On May 21, 2019, the Brazilian government filed a lawsuit against two major tobacco companies to recover healthcare costs due to top 26 diseases scientifically proven to be linked with cigarette smoking. It also seeks moral damages and anticipated health costs from the tobacco transnational British American Tobacco PLC and Philip Morris International along with its local affiliate, Souza Cruz LTDA, Philip Morris Brazil Industry and Trade LTD, and Philip Morris Brazil S / A, which have about 90 percent of the Brazilian market.
The civil suit is based on the responsibility and liability of manufacturers of hazardous products for damages caused in light of the deceptive conduct of the tobacco industry in the past decade. These include concealment of information about the link of smoking to cancer, addictive nature of smoking, dangers of passive smoking, false marketing of “light/mild” cigarettes as safer products, and advertising and promotion aimed at the youth.
Healthcare cost recovery suits against the tobacco industry also happened in the US and Canada. In the US, it has resulted in a legal settlement for five tobacco companies to pay about US $206B; in Canada, the claims have reached about $120B.
Brazil is one of the 181 Parties that ratified the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization), a global treaty that, among others, encourages governments to make the tobacco industry criminally and civilly accountable. Article 5.3 of the treaty requires governments to protect its policies from the vested and commercial interests of the tobacco industry which involves avoiding conflicts of interest with the industry, requiring information from it, and making it accountable for its submissions.
The Brazilian government obliges members of its multi-sectoral national committee for tobacco control (CONICQ) to prevent conflicts of interest, ban acceptance of gifts or offers of partnerships from the industry, and disallow giving of preferential treatment to it. Its tobacco control law likewise urges CONICQ to uphold the principles of transparency, primacy of interests of public health, and access to information on the industry, and industry interference in tobacco control.
The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) applauds Brazil for leading the way in holding the tobacco industry accountable for its actions. Making the industry liable is an effective means to protect policies from the industry’s commercial and vested interests.
For more information, see:
- Boadle A (23 May 2019). In landmark case, Brazil sues top tobacco firms to recover public health costs. Reuters. Available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-tobacco-lawsuit/in-landmark-case-brazil-sues-top-tobacco-firms-to-recover-public-health-costs-idUSKCN1SS2DN
- Canada appeals court orders tobacco firms to pay billions in damages (1 March 2019) . BBC News. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47409916
- Brazil Administrative Rule Nº 713, April 17, 2012. Available at https://www.tobaccocontrollaws.org/files/live/Brazil/Brazil%20-%20Ord.%20No.%20713.pdf
- WHO FCTC (2008). Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. FCTC/COP3(7). Available at https://untobaccocontrol.org/kh/article-53/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/02/article53.pdf
- United States v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al. Available at https://www.tobaccocontrollaws.org/litigation/decisions/us-20171005-united-states-v.-philip-morris
- World Health Organization (2005). WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: Article 19. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. Available at https://www.who.int/tobacco/framework/WHO_FCTC_english.pdf