The Current

A call for an outright ban on the sale of cigarettes

There are celebrations over a $15 Billion judgement against three tobacco companies, but few are expecting them to roll over. In the U.S., big tobacco argues smoking is a form of free speech and the industry is considered a main distributor of American symbols of freedom. So how do you fight that?
After a 17-year battle with Big Tobacco, there's victory in Quebec, where a court this week awarded billions in damages to the province's smokers. But some say the only real way to butt out smoking, is to outlaw the sale of smokes. (Reuters/Lisi Niesner )
Seventeen years, it's long, eh? But I have my opinion that we were going to win it... and we did.- Lise Blais, 17 years ago, her late husband, Jean-Yves Blais, began a lawsuit culminated in this week's decision 

It is being called a landmark court case with the potential to reform the tobacco industry in Canada. On Monday, a Quebec judge ordered three big tobacco companies to pay more than $15 billion in punitive and moral damages. 

The companies involved are Imperial Tobacco, Rothman's Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald and the judge agreed with plaintiffs that the companies had lied to consumers about the health and safety risks of their cigarettes. It's a decision that's been 17-years in the making... an action filed by two people, on behalf of millions.

It's the largest class-action lawsuit of its kind in Canada and may be the first of many with similar suits underway now in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Cynthia Callard is a trial blogger with the Quebec Public Health Association and has been covering tobacco related issues since the 1980s. She joined us from our Ottawa studio.

Monday's court decision in Quebec may have represented a victory for anti-smoking crusaders and changed the landscape for Big Tobacco in Canada. But one thing it didn't change was the fact that on Tuesday morning, cigarettes were still available for sale to anyone of age in the province.

And to some, including Robert Proctor, the only real way to win the war on tobacco, will be to ban the sale of cigarettes altogether.

  • Robert Proctor is a professor of the history of science at Stanford University. He's the author of "Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition." Robert Proctor also testified as an expert witness on behalf of the plaintiffs in the class action case in Quebec. We reached him in Miami, Florida. 
  • Nadine Bernard is the Manager for Corporate Affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada

What do you think of the idea of banning cigarettes altogether?

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​This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch, Natalie Walters and Leif Zapf-Gilje.

 "Thank You for Smoking" 

Back in 2005, the movie "Thank You for Smoking" offered a fictionalized portrait of a Big Tobacco spokesperson, and his ways of spinning the message on smoking. Here is a scene from the film when Nick Naylor visits his son Joey's Career Day at school... and does what he does best.