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Argument: Consumer Protection Violation

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Tabacalera Sarandí S.A. v. Argentine Tax Authority (AFIP) [Argentina] [May 13, 2021]

Tabacalera Sarandí S.A. had obtained a preliminary injunction to suspend the application of the minimum amount of a tax established for the commercialization of tobacco. Thus, the company could apply the tax rate (70%) on the retail price without considering the minimum amount. The company argued that this minimum put it at a disadvantage with other multi-national tobacco companies. The Argentine Tax Authority appealed the decision, saying that the ruling affected the public interest and the extra-fiscal purpose of the tax, which is the protection of public health. The Supreme Court ruled that the tobacco company had not sufficiently demonstrated its injury and did not prove the requirements to be granted with the injunction. Thus, the Court revoked the injunction.

Baldassare v. British American Tobacco Argentina [Argentina] [December 28, 2020]

The plaintiff brought an action against British American Tobacco (BAT) Argentina, seeking damages for all the health problems allegedly resulting from his use of tobacco products. In particular, he sought compensation for a heart attack he suffered. He claimed that when he began smoking, the advertisements were misleading and did not warn him about the possible health problems caused by the substances in cigarettes. The judge determined that: (i) the case was not time-barred, (ii) tobacco consumption was probably one of the reasons for the heart attack, and (iii) the victim did not assume the risks of smoking because he was not sufficiently well informed, as required by the country's consumer protection law, and because he was not free to direct his actions due to the addiction. The lower court determined that BAT had to pay compensatory damages and also a fine as punitive damages.

Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro v. Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli [Brazil] [November 02, 2020]

The Public Ministry in Rio de Janeiro presented a civil action against Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli for illegal advertising in the festival "Rock in Rio" 2017. On November 2, 2020, the court concluded that the defendants engaged in unlawful advertising during the festival. The illegal advertising included (i) visually ostentatious advertising of smoking products and (ii) "mobile sellers.” On the other hand, the sale of a kit that included cigarettes and a lighter with the logo of "Rock in Rio" was not recognized as an illegal practice. The defendants were sanctioned as follows – (1) Defendants were fined R$ 2,000,000.00 for collective moral damages. For individual material and moral damages, each consumer will need to prove individually the actual damage suffered. (2) Defendants must carry out counter-advertising in partnership with public universities and hospitals informing consumers about the risks, prevention, and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and smoking cessation.

In addition to bringing this enforcement action against the illegal advertising that took place at the Rock in Rio 2017, the Public Ministry sought an interim judgment barring illegal promotional activities at the then upcoming Rock in Rio 2019 festival. In response to this request, the court issued a series of orders restricting the promotional activities at the 2019 festival.

Nicolás Parra Castro v. Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (Second Instance) [Colombia] [November 14, 2019]

The plaintiff, a member of “Educar Consumidores” NGO, filed a lawsuit to order the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC) to inspect, monitor, and control the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and their derivatives. Specifically, the plaintiff requested that the judges order SIC to demand that Coltabaco and Philip Morris Colombia withdraw all advertising of IQOS devices. In the first instance, the Court denied the claim because the norms invoked by the plaintiff did not contain an imperative and enforceable mandate against the defendant. On appeal, the Court confirmed the previous decision since it also understood that the cited norms -although they established the general prohibition on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and their derivatives - did not create a clear and concrete obligation that corresponded specifically to SIC.

Nicolás Parra Castro v. Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (First Instance) [Colombia] [September 25, 2019]

The plaintiff, a member of “Educar Consumidores” NGO, filed a lawsuit to order the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC) to inspect, monitor, and control the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and their derivatives. Specifically, the plaintiff requested that the judges order SIC to demand that Coltabaco and Philip Morris Colombia withdraw all advertising of IQOS devices. In this case, the first instance, the Court denied the claim because the norms invoked by the plaintiff did not contain an imperative and enforceable mandate against the defendant.

