Province sues tobacco industry for $10 billion
The Alberta government has launched a massive lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The province wants $10 billion to cover the medical expenses created by countless smoking-related illnesses and deaths.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 37,000 smokers die in Canada each year and 6,300 non-smokers die from second-hand smoke—deaths caused from lung and throat cancers, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and strokes. In 2010, more six million people, were smokers according to Statistics Canada.
“Tobacco use has had a devastating impact on many generations of Albertans,” said Premier Alison Redford in a May 30 statement. “The costs are not just to our health care system, but in the many lives cut short by the use of tobacco. This legal action is a significant part of renewing our tobacco reduction strategy.”
The lawsuit has strong support from local cancer-survivor John “Jaydee” de Munnik. After smoking an estimated half a million cigarettes over 50 years, the 69-year-old de Munnik now has to live with a hole in his throat—a lasting legacy of the tumour removed from his neck seven years ago.
“[The tobacco industry] should absolutely be held accountable," said de Munnik, covering the hole in his throat to produce his gurgling-growl of a voice. “It’s something they should have done years ago. They should go after every one of those guys—they knew they were poisoning us. And they target the youth, putting in more nicotine—what is that?”
He had his first taste of cigarettes when he was just eight years old, imitating his father who smoked, by rolling up some dry leaves in newspaper. By 12 he was a committed smoker, bumming cigarettes off of adults. By 15, he smoked a pack a day.
“I tried to quit many times,” de Munnik said. “Cold turkey, on a bet from friends, with patches—but I always came back to it.”
At his peak, he smoked a pack and a half a day; more on weekends when he was socializing. And his habit was reinforced through television, movies, and especially advertising, where cigarettes were cloaked in a haze of manliness, glamour, and pleasure—the rugged Marlboro Man; Humphrey Bogart’s devastating charm delivered through a ubiquitous cloud of smoke.
At 62, de Munnik, thinking he had laryngitis, went in to see his doctor. The diagnosis was much grimmer—throat cancer—and he was given three options: chemotherapy, surgery, or death. Suddenly smoking didn’t seem so glamorous anymore.
“At one point the tumour got so big I could barely breathe,” he said. “It was bad, you can’t even imagine. When you can’t breathe, every second feels like hours.”
He underwent an emergency tracheotomy then a laryngectomy—the removal of the larynx, which forces people to breathe through an opening in their neck. After the surgeries, de Munnik had to learn how to eat all over. He ate baby food. An apple took him 35 minutes to get down; a bowl of wonton soup, nearly an hour.
Doctors performed a third operation, opening his oesophagus and grafting living tissue into his neck—which eventually helped his eating difficulty. It took him 18 hard months before he started to feel better.
Years later, he became the “Silent Waiter.” One evening at a Sherwood Park restaurant he frequented, a busy waiter asked de Munnik for some help serving a big table. de Munnik obliged, carrying over a tray of condiments.
“It was then that I got the idea to do a cancer fundraiser,” he said. “Since I can’t speak so well, the “Silent Waiter” seemed to fit.”
Dressed in an oversized bowtie, crisp white shirt, and a serving apron, de Munnik raised funds to help with the care of cancer patients. In 2010, he raised more than $12,000.At last year’s Pow Wow, he raised $2,000 in one weekend.
Despite everything, he’s kept his sense of humour—often punctuating his jokes with a rasping laugh. But he doesn’t joke about how devastating smoking was to his life. He wants to see the tobacco industry exposed as the deceitful death merchants that they are.
“I think $10 billion is not enough,” he said. “Now, I couldn’t find work if I wanted to—and I’m struggling. And some people can’t stand to look at me; I have to turn around when I cough.”
B.C., New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario have already filed similar lawsuits, with Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec expected to join soon.
In order to post comments on our web site, you must validate your email address. An email was sent to you when you registered that included an activation link. If you have not yet done so, please click on the link to activate your account.
If you did not receive your activation email, please click here to have it resent.