Lawyers say they are also looking at bringing other cases against British American Tobacco (BAT) on behalf of former employees.
Simon Neale, 57, was given 1,200 cigarettes a month to give away or use, becoming a regular and heavy smoker while he worked for Rothmans, which later merged with BAT.
He often had 30,000 cigarettes in a safe in his car boot during the four years he was an employee.
After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer late last year, he quit smoking.
“It’s staggering looking back on it, but I was told when I joined the company that I’d be getting 1,200 free cigarettes a month,” he said.
“Working at Rothmans, I went from being an occasional smoker, a social smoker, to being a heavy smoker because I had so many cigarettes given to me.
“Last autumn, I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and it knocked me for six. The worst thing was telling the children. The lung cancer has all come about from me working for Rothmans.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said tobacco executives knew of the dangers of smoking.
At BAT’s annual general meeting on Thursday, the charity will call on the company to reveal full details of its policy of handing out free cigarettes.
Ms Arnott said: “Simon Neale is not the only one. Many thousands of employees were given free cigarettes, and free cigarettes were also doled out to the public.
“Big tobacco promoted its products while hiding from the public – and its own employees – its own evidence that smoking was heavily addictive.
“We’d encourage anyone now suffering serious smoking-related disease who took up smoking before the 1990s to come forward and tell us their story.
“Big tobacco must be called to account.”
Simon Cleverly, of BAT, said: “Historically, BAT employees had the option to receive a monthly allowance of cigarettes.
“At all times, these products complied with all applicable laws and regulations, including the relevant health warnings.
“In a small number of markets – six out of approximately 200 – this allowance continues as a result of collective bargaining agreements with local trade unions, and the products supplied comply with all applicable local regulations, including health warnings.”
Lawyer Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, acting for Mr Neale, said: “We believe that giving employees huge quantities of highly addictive, powerfully cancer-causing cigarettes, free of charge, and placing them in a work environment in which they are encouraged to smoke, is a flagrant breach of an employer’s duty of care.”
Additional reporting by PA
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies