Patients and families will be given help to sue tobacco companies for damages in a campaign being organised by anti-smoking groups. Professor Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, announced the legal battle at the end yesterday of the 6th Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health at the Hospital Authority's headquarters. He said he and his colleagues had contacted lawyers, including Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, seeking their legal services for free. He did not say when legal action would be launched but warned it was a priority among anti-smoking groups. Dr Ko Wing-man, chairman of the conference's scientific committee and deputy director of the Hospital Authority, said anti-smoking groups wanted to find a group of patients suffering tobacco-related diseases and launch legal action, arguing they had been misled by tobacco advertisements. The Hospital Authority confirmed it would 'support any initiatives of the health authorities towards any legal action'. Dr Ko stressed recent successful overseas civil claims could favour Hong Kong patients. Professor Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said no group had yet been organised as they were awaiting further advice. But she warned that more than one million people in Hong Kong were affected by tobacco, including passive smokers and the families of the 6,000 killed by smoking-related diseases every year. These were also 'potential claimants' if they could establish their cases against the tobacco industry. According to Professor Hedley, Tik Chi-yuen, chairman of the Commission on Home-School Co-operation, a parents group, will chair a committee to conduct a three-year, anti-youth smoking campaign funded by the tobacco industry and costing $20 million. Last night the Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong said it would 'continue to market tobacco products in a responsible way in line with public expectations'. In Australia, the New South Wales Supreme Court awarded former barmaid Marlene Sharp, 63, A$446,000 (HK$1.79 million) in damages in her fight against a social club. She claimed her throat cancer had been caused by cigarette smoke while she worked there between 1984 and 1995. In the US, a jury found the cigarette giant Philip Morris liable for concealing the health dangers of cigarettes and awarded Richard Boeken, 56, US$3 billion (HK$23.3 billion). The amount was later slashed to US$100 million.