It is time that the tobacco industry be held responsible for their criminal behavior. Attorney Benedicte Ficq asserted that in a TEDx talk that made a big impression.
“My new role of prosecutor felt, strangely enough, immediately good,” said Ms. Bénédicte Ficq on 28 October 2016 on the stage of TEDx Amsterdam Women. The attorney has recently filed formal complaints against the tobacco industry on behalf of two smokers who became ill and Stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd (“Foundation for Smoking Prevention in Youths”). At TEDx, she explained why. Below is her complete speech.
You can guess which two questions I am asked most frequently:What is it actually like to defend someone when you know that he did it? and Could you ever be a Prosecutor?
Does my profession feel like that of the dentist who beautifully repairs the teeth? Or is it more than that? For me the profession is always more than a duty. I need a lively spark of mental fire; without that I am nothing. Whether he did it or not is not up to me. That is what the judge is for, fortunately. What counts is that my clients receive a more than fair and creative trial, that no one is convicted without a solid basis for that, and that I make everyone’s case unique. I think that my deep-seated fear of getting screwed by an all-powerful government also plays a role in my “fish in water” feeling as an attorney.
A number of months ago, I was unexpectedly confronted with the second-most asked question. I was approached by an incurably ill young woman with lung cancer, mother of four young children, with a totally different case than all the cases I normally do. I was not asked to act for the defense, but as the prosecutor, not formally, but factually.
She thought that the tobacco industry had namely made her addicted with aforethought to the poison called a cigarette. She therefore wanted me to bring the tobacco producers before the criminal courts, something that has not happened before anywhere in the world. She did not want to earn a cent. Her goal was that it would be established that tobacco producers are unscrupulous criminals and (especially) for her children to be protected against the packages of “long-term death” on the shelves in the supermarket.
My role in that would be to file a formal complaint with the Prosecutor’s office of criminal acts committed by the tobacco industry. That new role felt, strangely enough, immediately good. Fighting against a power bigger than the State. Against an industry that has penetrated every pore of society, against an industry that has made smoking normal. But, what crimes have the tobacco producers committed?
I was initially, almost immediately, because of 30 years of brainwashing and smoking addiction, flooded with stereotype objections in the line of, “you make that choice yourself” and “you know what you’re getting into.” Clean for 15 years and like so many others, I walked straight into the “just desserts” trap with open eyes.
It was therefore particularly useful for me to put on my criminal law glasses and to immerse myself in the world called “tobacco.” I discovered along the way that the cigarette is an extremely well-thought out and hyper-developed, genius product in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is left to chance.
It is full of additives that serve only one purpose. And that is to get the smoker addicted to tobacco as quickly as possible. And to ensure that the love affair never ends. The tobacco overlords realize that perfectly well and ensure that the loyalty is created automatically. How? By delivering nicotine.
The more nicotine is inhaled, the better. Nicotine: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A drug that is completely innocent in terms of behavioral effects: you do not start talking strangely, you do not get bloodshot eyes, you do not lose control. And it is just as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Bam: two birds with one stone, genius.
It is the source of an immediate and super-addictive, but still unnoticeable kick. The source of an instant reward during inhaling at numerous daily, normal moments. A drink, a good conversation, a moment to yourself. Without that secret kick, you would never smoke it. Every new smoker knows that. The first cigarettes are just plain nasty. It only becomes appealing after a number of weeks. And that period just happens to coincide with the moment at which you are addicted.
To make it even more attractive, there are also substances added that (after burning) have an anti-depressive effect. Again, with only one goal: nurturing the addiction.
To make the cigarette smokable at all, substances are deliberately added that completely paralyze the cilia in your airways, to suppress the urge to cough, since imagine—horror of horrors—that coughing stopped you from smoking. You do not walk into a burning house without coughing, either.
The secret, nearly invisible holes that are present in the filters of cigarettes ensure that the official smoking machines are tricked. That way, secretly and above the permissible norm, extra nicotine can be processed into the cigarettes. Really an “honest” product.
This “honest, unmanipulated” product is an effective destroyer. Did you know that one in two smokers becomes seriously ill from smoking? That in the Netherlands alone, 20,000 people per year die from smoking? That all those carcinogenic substances in the cigarette silently destroy you, over the long term, unexpectedly, perhaps even when you have been clean for 10 years and have a young family?
The worst discovery for me was learning that 80% of all addicted adults started smoking as children. It was that way for me as well: 15, young, reckless, carefree, headstrong, not worried about the future. Cool, too, that was part of it, almost proud because I smoked. It gave me the feeling of being an adult, of belonging. That I was slowly but surely walking into the trap of addiction was something I only realized later, when my daughter asked me: “Are you going to die, too, Mama?” She had just learned to read and read what it said on the package. Before that time, my addicted brain came up with every conceivable junkie excuse you can think of if someone suggested that quitting: “I’ll stop when I’m ready. I can stop when I want. I just enjoy it.”
I Googled the search terms “children – smoking – Indonesia” and stumbled across a short documentary about seriously addicted 8-, 9-, and 10-year-old children in Indonesia who do not know what junkie excuses are for denying their addiction. What I saw happen to them was unbelievable. Their “craving” for cigarettes. The scenes that they make with their parents when their first pack of the day was gone and they were ready to smoke their second pack.
They provided me with the stunning proof of what the addicted nicotine brain does to you when you have a regular relationship with those cigarettes. And they also gave me the key to the answer to the question of whether it is feasible to have the tobacco producers prosecuted for the crimes they have committed. They showed me that the addicted smoker is deliberately robbed of their free will to not smoke, that their brain is made addicted (sick) with forethought by the tobacco producers. That they intend that addiction. That the ingenious, carefully designed cigarette is nothing more than a package for a dose of nicotine. That way, secretly, but with the knowledge of the government and above the permissible norm, extra nicotine can be processed into cigarettes. Really an honest product.
Their laughter has to stop now
Do you still come away with the mantra that you choose addiction yourself? If you are so deceived and manipulated to become addicted faster and more intensely than you would have believed possible? Is it then really your own fault that you are so addicted? The tobacco producers have been laughing themselves silly for decades because of their widespread brainwashing.
Their laughter has to stop now. They must realize that addiction is an officially recognized disease, a disease of the brain recognized and described in the medical diagnostic handbook DSM5. And that it is a crime in our country to make someone sick on purpose, to deliberately damage someone else’s health. They know the consequences of the addiction; they know how dangerous their product is and they accept those consequences in exchange for sales. Deliberately and indifferently.
Yes, they deserve a fair trial—that goes without saying—but this time, I will gladly stand on the other side, ready to give these white-collar criminals a push in the direction of a just conviction.