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OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule today on the constitutionality of provincial efforts to sue the tobacco industry for the health costs of smoking.
The court announced last Friday it would render its decision at 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday on the tobacco companies' challenge of a British Columbia law allowing the provincial government to sue for damages for smoking-related diseases.
The provincial act was modeled on cases filed in the 1990s by more than 40 U.S. states against the industry and is seen as a prototype for Canada's other nine provinces.
In May 2004, the British Columbia Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that the province had overstepped its authority in drafting the law. The Supreme Court of Canada heard the tobacco industry's appeal in June 2005.
British Columbia officials have estimated the provincial government spends more than $500 million a year to treat diseases linked to tobacco.
The main defendants in the case are Canada's leading cigarette makers. They are British American Tobacco unit Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd.; Altria Group Inc. units Philip Morris Inc. and Philip Morris International; Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc., a unit of Philip Morris International and of Rothmans Inc.; and JTI-Macdonald Corp., owned by Japan Tobacco Inc.
After the Supreme Court case was heard in June, a British Columbia judge ruled that British Columbia can include foreign-based tobacco firms directly in its lawsuit. Among those are Philip Morris Inc., Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and British American Tobacco