Telling the truth behind smokingThe National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of smokers against domestic and foreign tobacco companies for compensation over the health damages of smoking. For smoking-related lawsuits lodged by individuals in Korea, all of the plaintiffs have lost without exception. The Supreme Court not long ago sided with cigarette companies in a trial that dragged on for 15 years. The latest suit attracts our attention, as it is the first suit by a state-run corporation against tobacco companies.
The contentious issues are twofold. One is smoking’s correlation with cancer. In a number of lawsuits filed by individuals, the lower and higher courts didn’t accept the causal relationship. The courts took the position that they can hardly conclude - solely based on general statistics - that smoking was the direct cause of the cancers. The Supreme Court also said that despite a “partial causal relationship” between smoking and cancers of the lung and larynx, the evidence is not strong enough to overturn the judgments of lower courts.
As a result, the NHIS is trying to use Big Data it has so far accumulated to make the causal relationship apparent. It also plans to first represent those patients suffering from small cell carcinoma and epithelial squamous cell cancer in the lungs and squamous cell carcinoma among larynx cancers - both groups with relatively stronger causal relationships than other types of cancers - in order to raise the probability of winning the suit.
The second issue of contention is whether tobacco companies have illegally concealed cigarettes’ hazardous effects on health. The courts in Korea judged that they couldn’t find evidence that tobacco companies committed wrongdoings - such as inserting illegitimate additives into cigarettes to raise the addictiveness of their products or covering up data that is disadvantageous. In the United States or Canada, however, tobacco companies had to pay huge settlements. The NHIS believes that individual plaintiffs could not prove the apparent health risks of cigarettes because KT&G, a state-run tobacco company, has not made its internal data public. That’s why the NHIS included Philip Morris International and the British American Tobacco Korea in the litigation.
Because a state-run company is filing a suit following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the tobacco trial, citizens are paying special attention to the outcome of the trial - not to mention the toxicity of the cigarettes. It would be very difficult to forecast the results of the lawsuit. We hope the court’s ruling will help clear all the questions over the causal relationship between smoking and cancer, as well as all the suspicions over tobacco companies’ illegal actions. If the court can hand down a clear judgment on the issue, it could be beneficial to the people regardless of the outcome.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 30