Latin American lawmakers favor joint tobacco suit
MEXICO CITY, July 25 (Reuters) - A group of lawmakers from across Latin America agreed on Tuesday to pressure their governments to sue large tobacco companies over health costs, a Mexican deputy said.
``There's a consensus in most Latin American countries to formulate the lawsuit,'' Deputy Ricardo Padilla of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) told Reuters, adding that any suit would have to be presented by governments.
Inspired by a Florida jury verdict directing big cigarette manufacturers to pay sick smokers $145 billion in punitive damages, legislators from 14 countries will consult with lawyers and present their governments with legal proposals, Padilla said.
Head of the health committee in Mexico's lower house, he said that his counterparts from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and six Central American nations had agreed to form a common front.
``The whole of Latin America will present a suit, en bloc, against the multinationals,'' he said.
The deputy said the targets would include Philip Morris Cos., British American Tobacco Plc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., as well as their subsidiaries in Latin America.
The agreement preceded a two-day meeting of Latin lawmakers in Mexico City on Thursday and Friday. U.S. and Canadian legislators are also expected to attend the conference, dubbed ``For a Tobacco-Free World.''
Padilla said the Latin Americans had agreed to seek consultations with the lawyers who won a July 14 verdict in Miami by which a Florida state court jury directed the five largest U.S. cigarette makers to pay $145 billion as punishment for making up to 500,000 Florida smokers sick.
The verdict has been appealed, and its review could take years.
Mexican health authorities say that 15 million of the country's 98 million people are smokers and that around 122 people a day die from diseases believed to be related to smoking.