Three Canadian Tobacco Companies Ordered to Pay $12 Billion to Smokers

Three Canadian tobacco companies were ordered to pay $12 billion in damages to smokers on June 2, 2015. Reuters

Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald have been ordered to pay $12 billion in damages to smokers in Canada. A court there found the tobacco companies did not properly warn smokers of the health risks they face when using tobacco products.

The class action lawsuit was first filed in 1998. The plaintiffs were a group of smokers from Quebec. They represented a class of almost 1 million people who had trouble quitting smoking or had experienced a smoking-related disease.

"The companies earned billions of dollars at the expense of the lungs, the throats and the general well-being of their customers," Judge Brian Riordan explained. "If the companies are allowed to walk away unscathed now, what would be the message to other industries that today or tomorrow find themselves in a similar moral conflict?"

The companies plan to appeal the judge's decision, arguing smokers have long had a "high awareness" of the risks of smoking. "That awareness has been reinforced by the health warnings printed on every legal cigarette package for more than 40 years," JTI-Macdonald told the BBC in a statement.

In the United States, Philip Morris was ordered to pay a $28 billion settlement, however, an appeal brought that down to $28 million.