The Netherlands: Dutch government sued over WHO FCTC violations

This post was originally published by The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation. It is republished here with full permission.

The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation is taking the Kingdom of the Netherlands to court to end the structural and excessive influence exerted by the tobacco lobby on government anti-smoking policies.

The Foundation is calling on the Dutch government to comply fully with the anti-smoking convention (WHO FCTC), which it signed and which is therefore legally binding. One of the most important articles in the convention states that every form of influence by the tobacco industry on policies to deter smoking must be avoided. In the court summons issued, the Foundation offers dozens of examples that show how the government has systematically violated this provision, and even invites the tobacco industry to clarify its position on matters of policy development.

19,000 tobacco-related deaths

More than 19,000 Dutch people, half of them younger than 65, die each year as a result of smoking. In addition, an average of 120 children under the age of 18 start smoking every day. Some 60 of them will continue to smoke for the rest of their lives, and 30 of them will die prematurely from the effects of smoking.

Smoking is by far the biggest cause of death that could be avoided through prevention. However, the marketing techniques deployed by the tobacco industry are so refined that many youths cannot resist the temptation to start smoking. Moreover, cigarettes are designed to be highly addictive. Children who start smoking end up addicted within weeks. For many of them, the question of ‘free will’ no longer applies: they are unable to stop smoking without help.

Numerous national and international laws and conventions make it a duty of the Dutch government to protect the health of its citizens from a serious cause of illness like tobacco. With as many as 19,000 tobacco deaths every year, the government has an obligation to do all in its power to combat the massive scale of premature fatalities. And it should certainly prevent minors from starting to smoke, because almost nobody starts after they turn 18.

Despite all this, the Dutch government has failed to implement measures that could be very effective in achieving results: imposing much higher taxes on tobacco and greatly reducing the current number of over 60,000 points of sale. Instead, the government listens to the tobacco industry, whose effective lobbying continues to successfully obstruct measures to discourage tobacco use.

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There are dozens of examples that show how the Dutch government has systematically violated Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.

WHO FCTC convention

The summons focuses on the fact that the government still allows the tobacco lobby to influence the implementation of policies aimed at deterring tobacco use. Such influence is a flagrant violation of the provisions of the legally binding international convention drawn up by the World Health Organization – the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – signed by the Netherlands and 179 other countries.

Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC convention states that signatories must protect the setting and implementing of their tobacco deterrent policies from any influence from the tobacco industry. By citing the Freedom of Information Act, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation has obtained hundreds of documents that reveal how the government has maintained frequent contacts in various ways with representatives of the tobacco industry concerning many aspects of tobacco deterrent policies.

Officials from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport regularly invite representatives from the tobacco industry to comment directly on draft policies. In addition, frequent consultation occurs with the tobacco industry concerning current policy matters. In many cases, no minutes of these meetings are recorded, and transparency concerning the contacts is totally absent.

With this court summons, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation wants to prove that the Dutch government is acting illegally by not complying with the WHO FCTC convention. The Foundation is also demanding that the government immediately break off all contact with representatives of the tobacco industry and that it inform all government agencies, including those at local government level, not to consult with the tobacco industry. In light of the WHO FCTC convention, there is no longer any room for ‘negotiation’ with the tobacco industry. The government must do what it is obliged to do: protect its citizens from products that pose a serious threat to their health. In addition, the government should not be obstructed in those efforts as a result of consultation with the very companies that put those lethal products on the market.

Download here the text of the court summons (in Dutch)