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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 15:12 GMT
Saudi hospital fights tobacco 'terrorists'
Man smoking
Official figures say over 40% of Saudi men are smokers
Frank Gardner

Saudi Arabia's leading cancer hospital says it has filed a multi-billion-dollar law suit in Riyadh against 10 international tobacco firms.

A lawyer representing the King Faisal Specialist Hospital declared his client was fighting a holy war against smoking.

We are fighting a holy war to eradicate the source of the biggest corruption on earth

Saudi lawyer Ahmad al-Tuwarjiri
Classing a tobacco firm as a sponsor of terrorism demands a certain leap of the imagination, but that is exactly what the leading Saudi lawyer Ahmad al-Tuwarjiri is trying to do.

Mr Tuwarjiri was quoted as saying that smoking had killed so many people that tobacco firms should be classed as sponsors of terrorism.

"We are fighting a holy war to eradicate the source of the biggest corruption on earth," he has said.

He said tobacco firms should be included on the lists of terrorist organisations because of the large numbers of deaths caused by smoking.

Lebanese people smoke a hubble-bubble water pipe
Hubble-bubble pipes are no longer a common sight
These are not just empty words.

His client, the hospital, is seeking initial damages of nearly $3bn to recoup the costs of 25 years of treating smoking-related illnesses.

The lawyer said the hospital would also be hiring firms in Switzerland and the United States to pursue its case around the world.

Saudis like their cigarettes. Their country is the world's fourth biggest importer of tobacco products, and, according to official statistics, over 40% of Saudi men are smokers.

Costly habit

Devoutly religious Saudis have tried to get the practice banned, saying that the Koran forbids anything which is bad for the body.

Hubble bubble water pipes, once common in the capital Riyadh, are now a rare sight.

Ahmad al-Tuwarjiri talks of 'holy war' against smoking
In Saudi Arabia, health care is mostly free, but the King Faisal Specialist Hospital claims it has spent nearly $3bn treating millions of patients with smoking-related illnesses.

It says it plans to sue international tobacco companies for a further $8-10bn in damages because it has had to allocate most of its budget to deal with such cases.

The hospital's lawyer, Mr Tuwarjiri says he believes the Saudi court will rule against the tobacco firms.

The first hearing is expected later this month.

See also:

02 Apr 01 | Business
Islanders free to sue tobacco giants
05 Feb 01 | Middle East
Saudi hospital sues tobacco firms
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