Dutch government says might sue tobacco industry
AMSTERDAM, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The Netherlands is considering suing for damages from the country's tobacco industry for smoking-related health costs, the Health Ministry said on Saturday.
``We've asked the government prosecutor to look into the matter and see if there's any real chance of being successful,'' spokesman Benno Bruggink told Reuters.
The government spends an estimated 6.5 billion guilders ($2.99 billion) per year on health costs linked to smoking, but it was unclear what the size of any government claim would be, he added.
The review by the prosecutor would be completed sometime next year.
About a third of the Dutch adult population smokes, a proportion that has remained stable in recent years.
Dutch Health Minister Els Borst told the daily newspaper Trouw that in environmental matters it had been established that polluters pay for damages they caused.
``In health, we should also be able to do that,'' she said.
The Netherlands currently spends about seven million guilders per year on anti-smoking campaigns, which Borst termed ``a pittance.''
To make a serious impact in that area, much more money was needed, a major portion of which should come from the industry, she said.
Earlier this year a Dutch smoker sued the tobacco industry for damages after contracting lung disease and then extended his claim to include the Dutch state for not taking sufficient steps to inform the public about the health hazards of smoking.
The Netherlands is Europe's third largest producer of tobacco products after Germany and Britain, with most products destined for export. With a small home market, it is currently ranked as the world's second largest exporter after the United States.
Last year Dutch based manufacturers produced some 116 billion cigarettes and 29 million kg of rolling tobacco.
Dutch based Rothmans International BV is owned by British American Tobacco plc and Van Nelle, which makes hand-rolled tobacco, is a unit of Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group plc. Philip Morris Companies Inc of the United States owns cigarette manufacturing facilities in the country.