May 25, 2004 – Vancouver Sun


‘Victoria should learn pursuit of tobacco firms is not worth the trouble’.

B.C. taxpayers are on the hook for millions in this legal battle. There must be a more worthwhile course of action.

It looks like the third time was a charm for British Columbia’s Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

The act and a predecessor act had both been declared unconstitutional by the courts, but last week the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the controversial legislation.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant said it’s time “to hold tobacco companies accountable,” and B.C expects to recover as much as $10 billion from a successful lawsuit.

That’s wishful thinking, to say the least.

Unlike American cigarette companies, which settled a series of lawsuits for a total of $246 billion US, Canadian companies simply don’t have the money to pay a major damage award.

And the reason for that is simple: American companies absorbed the settlement by increasing the price of cigarettes, but Canadian companies can’t act similarly because the price of cigarettes in Canada is already so high.

The reason for that? Because taxes on cigarettes are so high.

Canadian governments recieve $8 billion annually – eight times what cigarette companies earn, and more than the estimated tobacco-related health care costs – from cigarette taxes.

It seems more than a little dubious for governments to vilify cigarette companies when governments are more than equal partners in the enterprise.

A far better course of action would be for the government to sit down with its partners (cigarette companies) and work together to develop smoking prevention and cessation programs. The companies have indicated their willingness to pursue that strategy.

That doesn’t seem likely, given that the B.C. government is still riding high as a result of the court decision. And when the government is as high as it is right now, you better be prepared to see millions more of your tax dollars go up in smoke!

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