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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Court adjourns $21.6b tobacco suit

THE recent mass transfer of judges at the Lagos State judiciary has already taken its toll on court cases.
Yesterday, a Lagos High Court, presided over by Justice Bukola Adebiyi, adjourned a $21.6 billion (N3.2 trillion) suit filed by the state government and a civil society group- the Environmental Right Action (ERA), against the British American Tobacco and others, till April 19, in readiness to obeying the transfer order. The matter would now be heard in Ikeja division, where it has been transferred to.
The court was to hear the second to fourth defendants' motion for stay of proceedings in the matter, which was stalled at the last hearing due to the absence of the counsel to second defendants- the International Tobacco Limited, Mr. Chijioke Okoli.
The claimants alleged that the tobacco companies have constituted themselves into a nuisance and a danger to the lives of the people and residents of Lagos. They are, consequently, seeking extensive reliefs that intend to regulate tobacco smoking, especially among youths and under-aged smokers.
The claimants specifically, sought special, general, punitive and anticipatory damages in the sum of $21.6 billion from the defendants.
This is in addition to an order of mandatory injunction compelling them, their successors-in-titles, privies and or agents to cease from marketing, promotion, distribution and sale of tobacco-related products to minors or under aged persons.
They also sought an order of mandatory injunction restraining the defendants from representing or portraying to minors or persons under the age of 18, any alluring and/or misleading image regarding tobacco related products whether by direct depictions, pictorial, advertorials, images, words, messages, sponsorships, branding and/or through overt or covert and/or subliminal means.
The court was also asked to compel them to publicly disclose, disseminate, and publish all research previously conducted directly or indirectly by themselves and their respective agents that relates to the issue of smoking and health. The claimants argued that tobacco smoking has severe health implications including but not limited to cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary complications, stressing that the defendants have recently admitted these facts.
"But despite the obvious knowledge of the adverse effects of their product, the defendants have surreptitiously and fraudulently targeted young and under-aged persons in their advertising and marketing," the claimants alleged.
They held that the mandatory health warnings inscribed on the pack are ineffective, as the defendants promote a retail strategy of sale by the stick, whereas the individual sticks that most consumers purchase have no such warning.
"The overall effect of the defendants' course of conduct is that the state government is called upon to expend its resources in treating tobacco related ailments caused by the use of defendants' products," the claimants added.