Top court rules against smokers with lung cancer

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Top court rules against smokers with lung cancer

The Supreme Court yesterday refused appeals by 30 cancer-stricken smokers seeking damages from a tobacco company, saying “no definite causal relation exists” between smoking and each plaintiff’s individual case of lung cancer.

The court also ruled that tobacco company KT&G is not liable for damages because the company didn’t engage in unlawful practices such as hiding the risks of smoking or misleading consumers.

The landmark ruling, which upholds a lower court’s decision, marks the first time the Supreme Court ruled on smoking and its effects on smokers, ending a 15-year legal battle between the smokers and KT&G.

“Even if there is evidence that there is a higher lung cancer incidence rate among smokers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that smoking is a sole cause of lung cancer,” the court said.

“Just the fact that a smoker suffers lung cancer can’t serve as conclusive evidence to prove a causal relationship between smoking and the cancer,” the court continued. “There are different kinds of lung cancer. Some of the cancers are greatly affected by smoking, but others aren’t.”

The court also said that other external factors or biological factors might have played a role in causing the plaintiffs’ lung cancer and added that the cigarette manufacturer didn’t conceal the health risks of smoking.

Although all three rulings in the tobacco suit have now been in favor of KT&G, the appeals ruling by the Seoul High Court differs from the first trial and the Supreme Court ruling by acknowledging the causal relationship between smoking and cancer. But the high court didn’t order KT&G to pay compensation.

Yesterday’s ruling will be a precedent for future smoking cases, including one being brought by a state-run health insurance agency against KT&G.

The National Health Insurance Service is preparing to file lawsuits against tobacco companies to seek compensation for health care expenses caused by what it calls smoking-related diseases.

The government body said that the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t dampen its chance of winning because it has collected extensive data to prove the correlation between smoking and cancer. It will file its suit Monday.

The Korean Association on Smoking or Health, a nonprofit organization that champions tougher restrictions on smoking, condemned the court’s decision yesterday.

“The ruling gives an exemption to the tobacco companies and ignores the human right to health,” the association said in a statement.

“The ruling was supposed to have important implications at a time when the National Health Insurance Service plans to sue tobacco companies,” it said. “We don’t believe that the Supreme Court ruled carefully because it didn’t allow for a single open argument.”

The case in Korea began in 1999 when 36 people filed two separate suits seeking 474.7 million won ($454,700) in damages.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]



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