The Netherlands’ Public Prosecutor has rejected calls for an investigation into allegations of murder or manslaughter against four multinational tobacco companies, according to a number of media reports.

An Associated Press story described the decision as a blow to what Dutch anti-smoking organizations had hoped would be a new legal front in their battle against the tobacco industry.

Benedicte Ficq, the lawyer who filed the criminal complaint against the tobacco companies, said she would petition an appeals court to order prosecutors to investigate.

And Anne Marie van Veen, a lung cancer patient who is one of the complainants was quoted as saying, “We won’t give up the fight”.

Ficq filed what she called a world’s-first criminal complaint in 2016 seeking a prosecution on behalf of Van Veen, another ex-smoker and a youth smoking prevention organization. Hospitals, doctors and other groups later joined the call.

Ficq had called for the prosecution of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.

The complaint alleged that the tobacco companies were liable because of ‘the large-scale, decades-long and ongoing production and sale of addictive tobacco products in the Netherlands’. It alleged also that tobacco companies had acted in such a way as to render misleading the results of laboratory tests aimed at determining tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide deliveries.

But the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (DPPS) said in a written statement that it saw 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 DPPS said in an English-language statement.

Prosecutors added that tobacco companies could not be held criminally liable for the deaths or ill health of smokers because smokers knowingly exposed themselves to health risks.

‘Not everyone starts to smoke and there are people who do manage to stop,’ the DPPS said. ‘This element of freedom of choice in the chain of cause and effect means that the negative consequences of smoking cannot be attributed to the tobacco manufacturers under criminal law.’  

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