Saturday 01 April 2023

Top Dutch cancer hospital joins tobacco class action lawsuit

The smoking zone at the VU teaching hospital

The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (AVL) cancer hospital in Amsterdam said in a statement on Thursday that it was joining an ongoing legal action against four Dutch-based tobacco firms.

The AVL said it was the first hospital or research institute in the Netherlands to make such a move 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.’

The hospital said civil cases around the world had so far failed to resolve the smoking problem. Thus AVL has joined the ongoing class action suit against Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco which started in 2016.

The case was started by lung cancer patient Anne Marie van Veen and lawyer Bénédicte Ficq who accused the tobacco firms of doing ‘deliberate damage to public health’ and ‘forgery of documents’. They aim not to win damages but to force tobacco companies to behave differently.

Influencing behaviour

They 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 say. ‘And [the companies] overcome our natural aversion to poisons by adding substances like menthol.’

Last year, cancer charity KWF Kankerbestrijding was among the parties joining the campaign.

The AVL called on other doctors and hospitals to join the class action lawsuit and work towards a smoke-free society. Later on Thursday, Groningen University’s teaching hospital said it too was signing up to the lawsuit.

Chairman Jos Aartsen said he is planning to raise the issue at the next meeting of all eight academic hospitals and call on them all to join in.

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