Tobacco company found not liable for lung cancer

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Tobacco company found not liable for lung cancer

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In keeping with precedent, the Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday ruled that a tobacco company and the government were not liable for the death of a 30-year-old smoker who died from lung cancer in 2000.

Claiming a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer, the plaintiff, the 62-year-old widow of the longtime smoker, said that major tobacco company KT&G and the government had failed to adequately warn the public of the dangers of cigarette smoking. She also claimed that the manufacturer had spread false information about the safety of cigarettes.

The court, however, agreed with KT&G and the government, saying that the tobacco company neither deliberately put hazardous substances into cigarettes or failed to inform the public about the dangers of smoking.

Both KT&G and the government had said that the plaintiff needed to prove the link between smoking and lung cancer and that warning labels on cigarettes adequately conveyed the risks of smoking. To date, not a single compensation lawsuit filed against a tobacco company has been decided in the plaintiff’s favor in Korean courts.

The widow, surnamed Ihm, filed suit in 2005 after her failed attempts to receive the government pension of her late husband, who was a police officer. Ihm’s request had been denied because her husband had died of lung cancer caused by smoking.

Tuesday’s ruling raised eyebrows because the court did not rule or even refer to Ihm’s claim of a causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

Defense counsel for KT&G and the government said the ruling showed that a link between smoking and Park’s death was unproven.

Ihm, meanwhile, said after the ruling: “Many hospitals said that my husband got lung cancer because of 30 years of smoking, so if tobacco manufacturers are not held responsible, then whose responsibility is it?”

In February, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of KT&G and the government in another tobacco suit filed by seven lung cancer patients and their family members. At the time, the court acknowledged the link between smoking and lung cancer but said KT&G did not hide information to cause nicotine addiction or commit unlawful acts such as tampering with the nicotine.

Seo Hong-kwan of the National Cancer Center said, “Every year, 50,000 people die from lung cancer caused by smoking. The whole world knows the fact that tobacco manufacturers put all sorts of additives in [cigarettes], but our courts do not acknowledge it.”


By Park Su-ryon, Park Yu-mi [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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