Overly toxic cigarettes bring lawsuits against Dutch government from Amsterdam, 19 others

The municipality of Amsterdam, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation (Stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd), and eighteen other organizations will challenge the Dutch government in court Monday over cigarettes with too much tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Dutch and European tobacco legislation allows cigarettes to deliver a maximum of 10 milligrams (mg) of tar, 1 mg nicotine, and 10 mg carbon monoxide – a standard which the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) monitors with smoking machines. While all cigarette brands claim to adhere to these guidelines, a National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) study betrays these claims.

Tobacco manufacturers make tiny holes in the filter paper which pull in extra air during tests, diluting the smoke “precisely enough to meet the standard,” according to Trouw. Yet smokers typically block those holes while smoking and therefore intake more toxins than the tests indicate.

Trouw writes that the tobacco industry “had a major influence on setting up the measurement method.” Further, those tests include a 20% margin for error and cigarette companies are therefore rarely fined for these violations. AD reports that Lexington brand was the only company imposed with a fine, which was of an undisclosed amount.

In 2017, RIVM examined 100 cigarette brands sold in the Netherlands using a Canadian testing model which involves plugging the ventilation holes and smoking the cigarettes mechanically. The test indicated much higher concentrations of toxins in tobacco smoke, proving that no ‘normal’ cigarettes were below the legal limit and in fact the levels were usually two to three times higher. Phon van den Biesen, lawyer to the pulmonologists involved in the case, says there would theoretically be “at least five thousand fewer cases of lung cancer in the Netherlands every year if the Canadian measurement method were to be the norm, and the tar content would be adjusted accordingly.”

The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation requested that NVWA withdraw cigarettes from the market which fail to meet the legal limits for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide according to the alternative measurements. When the request was rejected, the foundation lodged an objection with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport; this appeal was also rejected. Together with Amsterdam and eighteen other partners, on Monday the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation will appear in the administrative court in Rotterdam.

More than 20,000 people die every year in the Netherlands from smoking, with 13,600 of those deaths caused by lung cancer. Martin van den Berg, professor of toxicology at Utrecht University, tells Trouw that the government could prevent thousands of tobacco-related deaths each year by forcing the tobacco industry into compliance.


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