / Shutterstock

Image Credit: Pe3k / Shutterstock

Smoking is linked to annual health costs to the tune of $31.5 billion approximately say experts. It is still one of the leading causes of preventable diseases in the country. It has been linked to thousands of deaths that could have been prevented with smoking cessation. The numbers have climbed down from earlier due to government steps to curb tobacco use including plain packaging, ban on advertising, raising public awareness etc.  Legal action against the tobacco companies would keep them under pressure and most importantly recover some of the billions of dollars that have and are being spent on tobacco-related diseases.

Medical Journal of Australia published a commentary written by health experts in their latest issue where they write, “Legal action would clearly pose substantial challenges, but the potential benefits of holding tobacco companies to account through litigation mean that it could play an important role in future Australian tobacco control strategies…Successful litigation could reduce its financial capacity to engage in future activities and undermine any remaining credibility it may have in the policy arena.” Authors Dr Ross MacKenzie, Macquarie University health studies lecturer and Mike Daube, Curtin University’s professor of health policy along with Eric LeGresley, Canadian tobacco control consultant added that this was the right time to sue the tobacco companies as the public would be in favor of this move. Litigation costs however would be high they add.

Canadian province of British Colombia was the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth that sued tobacco companies and won compensations related to tobacco use effects on health in 1988. British Colombia along with five other Canadian provinces in 2012 fought a long hard battle and in 2012 sued tobacco companies for billions of dollars in compensation. According to Dr MacKenzie and his team, this is an attractive option for the governments since the costs of tobacco-related ailments are on an all time high. Further these legal actions would be publicized and also popularize the harmful effects of tobacco use to the general public. The corporate behavior of the tobacco comapnaies would also be out in the open they write. This would all lead to a “denormalisation of smoking in Australia” which means that the government would be able to introduce further public health measures controlling and stopping tobacco use with full public support. Reports suggest that at least 15,000 Australians die every year due to smoking related diseases. However rates of smoking have dropped from 24 percent in 90’s to 12.2 percent in 2016. This was hailed as “one of the big public health successes in our generation,” by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year.

Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has recently announced his plans to sue tobacco firms to compensate for the health damage caused by tobacco use. He had said that this move was to make the state and federal governments revise their present laws and raise the legal age of smoking from 18 years to 21 years.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has now recognized the value of legal action against tobacco companies as a valid step against them. Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, said legal action against the tobacco companies was one of the steps among many that could be taken up along with the anti-smoking advertising campaigns.

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