Quebec Class Action Appeal [Canada] [March 01, 2019]

Quebec residents filed two separate class action lawsuits against the Canadian tobacco companies of British American Tobacco ("BAT"), Philip Morris International ("PMI"), and Japan Tobacco International ("JTI") ("tobacco companies"). The first class involved Quebec residents who had lung cancer, throat cancer, or emphysema. The second class involved Quebec residents addicted to nicotine. The court found that the tobacco companies caused injury, failed to inform customers of the risks and dangers of its products, and violated Quebec law.

On March 1, 2019, the Quebec Court of Appeals ("the Court") unanimously upheld the lower Quebec Superior Court decision and found that the tobacco companies intentionally misled consumers about the dangers associated with their products for more than 50 years. The Court upheld the lower court's decision, but made technical corrections, that the appellants pay moral damages to members of the Blais action, as well as punitive damages to both classes, with interest and the additional indemnity provided by law. The appellants’ liability was based on private law of general application (Civil Code of Lower Canada and Civil Code of Quebec ), the Tobacco-related Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Consumer Protection Act.

All three tobacco companies have indicated that they will likely appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

For the earlier decision, see: JTI, et al. v. Letourneau, et al., No 500-06-000076-980 and No 500-06-000070-983, (Quebec 2015).

Esperanza Cerón Villaquirán et al v. Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio (SIC) [Colombia] [November 17, 2017]

Tobacco control advocates challenged the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio – SIC) resolutions that regulated point of sale tobacco product displays.  Tobacco control advocates alleged that these resolutions violated the complete ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship established through Law No. 1335. The Colombian State Council held that these resolutions violated Article 13 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines that state that product display should be considered a form of advertisement. Consequently, the State Council mandated the SIC to repeal the resolutions, which was done through Resolution No. 1/2018.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v. The Joystick Company Pty Ltd. [Australia] [May 02, 2017]

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission successfully took action against an e-cigarette company for making false and misleading statements in violation of the Australian Consumer Law. The e-cigarette company stated on its website and in a YouTube video that its products did not contain carcinogens and toxic substances found in traditional tobacco cigarettes. 

In this decision, the court accepted the Commission’s recommendations and ordered the company to stop making statements that its products do not contain carcinogens and toxic substances for a period of three years. The court found that the company had no evidence to support its statements, which had the potential to mislead consumers who might not have purchased the products if they had known about the presence of these chemicals. Additionally, the court ordered the company to include information on its website about this decision for 90 days. Finally, the court fined the company $50,000 and its director $10,000. 

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v. Social-Lites Pty Ltd [Australia] [May 02, 2017]

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission successfully took action against an e-cigarette company for making false and misleading statements in violation of the Australian Consumer Law. The e-cigarette company stated on its website and in a YouTube video that its products did not contain carcinogens and toxic substances found in traditional tobacco cigarettes. 

In this decision, the court accepted the Commission’s recommendations and ordered the company to stop making statements that its products do not contain carcinogens and toxic substances for a period of three years. The court found that the company had no evidence to support its statements, which had the potential to mislead consumers who might not have purchased the products if they had known about the presence of these chemicals. Additionally, the court ordered the company to include information on its website about this decision for 90 days. Finally, the court fined the company $50,000 and its director $10,000. 

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v. Burden [Australia] [May 02, 2017]

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission successfully took action against an e-cigarette company for making false and misleading statements in violation of the Australian Consumer Law. The e-cigarette company stated on its website that its products did not contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens found in traditional tobacco cigarettes. 

In this decision, the court accepted the Commission’s recommendations and ordered the company to stop making statements that its products do not contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens for a period of three years. The court found that the company had no evidence to support its statements, which had the potential to mislead consumers who might not have purchased the products if they had known about the presence of these chemicals. Additionally, the court ordered the company to include information on its website about this decision for 90 days. Finally, the court fined the company $40,000 and its director $15,000.