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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Three tobacco companies said on Monday they would appeal a Canadian court ruling that awarded more than C$15 billion ($11.98 billion) in damages to Quebec smokers in two related class action cases.
The damages would compensate about 100,000 Quebec smokers and ex-smokers who alleged that the companies knew they were selling a harmful product that was causing cancer and other illnesses.
The plaintiffs said the ruling requires the companies to pay C$1 billion within 60 days, regardless of whether they appeal.
But Imperial Tobacco Canada, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.L), JTI-Macdonald Corp, part of Japan Tobacco Inc (2914.T) Group and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc - a subsidiary of Philip Morris International (PM.N) - all issued statements saying they disagreed with the ruling by Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan on Monday.
Imperial Tobacco Canada said in a statement that the three firms are the only three legal tobacco manufacturers in Canada.
Philip Morris said in its statement that it was not a party to the cases and would not be liable for any portion of the judgment.
The two cases were first launched in 1998, receiving authorization to proceed in 2005. The trial officially started on March 12, 2012, hearing from 76 witnesses and reviewing more than 43,000 documents before concluding in December 2014.
"It's a great day for victims of tobacco who have been waiting for this moment for 17 years," said Mario Bujold, director of a Quebec anti-smoking lobby group that represents the plaintiffs in the case.
Imperial Tobacco Canada said that industry should not be held responsible for decisions made by consumers.
"Today's judgment ignores the reality that both adult consumers and governments have known about the risks associated with smoking for decades, and seeks to relieve adult consumers of any responsibility for their actions," said Tamara Gitto, vice president, law, and general counsel at Imperial Tobacco Canada. "We believe there are strong grounds for appeal and we will continue to defend our rights as a legal company."
The plaintiffs said the lawsuit mainly affects Quebec residents who started smoking in the middle of the 20th century, alleging that warnings on cigarette packages in that era were inadequate.
($1 = 1.2523 Canadian dollars)
Reporting By Mike De Souza; Editing by Diane Craft