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Brazil Files Historic Lawsuit to Hold Global Tobacco Companies Responsible for Health Harms

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, in historic action to protect the lives and health of Brazilians, Brazil’s Office of the Attorney General (Advocacia-Geral da União) filed a lawsuit against multinational tobacco companies to recover funds spent on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases in Brazil’s health care system. The suit is the first of its kind for Brazil and a significant step towards holding the two major tobacco companies who do business in Brazil and their parent companies responsible for the enormous financial and health burdens caused by tobacco use.

Brazil’s lawsuit seeks to recover funds from the companies responsible for Brazil’s tobacco epidemic – British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International, along with their Brazilian subsidiaries. These are costs that the Brazilian government is legally bound to pay for because health is a constitutional right in Brazil.

Despite the advancements in tobacco control policies in Brazil, tobacco remains the country’s leading cause of preventable death. It isn’t an accident – it has been and continues to be caused by the wrongful behavior of British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International and their Brazilian subsidiaries that use deceptive marketing tactics to target youth and sell cigarettes, despite scientific consensus that tobacco products are addictive and deadly. Each year over 1.1 million Brazilians become sick due to causes attributable to smoking including heart disease, pneumonia, stroke and cancers.

Today’s lawsuit marks a crucial step forward in holding tobacco companies responsible for their decades of deceitful advertising and marketing practices that hid the dangers of smoking from the public and purposely targeted young people. British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International have received and continue to receive massive profits from sales to Brazilians even while the government and citizens of Brazil are forced to pay billions each year for the medical treatment of its citizens suffering from smoking-induced diseases.

This case – the first one of this kind in Latin America – follows similar legal actions taken in the United States and Canada. In the United States, a landmark 1998 legal settlement between states and the tobacco companies required the companies to make payments in perpetuity to the states as compensation for tobacco-related health care costs, restricted some forms of tobacco marketing and provided funding for a national public education campaign to prevent youth tobacco use. The payments made to date have totaled more than US $162 billion. That same year, the first Canadian province sued the tobacco companies to recover its health care costs related to tobacco harms. Since then, every province and territory in Canada except one has filed similar litigation, with health care recovery claims now reportedly exceeding US $89 billion.

With the lawsuit announced today, Brazil’s Office of the Attorney General is courageously standing up to multinational tobacco companies and seeking just compensation the Brazilian people deserve. With this action the Brazilian government is also acting in accordance with both Brazil’s constitution and its international obligations as a party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – the international tobacco control treaty.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds the government of Brazil and the Office of the Attorney General for their leadership and vision in bringing this lawsuit. The Brazilian judiciary should move this case forward rapidly in order to address an injustice that for too long has seen the economic profit of a few multinational tobacco companies prevail over the health and economic wellbeing of the citizens of Brazil.

For additional resources, please visit:

https://www.agu.gov.br/page/content/detail/id_conteudo/756818

http://actbr.org.br/post/nota-de-apoio-organizacao-apoia-acao-judicial-da-agu-contra-souza-cruz-e-philip-morris/17905/

https://g1.globo.com/rs/rio-grande-do-sul/noticia/2019/05/21/acao-da-agu-pede-que-industrias-de-cigarros-paguem-prejuizo-da-uniao-com-tratamentos-de-pacientes.ghtml