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Individual lawsuits

A cost of doing business, but a stable one


Individual product liability cases are likely to remain a cost of doing business in the USA and in other parts of the world too.

However, the underlying number of individual tobacco cases filed in the US is stable and we do not believe they represent a substantial financial threat to the Group. We also draw confidence from the tobacco industry's record since the mid-1950s of defending individual lawsuits that claim damages relating to injuries allegedly caused by smoking.

Importantly, most legal systems around the world do not entitle injured plaintiffs to seek and obtain an award of damages without having to demonstrate some breach of legal duty by the defendant company. We continue to believe that we have absolved our legal duty to our consumers.

A universal awareness of the risks of smoking is at the heart of the decisions in the industry's favour. With the risks associated with tobacco use so well known, tobacco companies have no legal duty – and no current ability – to provide a risk-free combustible cigarette.

Lights cases: Italy

A large number of 'lights' cases were brought by Italian plaintiffs in recent years. These cases arise where an individual claims they were misled into thinking that cigarettes labelled 'light' were less harmful than other cigarettes. In 2008 the Italian Court of Cassation ruled the meaning of the descriptor 'light' was not actionable in itself, and refused to find that British American Tobacco Italia had misled the public.

As of November 2009, only a handful remain of the more than four thousand 'lights' cases brought before the Justices of the Peace courts in Italy. Over the last few years, the vast majority have been suspended or ruled-on in the tobacco industry’s favour.