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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2154

Tobacco Industry: Charge As Criminals

By Manjari Peiris

Smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death in the US and around the world. Tobacco control measures like civil litigation, legislation, and even the tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, have made progress, but people are still dying.

Tobacco industry knowingly and intentionally makes cigarettes more addictive by adding hundreds of substances. The tobacco manufacturers are accused of attempted murder and manslaughter and premeditated attempts to cause grievous bodily harm, premeditated attempts to cause damage to health, and the falsification of documents.

Thus fifteen months ago, lawyers and advocates in the Netherlands filed a complaint with the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (DPSS) requesting them to file charges against the four major tobacco manufacturers that operate in the Netherlands (Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.)

On February 22nd, the prosecutor finally responded and declined to prosecute. Kelesey Romeo-Stuppy, a staff attorney for the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) pointed out that this is a blow for public health around the world. She further said that ASH and their partners have been working to bring a criminal case against the tobacco industry in courts around the world, including in the US.

She added, " While the DPPS arguments are oft-heard, they are also easily disproven, and should not be a barrier to a successful prosecution. United States specific legal arguments and statistics provide a compelling argument that a US prosecutor would be well situated to file criminal charges against the industry. "

She explained, "One of the obstacles the DPPS points out is that, 'smoking is addictive and this is common knowledge to everyone who takes up the habit.' Virtually no one knows exactly how addictive smoking is, and the tobacco industry has been hard at work manipulating their products to make them more addictive gradually.

Smokers are not truly aware of the health risks of smoking - nearly 9 out of 10 smokers begin before the age 18, when they are too young to legally sign a contract or drink alcohol in the US. They cannot legally consent to something as mundane as a loan, but according to the DPPS, they should be held legally responsible for their addictions.

Secondly, according to the public health, it is no less salient. Addiction removes free will - while it may have been a choice to smoke the first cigarette, any cigarette after a person becomes addicted is no longer a choice.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015, 68% thosof adult smokers wanted to quit smoking, and 55.4% had made a past-year quit attempts. Thus it is clear that many people cannot simply choose to quit even they wanted to do so. According to this study it may be harder to quit smoking than to stop using cocaine or opiates like heroin. This is no accident or coincidence.

The tobacco industry has genetically engineered their tobacco plants to contain double the amount of nicotine which is the addictive element of cigarettes.

Thirdly, the smoker "accepts the considerable chance" or assumes the risk of health damages related to smoking. The tobacco industry has also tried the smokers' assumption of risk argument in US civil cases; those failed.

Just because a smoker uses a cigarette as intended, does not remove the manufacturer's responsibility for the dangerous product. Moreover, its widely accepted that it is legally impossible to consent to murder, a point highlighted in the brief presented to DPPS. Smoking kills half of all smokers; and those consumers cannot legally consent to that outcome.

Kelsey Romeo states that the case in the Netherlands had and still has the opportunity to be the first of its kind, its not isolated. A complaint has been filed in France and advocates in many other countries are working with lawyers to determine how best to bring a case in their systems. There is legal support within the United States, as well.

The lawyers in the Netherlands intend to appeal in an Article 12 proceeding. The courts there and around the world have it within their power to hold the tobacco industry criminally liable; the legal arguments are there.

Not only can a prosecutor, take this historic step, but they should. They could save thousands of lives. The United States was a catalyst behind the scourge of the tobacco epidemic worldwide; and a champion prosecutor in the U.S. could be the catalyst to end it.

- Asian Tribune -

Tobacco Industry:  Charge As Criminals
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