February 6, 2018
The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (AVL) cancer hospital in Amsterdam has joined an ongoing legal action against four tobacco companies based in the Netherlands. The AVL is the first hospital or research institute in the Netherlands to take such a step against the tobacco industry. “At least 30% of all cancer patients develop the disease through smoking,” said hospital chairman René Medema. “Many people still don’t realise that two out of three smokers will die because of tobacco, and a quarter of them before they reach pension age.”
According to the hospital, civil cases around the world have so far failed to resolve the smoking problem. The case against Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco was started in 2016 by lung cancer patient Anne Marie van Veen and lawyer Bénédicte Ficq. They have accused the tobacco firms of doing “deliberate damage to public health” and “forgery of documents”.
The women argue that tobacco firms cannot hide behind the freedom of choice of people to smoke because they are deliberately influencing smokers’ behaviour. “To limit that freedom, addictive chemicals such as nicotine and other additives are put into cigarettes, ” they said. According to the women, the companies “overcome our natural aversion to poisons by adding substances like menthol.”
The AVL has called on other doctors and hospitals to participate in the court case and to work towards a smoke-free society. Following its lead, the Academic Hospital of the University of Groningen announced last week it also wants to sign the lawsuit. Chairman Jos Aartsen said that he intends to raise this issue during the next meeting of all eight university hospitals and urge them to join.
Deadly by design
In a recently published Letter to the Editor of the International Journal of Health Policy Management, IFHHRO Board member Prof. Brigit Toebes wrote that like States, also private businesses have to respect human rights. “This means that human rights, including the right to life and the right to health, need to be respected with the production, marketing and sales of its products. For the tobacco industry, this makes a very clear case: by producing, marketing and selling a product that is deadly by design, the tobacco industry flagrantly violates this human rights responsibility. As a consequence, producing, marketing and selling tobacco is fundamentally incompatible with human rights. Human rights responsibilities thus force the tobacco industry to go out of business.”
Update 27 February 2018: Following the AVL, many other medical facilities, health professionals’ associations, as well as the national cancer research institute and several associations of cancer and lung patients have joined the initiative.
On February 22th, the prosecutors rejected the call for a criminal investigation into the four tobacco companies. Benedicte Ficq , the lawyer who filed the criminal complaint, said she will now petition an appeals court to order the prosecutors to investigate.