Tobacco cases hit by technicality but fight must go on

Tuesday 09 February 1999

Press release: 9th February 1999 – Immediate

A judge has ruled that some of the lung cancer victims suing the tobacco industry cannot continue as they did not bring their case within three years of diagnosis. This technicality is clearly a setback to the case, which is due to come to a full trial in January 2000. However, 14 lung cancer victims remain in the group. The case alleges that the tobacco companies were negligent for failing to reduce the harmful chemicals in cigarettes as rapidly as possible.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said: “the tobacco companies have repeatedly used technicalities to try to derail the case, but we believe that the action must continue through to trial. Over 30,000 people die from lung cancer each year as a result of smoking, and it is vital that the court decides what responsibility the tobacco companies bear for this terrible toll.  We are certain that they could have done more to reduce the harm caused by cigarettes, but instead they just denied it.”

ASH is concerned that the law has been applied in an especially rigid and inhumane way. The 1980 Statute of Limitations requires cases to be brought within three years, but also allows the judge to waive this rule if the circumstances justify it.

“It is completely unrealistic to expect someone struck down with this awful disease to brush off their condition and mount a fight against the tobacco companies based on a subtle legal and medical arguments all within three years.” said Bates.”For most sufferers, lung cancer means an almighty personal struggle for the first three years, and the three-year survival rate for is just 10%.”

“To sue the tobacco companies you need high-powered legal teams, medical experts,a group of plaintiffs and above all money. You can’t expect to put a case like this together overnight.” said Bates.  “Nevertheless, the case is strong enough to continue.”

ASH again rejected the common argument against the plaintiffs that ‘they should have known that cigarettes were harmful’: “This case is about whether the companies were negligent, not about how consumers dealt with the disinformation produced by the tobacco companies or the addiction caused by nicotine.” said Bates.


Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902

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