Accusers confident that appeal to the court will be successful
After an exceptionally long period of deliberation lasting 15 months, this morning the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that it won’t prosecute the tobacco industry in the Netherlands. The accusers will appeal to the court to force the Public Prosecutor to finally start a prosecution.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that there is broad social consensus in the Netherlands for criminal proceedings to be brought against the tobacco industry. On 29 September 2016, criminal charges were filed against four tobacco companies on behalf of lung cancer patients Anne Marie van Veen and Lia Breed and the Dutch Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation. Over recent weeks, numerous professional bodies, healthcare institutions, (academic) hospitals, social organizations and the City of Amsterdam have recognized the importance of the charges filed and decided to lend their support to the case.
A world’s first
This is the first time anywhere in the world that criminal charges have been filed against the tobacco industry for, among other things, attempted murder and manslaughter and falsification of documents.
Lawyer Bénédicte Ficq somewhat expected the prosecutor’s decision. “This comes as no surprise. For years the tobacco industry has framed the idea that smoking is a free choice. The prosecutor followed this idea entirely. Wrongly so, because smoking is no free choice, but a severe addiction. The French have an expression for this: ‘Reculer pour mieux sauter’ — to draw back in order to make a better jump. We will make that better jump in court.”
On 29 September 2016, lawyer Bénédicte Ficq of legal firm Ficq & Partners filed charges with the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of lung cancer patient Anne Marie van Veen (45, mother of three), COPD patient Lia Breed (66), and the Dutch Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation against four tobacco manufacturers that operate in the Netherlands: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux. For the accusers, money is not a motive. This is not a civil case but a criminal one, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of tobacco in order to protect the health of future generations.
The tobacco companies 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. The Dutch example was recently followed in France where the National Committee Against Tobacco (CNCT) also filed charges against tobacco companies.
Containing 30 pages as well as annexes, the documentation presented offers detailed evidence of the charges. It is argued that the tobacco industry knowingly and intentionally makes cigarettes more addictive by adding hundreds of substances. They cause new smokers to become addicted quickly, and ensure that existing smokers remain addicted. Moreover, tobacco manufacturers have misled consumers and the government by processing cigarette filters in such a way that they release less tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in test environments than they do in normal use. The difference can be up to 2.5 times greater.
Over the past 15 months, more and more parties followed suit and also pressed charges. Among the first were the Dutch Cancer Society and the Dutch Journal of Medicine. Today more than 35 associations of general practitioners, specialists, dentists, physiotherapists, (academic) hospitals, obstetricians, nurses, patient associations and health funds have filed charges, as has the municipality of the Dutch capital Amsterdam. All of them want tobacco companies to answer for their criminal actions in court.
A complete list of all supporting organizations can be found at www.sickofsmoking.nl