A judge in Montreal, Quebec, has ruled that three leading tobacco companies must pay billions of dollars in damages.

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A judge rules Canadian tobacco companies should pay plaintiffs billions

The companies say they'll appeal the decision

CNN —  

A Canadian judge has ordered three tobacco companies to shell out billions of dollars in damages in a pair of class action lawsuits.

The plaintiffs in the case alleged the companies didn’t do enough to warn customers about the dangers of smoking, engaged in unscrupulous marketing and destroyed documents, according to Canadian broadcaster CBC.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Brian Riordan ruled that all three of Canada’s legal tobacco manufacturers – Imperial Tobacco; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges; and JTI-MacDonald – must pay $15 billion Canadian ($12 billion U.S.).

In exchange, plaintiffs with cancer who began smoking before January 1976 will get $100,000 Canadian each ($80,000 U.S.), the CBC said. Those who started smoking after that date are entitled to $90,000 Canadian (about $70,000 U.S.).

According to the ruling, tens of thousands of dollars in so-called moral damages would also be be paid to plaintiffs with emphysema.

The decision comes as a result of two class-action suits that began in 1998: one by a group of people who became seriously ill from smoking, and one by a group of people who said they were unable to quit smoking, according to the CBC.

Bruce Johnston, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters Monday that the tobacco companies had lied for 50 years.

“They lied to everyone … but they didn’t just lie. They colluded to lie,” he said, according to the CBC.

The tobacco companies slammed the ruling and said they planned to appeal, arguing that consumers were well aware of the risks of smoking and weren’t entitled to any damages.

“These cases are far from over,” Rothmans, Benson & Hedges spokeswoman Anne Edwards said in a statement. “We will vigorously appeal this lower court’s judgment, and believe that we have very strong legal grounds to overturn the judgment in its entirety.”

Imperial Tobacco Canada said it was “extremely disappointed” with the judge’s decision.

“Today’s judgment ignores the reality that both adult consumers and governments have known about the risks associated with smoking for decades, and seeks to relieve adult consumers of any responsibility for their actions,” said Tamara Gitto, a vice president of the company.