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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sick Pensioner Files Suit Against Cigarette Maker

ST. PETERSBURG — A sick former smoker has filed a 2 million-ruble ($70,000) lawsuit against the foreign-owned Petro tobacco plant, accusing it of producing the cigarettes that gave him lung cancer and of not taking adequate steps to warn consumers about the risks of smoking.

While the damages being sought are small compared with the multibillion-dollar lawsuits that have been heard in the West, the suit filed in the Nevsky District Court is the first of its kind in Russia and is seen as a litmus test by smokers and tobacco firms.

The lawsuit is against the St. Petersburg unit of Japan Tobacco International.

Pensioner Ivan Prokopenko, who smoked Petro-made Belomorkanal cigarettes for 40 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago and had to have a lung removed, his lawyer Sergei Osutin said Monday.

"Doctors from the St. Petersburg City Oncology Center who treated and operated on Prokopenko have concluded that his illness was the result of smoking," Osutin said.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

It was unclear when a ruling would be made.

Japan International Tobacco called the lawsuit unfounded.

"We consider Mr. Prokopenko's claim against Petro in connection with the injury to his health allegedly caused by smoking Belomorkanal to be unfounded," said JTI spokesman Andrei Rogov.

JTI intends to argue that Prokopenko knew exactly what he was risking when he chose to light up, an argument that has been used in lawsuits in the United States and elsewhere.

Prokopenko was unavailable for comment.

He told the Vedomosti newspaper, however, that he had smoked brands other than the unfiltered Belomorkanals before quitting eight years ago.

In addition to monetary damages, Prokopenko's lawyers are asking Petro to change the labeling on Belomorkanal packs to say that smoking leads to cancer.

"The label should say not only that smoking is harmful to people's health but that it leads to cancer," Osutin said. "Cigarette smoke is a carcinogen, and those who smoke should be reminded of this fact every time they buy tobacco."

Osutin said that if Prokopenko's case is settled out of court or the judge rules in his favor, hundreds of similar lawsuits would follow.

Tobacco companies, however, say they are not certain that Russians will resort to the same legal battles that smokers have fought in the West.

Unidentified representatives from British American Tobacco were quoted in Kommersant last week as saying that a flood of multimillion-dollar tobacco cases were unlikely. The newspaper also quoted a source at Philip Morris as saying that the company has not been on the Russian market long enough to have damaged anyone's health.

In addition to Belomorkanal, Petro produces Winston, Camel, Russky Stil and Pyotr I cigarettes. The plant produced about 50 billion cigarettes last year, according to Vedomosti.