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Newfoundland and Labrador filed a statement of claim Feb. 8 suing tobacco companies to recover health care costs. (Canadian Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador is moving ahead with a plan to sue the tobacco industry to recover health costs it says are related to tobacco use.  

"In an effort to recover the costs of tobacco-related illnesses and highlight the misrepresentation of tobacco companies, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is moving forward with the proclamation of the Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act," according to a provincial government news release Tuesday.

The Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act was passed by the house of assembly in 2001 when Liberal Leader Roger Grimes was premier.

"The act allows legal action against tobacco companies by permitting the province to sue tobacco companies directly," according to the release.

The province's Justice Department filed a statement of claim in court Tuesday morning, but it does not specify how much money the province hopes it will be awarded by the court.

"Tobacco use costs the province several hundred million dollars annually in both direct health-care costs and indirect costs, including productivity lost due to illness and premature death," provincial Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said in the statement.

A provincial anti-tobacco group is applauding the government's plan.

"The tobacco industry has duped people, it has lied and manipulated. So this move – aside from the government's attempt to get some money back to offset the costs of taking care of sick people due to tobacco use – it gets the message out about the industry and the way that they operate" said Kevin Coady of  the Alliance for Control of Tobacco in St. John's.

Medical research has shown that tobacco use causes lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.

The provincial government has retained the services of local law firm Roebothan McKay Marshall, who will be provided with foreign legal advice from Humphrey, Farrington and McClain of Independence, Mo., experts in tobacco litigation.

Almost every province in Canada has introduced or passed legislation to recover health-care costs from tobacco companies.

In October 2009, Ontario and Quebec also announced that they were suing tobacco companies to try to recover health-care costs associated with the effects of tobacco use. British Columbia was the first province to initiate legislation aimed at recovering health-care costs from tobacco companies.

A similar lawsuit against tobacco companies was pursued by four U.S. states in the mid-1990s. It led to a 50-state agreement in 1999 in which the industry agreed to pay $246 billion US over a 25-year period toward health-care costs that resulted from the use of its products.