New Brunswick's Tobacco Lawsuit to be Joined by Manitoba and Nova Scotia

Three years since taking big tobacco firms to court for recovery of healthcare costs, the government of New Brunswick is about to welcome both Manitoba and Nova Scotia in its legal battle.

The Manitoba government said it intends to reach an arrangement with the consortium of law firms already hired by the New Brunswick government to handle its own province's litigation. The Nova Scotia government is also seeking a firm to take on its case on a contingency basis.

"We're pleased to work with the other provincial governments towards the recovery of tobacco-related health-care costs," said New Brunswick Justice Department spokesman Paul Harpelle. "There could be some benefits to taxpayers by consolidating efforts."

Attorney General Marie-Claude Blais said in the news release the province welcomed the opportunity to share resources, although neither province has signed on yet.

Big tobacco contests that the lawsuit is only in its infancy.

"At the end of the day the only potential winners will be the lawyers," said Eric Gagnon, a spokesman for Imperial Tobacco Canada. "We will defend ourselves, and there is not going to be any out-of-court settlement."

Gagnon said Imperial Tobacco Canada has already been locked in a lawsuit with British Columbia for 10 years now, with New Brunswick's suit expected to chart the same course.

Named in the action are Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc., Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and British American Tobacco (Investments) Ltd. The New Brunswick Lung Association has estimated the province's lawsuit against tobacco companies could be worth up to $1 billion.

A consortium of lawyers hired by New Brunswick includes two from the province, several from Ontario and two firms in the United States that have been involved in settlements of state lawsuits. The lawyers have been hired on a contingency basis.

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