THE BLOG

Maybe Ed Miliband Didn't Go Far Enough - Why Not Sue Big Tobacco for Billions?

30/09/2014 13:32 BST | Updated 29/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In my role as an international lawyer I try not to get involved in, or give away my own, political leanings. Indeed, in representing many leading political figures from across the political divide, it has always been wise to err on the side of political neutrality.

However, last week when Ed Miliband pledged to raise £2.5bn from increased taxes to be paid by Tobacco Companies my ears pricked up. I certainly thought it to be a long overdue proposal - but I did have to ask myself as to whether he had gone far enough? £2.5bn would certainly be a helpful boost for the NHS's coffers - but why not go one 'giant' step further and follow the American example of suing the tobacco companies for knowingly damaging the public's health. Americans have sued - successfully - with $206bn in damages recovered on behalf of 13 American States - so far.

In the course of my transatlantic work, ranging across the UK, Ireland and the US, the remarkable successes of leading US attorney, Steve Berman, came to my attention. It was Steve who helped expose the fact that Big Tobacco Companies had known of the health dangers from their cigarettes several decades ago...And it was their consequent liability which has led to the first round of settlements of $206bn. A far cry indeed from Ed Miliband's more modest £2.5bn objective.

I have therefore joined forces with Mr Berman with a view to encouraging the UK and Irish Governments to introduce appropriate legislation to take the necessary steps to facilitate legal action against the tobacco companies in Europe. It is these tobacco companies which have put an additional burden on Britain's National Health Service over the past two decades. We have all known that smoking is bad for you... and so have the manufacturers for several decades!

I believe that this could potentially be multi-billion pound litigation which could go some way towards recompensing the Health Services in both the UK and Ireland for the damage inflicted by the reckless use of tobacco products.

Already, Ireland's former Health Minister James Reilly has defiantly challenged Big Tobacco to sue Ireland and its taxpayers for billions of euro over his plans to introduce plain packaging for all cigarettes. Will the British government have the same chutzpah to defy these corporations?

This could be a great opportunity for the British and Irish Governments to work together in the spirit of mutual interest co-operation in taking on the might of the tobacco companies and, in doing so, take some of the financial pressure off their respective Health Services, which are both beginning to creak at the seams, in no small measure due to consequences of having to treat serious smoking related illnesses.

I believe this is an apolitical issue and should be explored for the benefit of future generations and for compensation for the NHS who have suffered at the hands of the Tobacco Companies for many years. Over the coming months I'll keep Huffington Post readers updated with progress. In the meantime, if you have views on this David vs Goliath approach, I would like to hear from you. Email me your thoughts - feedback@peoplematter.tv and let's hear the citizen's roar, hopefully without coughing!