UK litigation – victims say they were deceived

Tuesday 01 July 1997

ASH News Release – 1 July 1997

ASH welcomed the announcement by the High Court today that a group of 47 lung cancer victims will be allowed to sue the tobacco industry. ASH called on other people with smoking-induced diseases to join the action to seek compensation from the tobacco industry.

ASH Director, Clive Bates said: “As long ago as the mid 1950s, the tobacco companies were well aware that smoking caused cancer. However, instead of informing their customers, they covered up the evidence and mounted a huge public relations campaign in which they denied that smoking caused cancer or any other disease.”

The basis of the legal action is that the tobacco companies have failed under the common law duty of care to minimise risk by voluntarily reducing tar levels when it became clear in the 1950s that it was the tar in tobacco smoke that was causing cancers in their consumers. The lung cancer victims are claiming that the companies’ failure to reduce the tar levels caused or materially contributed to the onset of their cancer.

The 47 lung cancer victims who are suing the industry all took up smoking at a time when the tobacco companies marketed smoking as a socially desirable activity. There were no health warnings on cigarettes and certainly no warning that nicotine is a highly addictive drug.

If this group action is successful, the UK tobacco industry may be forced to reach an out of court settlement. With the prospect of potentially 20,000+ lung cancer victims taking legal action, the industry could be faced with a compensation claim of £1 billion per year.Note to editors: