Smokers may sue – Cancer society contemplates legal action against tobacco industry

By Pat Roxborough
Jamaica Gleaner
Monday, April 16, 2001

WESTERN BUREAU: THE JAMAICA Cancer Society may be suing the local tobacco industry over the illnesses of sick smokers.

Lung cancer, caused by cigarette smoking, is said to be one of the major causes of cancer deaths in Jamaica.

Earl Jarrett, chairman of the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS), says he plans to raise at the society’s board meeting this week, the possibility of suing the local tobacco industry on the behalf of sick smokers.

“We have never discussed or contemplated the idea of a lawsuit before, but I am not ruling it out as a possibility,” Mr. Jarrett told The Gleaner on Friday.

But suing the local tobacco industry, in this case Carreras Group Ltd., the parent company of the Cigarette Company of Jamaica would be costly with very little hope of success, a senior lawyer says.

“The difficulty here is one of proof. One would have to prove that cigarette smoking was the causative factor for the death or serious illness of the individual and it would be very difficult to find local expert witnesses who would testify,” he said.

If the JCS were to decide to back such a lawsuit in spite of the difficulties, which Mr. Jarrett said he was also fully aware of, it would be following in the footsteps of its counterpart in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Cancer Society of Trinidad and Tobago last year announced plans to raise TT$1 million to file a class action against the West Indian Tobacco Company, the sole manufacturers of cigarettes in that country, on behalf of smokers who contracted tobacco-related diseases.

According to information from the Health Ministry, there is no shortage of sick smokers as one in every two smokers dies from sicknesses related to the addiction which has cost Jamaica US$4.3 billion in health-care since 1980.

Dr. Peter Figueroa, Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health, told a seminar here recently that 36 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women in Jamaica were smokers.

Patrick Smith, Carreras’ manager of corporate and regulatory affairs, declined to comment on the issue of a lawsuit. However, he told The Gleaner his company was not taking the issue lightly. Carreras is involved in a self-regulation which started years ago with the withdrawal of its ads from the electronic media and is now taking down billboards which depict people having a good time smoking.

“We realise that this is a controversial industry so we are constantly reviewing our marketing strategies and the images that they portray,” he said.