Dutch hospital files lawsuit against tobacco industry

The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital in Amsterdam filed a lawsuit against the four large tobacco factories in the Netherlands, accusing them of aggravated assault with death as result. According to the hospital, the fight against cancer is a losing battle as long as the tobacco industry continues to deliberately get people addicted, AD reports.

"We specialize in the fight against cancer. Meanwhile there are companies that consciously circumvent the law to make people addicted", Rene Medema, chairman of the hospital's board of directors, said to the newspaper. "Our work therefore feels like mopping with the tap open. 30 percent of patients here come in as a result of smoking. Tobacco is at a great distance the largest cause of cancer. So we have to do something."

The hospital also wants to put an end to the stigma that falling ill from smoking is the smoker's own fault, Medema said to AD. "80 percent of smokers start in their teenage years. How aware are you of your choices at that age? Those are the years you think you can take on the world. But smoking is such a heavy addiction", she said. "We of course thought about this in this lawsuit: is this not a bad signal to patients who come here as a result of smoking. But I emphasize: no, that is not the case. We know how heavy this addiction is and that really is not the smoker's own fault."

The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital - recognized as one of the top ten cancer fighters in the world - is the first hospital in the Netherlands ever to sue the tobacco industry. The hospital is represented by lawyer Bénédicte Ficq, the same lawyer assisting cancer association KWF and lung cancer patients Anne Marie van Veen and Lia Breed in their legal battles against the tobacco producers. 

The hospital's lawsuit is focused on the same product as the KWF's lawsuit - cigarettes with holes in the filter. In theory these holes mean that some of the harmful substances escape before the smoker can inhale them, and it works like that in tests. But in practice, smokers often cover the holes with their fingers, thereby inhaling two to three times more harmful substances than the maximum allowed in the Tobacco Act, according to lawyer Ficq. The tobacco industry has been aware of this for years, and thereby consciously endanger lives, the lawyer said.

The Public Prosecution Service has been wondering about whether or not to prosecute the four large tobacco producers in the Netherlands for months. The KWF filed its lawsuit in March last year. The decision has been postponed several times, according to the newspaper. Marieke van der Molen of the Public Prosecution Service could not tell AD when the decision will be made. "This is legally a very complex case."

Should the Public Prosecutor decide to prosecute, it will be the first time in the world that tobacco factories are prosecuted.