Legal battle continues between smokers, tobacco companies and provincial govts

Lawyers representing Quebec smokers and provincial governments are pushing back against an Ontario court ruling that suspended legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies.

The companies, JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., were granted protection from their creditors last month after they lost an appeal in Quebec.

That province's highest court upheld a landmark judgment ordering the companies to pay billions of dollars in damages to Quebec smokers.

The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health led two class actions against the companies and won in 2015, with the court ordering the companies to pay more than $15 billion to smokers who either fell ill or were addicted.

Lawyers for the council say they will ask the Ontario court today to revoke creditor protection for the companies if they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

They say they will also ask the court to prevent the companies from transferring their profits abroad.

Provincial governments have also sued tobacco companies in an effort to recover health-care costs associated with smoking, and those lawsuits have been suspended under the creditor protection order.

JTI-Macdonald has said it was forced to seek creditor protection to safeguard 500 Canadian jobs and continue its business with minimal disruption while it prepares to defend itself against the appeal court ruling.