Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) (AP): Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry has filed a $ 34 billion lawsuit against importers of cigarettes from international tobacco companies, including U S firms, for costs of medical treatment of smoking-related illnesses, the first such action in the Arab world, the health minister said.
The lawsuit seeking one of the world’s biggest damage claims brings the tactic of tackling smoking through the courts for the first time to the Mideast, where smoking is chronic and governments have only just begun trying to reduce the habit.
Health Minister Hamad al-Manie told The Associated Press that the suit is part of a stepped-up campaign anti-smoking campaign in the kingdom, which is a top tobacco importer and where cigarettes remain extremely cheap $ 1.50 a pack.
"It’s a duty that we in the ministry have to perform," al-Manie said in an interview at his office.
Legal proceedings against the 13 Saudi cigarette importers began last year, according to Ibraheem al-Musaiteer, head of the ministry’s legal department. So far the defendants have been laying low: Only one agent attended one of the four court hearings held so far.
The suit targets the local agents rather than the international tobacco companies themselves because "it’s the agents that bring the cigarettes into the country," al-Manie said.
"We have patients who are sick because of the agents who import cigarettes," he said. "We have documented proof that these diseases were caused by smoking and I am asking for compensation for these patients."