A judge has awarded more than $15 billion Canadian (US$12 billion) to Quebec smokers in a case that pitted them against three giant tobacco companies. The case is believed to be the biggest class-action lawsuit ever seen in Canada.

Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan's decision became public late Monday.

The judgment calls on the companies to issue initial compensation of more than $1 billion Canadian (US$800 million) in the next 60 days, regardless of whether they elect to appeal. JTI-Macdonald, Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges said they'll appeal.

The Quebec case marked the first time tobacco companies had gone to trial in a civil lawsuit in Canada and involved two separate groups of plaintiffs: some of whome became seriously ill from smoking and others who said they couldn't quit.