Tobacco companies get a reprieve in the UK. How will Asia fare?

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

T he collapse of a landmark anti-tobacco case in the uk has severely hit prospects of a us -style litigation against tobacco companies. While this had been successful in the us , where states had sued tobacco companies to recover the costs for treating smoking-related illnesses, the withdrawal of their damage claims in the high court by a group of lung cancer patients is perceived as a setback for the anti-tobacco lobby.

A group of 53 claimants had filed claims against Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher. But 46 of them withdrew following a ruling by the court that their claims had become 'time-barred'. Under British law, a claim for illnesses has to be brought within three years of the first diagnosis. Lawyers feel that this rule creates immense hurdles for them because it is very difficult to collect a group of victims and create a claim proceeding within that period.

Both companies, Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, have declared that they will not claim legal costs from the people who had initiated the case against them. It is not likely that the seven people who have not withdrawn will be in a position to go ahead with their claims. It is quite possible that another law firm will not offer to work for them; the legal costs involved are very high.

Any hopes that an unhealthy precedent is not set in the uk lie at the doorstep of the National Health Service Confederation that represents health authorities and trusts. The confederation is keen to recoup the cost of tobacco-related illnesses from cigarette majors. One can only hope and pray that some legal action will be initiated against the tobacco companies.

The reasons are simple. If health issues are not treated with the right kind of respect in the West, there is little hope for the same in Asia, which has long been the happy hunting ground for tobacco companies. Salespersons have been known to set up shop in front of schools and colleges and even encourage children to smoke. The only way to discourage such activities is to make tobacco companies liable for tobacco-related illnesses, and to make them bear the cost of treating such ailments.

Though the withdrawal is not a major victory for the tobacco companies, if no fresh legal action is taken against them, it will be perceived as a major blow for the anti-tobacco lobby in particular and public health in general.

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