Netherlands: No prosecution of tobacco industry…yet
A growing coalition of anti-tobacco and health organisations in the Netherlands wants tobacco manufacturers in criminal court. Pressure on the Public Prosecutor’s Office to bring a criminal case against the tobacco industry to court is rising, with several influential health organisations including the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI-AVL) joining the coalition that has pressed charges. The coalition, which includes patients, as well as numerous health organisations, pressed charges against four tobacco companies active in the Netherlands: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.
After an exceptionally long period of deliberation lasting 15 months, in February 2018 the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that it won’t prosecute the tobacco industry in the Netherlands. However, the accusers will appeal to the court to force the Public Prosecutor to finally start a prosecution.
The tobacco manufacturers are accused of attempted murder and manslaughter and/or premeditated attempts to cause grievous bodily harm and/or premeditated attempts to cause damage to health. Another accusation concerns the falsification of documents. If the Public Prosecutor decides after appeal to bring the case to court it would be a first in the world.
The case dates to September 2016, when criminal lawyer Bénédicte Ficq (Ficq & Partners) filed a criminal complaint against the tobacco industry on behalf of two lung patients and the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation. The complaint documentation filed argues that the tobacco industry deliberately makes cigarettes more addictive by adding hundreds of additives, which makes new smokers addicted quickly and makes existing smokers more addicted. The accusation also focusses on tiny holes in cigarette filters which sabotage official measurements of harmful substances by drawing extra air into the measurement machines. As a result, the machines measure lower values than those actually inhaled by smokers, who block the holes with their lips and fingers as they smoke. Because of this, smokers inhale 2–3 times the recorded and maximum allowed levels of harmful substances.
Lawyer Bénédicte Ficq commented: ‘…The industry has just one goal, and that is to get people addicted. People do not realise just how manipulated a cigarette is today. We want to make that clear to the Public Prosecutors Office, and we are convinced that when, like us, it understands what tobacco manufacturers put on the market, it too will conclude that it amounts to ‘causing grievous bodily harm’.’
By knowingly and intentionally getting smokers addicted, the tobacco industry denies them their free will to smoke or not. The fact that cigarettes are a legal product according to the Tobacco Act does not relieve the tobacco industry of its obligation to respect other laws. According to the submission, the tobacco industry fails to comply with a number of criminal law provisions. It therefore has a case to answer before a criminal court.
The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI-AVL), which is among the top 10 best cancer institutes in the world, was the first hospital/research institution in the Netherlands to join the growing coalition. The NKI believes that it is ‘banging its head against a brick wall’ and this has to stop. No less than 30% of the NKI patients die as a result of smoking. In the Netherlands, at least 55 people die every day because of smoking. As a result of their smoking behaviour of 20 years ago, women are now more likely to die from lung cancer than from breast cancer.
‘Every day, we do our utmost to provide cancer patients with the best possible care. Our researchers and practitioners are continuously looking for solutions to the cancer problem and the best treatment for all their patients. At the same time, we see tobacco manufacturers knowingly cause people to become addicted to the most carcinogenic product in existence: the cigarette’, says professor René Medema, chairman of the Board of Directors of the NKI. The University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG) immediately followed the example of NKI and also filed a report against the tobacco industry. Other hospitals have said they will consider doing the same.
The campaign was started by the author, a chest physician and chair of the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation http://www.stichtingrookpreventiejeugd.nl/over-rookpreventie-jeugd/english. It was made possible by joining together with two patients – one a young mother of three with lung cancer, the other with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – funding from the Dutch Cancer Foundation and a grass roots organisation that is sick of smoking (https://sickofsmoking.nl/en/).
Wanda de Kanter
Netherlands Cancer Institute
Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation,
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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