Statement of Laurent Huber, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 22, 2018 – We are disappointed in the Dutch Public Prosecution Service’s (DPPS) decision not to file criminal charges against the tobacco industry. We congratulate the efforts of our colleagues at Sick of Smoking, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation, and the Dutch Cancer Society who worked tirelessly to build public and legal support for this case. ASH supports an Article 12 appeal, which allows those with a direct interest in a case to ask the appeal court to order the public prosecutor to bring charges.
The documents that were submitted to the prosecutor argue that the tobacco industry knowingly and intentionally makes cigarettes more addictive. Tobacco manufacturers are accused of attempted murder and manslaughter, attempt to cause grievous bodily harm, attempt to cause damage to health, and the falsification of documents.
The DPSS cites several reasons for their declination to prosecute including “freedom of choice” and assumption of risk by the consumer. These arguments have been made by the tobacco industry for decades, and should not be a barrier to a successful prosecution. We are confident that the appeals court will agree.
That idea that people have a “freedom of choice” when it comes to tobacco is a fallacy. Addiction takes away free will. Nearly 70% of American adult smokers want to quit; many try repeatedly and fail. Furthermore, over 80% of all adult smokers begin smoking before age 18. Minors should not be held legally responsible for becoming addicted to tobacco.
The tobacco industry has also tried the smokers’ assumption of risk argument in U.S. civil cases. In a Massachusetts case, Haglund v. Philip Morris, the Court unanimously rejected the tobacco industry’s defense and wrote, “If Philip Morris chooses to market an inherently dangerous product, it is at the very least perverse to allow the company to escape liability by showing only that its product was used for its ordinary purpose.” The tobacco industry induces people to smoke, and half of all of their consumers die as a result of the ordinary use of their product. Any other product that killed half of its consumers would never be allowed on the market.
ASH is proud to have been supporting this movement in the Netherlands and serving as a catalyst and support for new and existing criminal actions against the tobacco industry, including the recent criminal complaint in France. We are hopeful that the appeal will lead to a case in the Netherlands, and that other prosecutors around the world take similar action to hold the tobacco industry criminally responsible for the death and disease caused by their products.
Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is the United States’ oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. https://ash.org