Cigarette maker wins court battle
The Seoul Central District Court yesterday ruled for the defense in two lawsuits filed by smokers who later developed lung cancer or their surviving family members.
The suits named KT&G and the Korean government as the cause of death or disease of seven Koreans.
They were filed in 1999 by surviving family members or by the living cancer sufferers, some of whom died in the course of the litigation.
KT&G, formerly the Korea Tobacco and Ginseng Corp., is a government-owned company that was once the monopoly producer of cigarettes in Korea.
The verdicts came after a seven-year-long legal battle in the nation’s first anti-tobacco litigation. The plaintiffs said they would appeal.
One of the two suits had been filed by six lung cancer patients and 25 family members of deceased sufferers; the other had been filed by four family members and a long-time smoker who developed the disease. All smoked KT&G brands of cigarettes.
But the courts said the plaintiffs had failed to prove that smoking had led to their cancers.
“There is a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer epidemiologically,” the verdict read, “but the court cannot acknowledge that there was a causal relationship in individual cases that the cigarettes produced and sold by KT&G caused the plaintiffs’ cancers.”
Judge Cho Kyung-ran also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the company and the government failed to warn smokers of the dangers of the habit.
“In the 1960s and 70s, no country included the warning on the label of the cigarettes,” the court said, adding that KT&G had publicized the health hazards after the World Health Organization warned of the danger from smoking in 1976.
The court also acknowledged that nicotine is addictive, but said the addictiveness was lower than that of other drugs such as opium and asserted that a large part of the addiction is psychological. “It is hard to say that a smoker cannot quit smoking of his own free will,” the judge wrote.
The Korean Association of Smoking and Health issued a statement yesterday criticizing the verdict. “We are perplexed to see a court ruling that does not acknowledge the harmfulness and addiction of smoking, already proven scientifically,” the statement said, seemingly ignoring the acknowledgements of that scientific link in the verdict.
Ms. Cho was also careful to note that legal principles rather than personal emotions drove her decision, explaining that the question was not whether smoking was harmful or addictive, but whether the plaintiffs had demonstrated that their smoking habits caused their cancers.
The five plaintiffs in one lawsuit had sought a modest 100 million won ($106,837) in damages; the 31 in the other suit had asked for 300 million won.
By Ser Myo-ja(Staff writer)/ Park Sung-woo(JoongAng Ilbo) [firstname.lastname@example.org]