Christopher Cooper was just 15 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Navy in 1977. Like most teenage boys, he was very impressionable and unaware of the full dangers of tobacco.
“I was encouraged to smoke….taking a break meant having a smoke…I wanted to be one of the men”, he said in 2014.
Sadly for Mr Cooper, his youthful naivety coupled with the Australian Navy’s then culture of smoking, cost him his life. Mr. Cooper died of tongue cancer in 2015, shortly after having commenced compensation proceedings against the Australian Navy with whom he served for 23 years.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal recently handed down a verdict in favour of Mr Cooper, ruling the Australian Navy caused his smoking habit.
“The tribunal is satisfied that the deceased’s employment with the Royal Australian Navy did contribute to a significant degree to his smoking”, it said.
The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission said Mr Cooper’s smoking was a personal choice. The tribunal rejected this argument stating “A boy of that age who was living and working in a closed and strange environment would necessarily have been more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to adopt the habits and culture of those he was living with to ‘fit in’ and to make life bearable”.
But the tribunal warned that not all former defence personnel suffering from a smoking-related illness would succeed in bringing a compensation claim against their employer.
“His youth, distance from his family, rapid onset of smoking, length of service and easy access to cigarettes are all key factors in determining whether the deceased’s smoking habit was caused by his defence service”, the tribunal said.
As a result of the tribunal’s decision, Mr Cooper’s widow will now be entitled to compensation.
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