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Class Actions, Punitive Damages, and Decreasing Consumption of Tobacco Products


In 2015, the Superior Court of Quebec awarded over $15 billion in damages, including $1.6 billion in punitive
damages, in a class action against three major tobacco companies. This judgment is significant as it represents the first
successful class action against a tobacco company in Canada. In light of the Superior Court judgment, this essay explores whether awards of punitive damages against tobacco companies in class action proceedings can play a role in decreasing demand for tobacco products. It will be argued that punitive damages awards, especially in the context of large class actions, can be a powerful complementary tool to advance regulatory efforts to decrease tobacco consumption. Tobacco is a unique product, in that it is an inherently dangerous product with no safe consumption level that is lawfully sold, thus requiring a unique regulatory response. At the domestic and international level, the response has been an indirect ban. Regulators have used the concepts of de-normalization and consumer empowerment to reduce the demand for tobacco products, with the hopes of reaching a zero-consumption level. Similarly, awards of punitive damages can contribute to the de-normalization of the tobacco industry by shedding light on the misconduct of tobacco companies. Punitive damages awarded in class action proceedings can also increase access to justice, provide financial incentives, and restore power inequalities between merchants and consumers, resulting in consumer empowerment. In doing so, awards of punitive damages contribute to curtailing demand for tobacco products and go hand in hand with the current regulatory approach.


Sarah Kettani


Digital (PDF)

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