Criminal investigation into Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux dropped in blow to anti-smoking campaigners


Dutch prosecutors have rejected calls to open a criminal investigation into four major tobacco companies on charges including attempted murder or manslaughter, saying such a case would be unlikely to lead to a conviction.

The decision was a blow to what Dutch anti-smoking organisations had hoped would be a new legal front in the fight against the tobacco industry.

Amsterdam lawyer Benedicte Ficq filed what she called a world's-first criminal complaint in 2016 seeking a prosecution on behalf of two ex-smokers, including a mother suffering from lung cancer, and a youth smoking prevention organisation. Hospitals, doctors and other groups later joined the call.

​Ficq had called for the prosecution of Philip MorrisBritish American TobaccoJapan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.  But the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, or DPPS, said in a written statement that they see no prospect within current laws of a conviction.

“Smoking is deadly and the design of cigarettes does add to this but according to the DPPS, the tobacco manufacturers have not acted in violation of either the law or the current regulatory framework,” the service said in an English-language statement.

An Amsterdam hospital that was among those calling for a prosecution said that 55 people die each day in the Netherlands as a result of smoking. It vowed not to give up the legal fight.

Rene Medema, chairman of the board of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital, said the hospital would discuss the options for appealing the decision or petitioning a judge to order prosecutors to launch an investigation.

“We see the damaging consequences of smoking every day in our patients,” Medema said in a statement. “We have to make clear to the tobacco industry that their way of working is unacceptable.”

When Ficq filed her request, the Dutch association of cigarette and tobacco makers labelled it a publicity stunt and said it was confident that “the sale of a legal, heavily regulated product is not a crime in the Netherlands.” On Thursday, the association said it had “no further comment at this stage.” The Dutch case was being monitored by other anti-tobacco groups looking at similar action.

British group Action on Smoking and Health, known as ASH, is also looking at a criminal case against cigarette makers. “When criminal liability succeeds, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to legally continue to market and sell cigarettes,” ASH says in a statement on its website.