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Tue 21 Oct 2008 07:42 AM

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Saudi court set to hear tobacco compensation case

Health officials file $10bn lawsuit against international firms to cover cost of care.

A Saudi court will begin hearing a lawsuit on Tuesday filed by the Ministry of Health against agents of international tobacco companies in the kingdom.

Health chiefs will demand compensation of $2.6 billion and an annual compensation of $133 million for the expenditures incurred on the treatment of smokers when the General Court in Riyadh opens.

“This is the first case filed by the ministry against agents of tobacco companies, demanding compensation for medical care,” said an official statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency and reported by Arab News on Tuesday.

“The court was ready to look into the case at a previous date but the tobacco agents did not attend that session,” it added.

In a previous statement on the issue, Health Minister Hamad Al-Manie said he was confident that his ministry would win the lawsuit.

In 1998, American trial lawyers, assisted by 46 state attorneys general, succeeded in getting tobacco companies to pay $250 billion over 25 years.

Anti-smoking clinics have been opened in various cities in the kingdom as part of the ministry’s efforts to encourage smokers to give up the addiction.

A new law to combat smoking in public and workplaces has also been drafted and is awaiting Cabinet approval.

Saudi Arabia tops the list of tobacco importers, according to 2007 statistics. Iran is placed second, followed by Jordan, Turkey, Morocco and Egypt.

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