Last weekend, journalists representing the Onderzoeksredactie Tabak (a group of investigative journalists researching tobacco industry and policy in the Netherlands) revealed that cigarette manufacturers have paid student associations for the exclusive right to sell their cigarettes at the associations’ clubhouses. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) is investigating the legality of these deals.

The Dutch Tobacco Act literally states that every form of tobacco advertising or sponsoring is prohibited. Even so, the investigative journalists said that cigarette manufacturers have sponsored student associations.

Exclusive sale

The manufacturers paid student associations to have the exclusive right to sell their cigarettes at the associations’ clubhouses. The Onderzoeksredactie Tabak has collected written and verbal evidence for the existence of the agreements and offers. They concern student associations in seven Dutch cities, including the Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps. It is said that Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco were competing to get a foot in the door at student associations.

According to the Onderzoeksredactie Tabak, many associations are pleading ignorance. “We had no idea that tobacco manufacturers are subject to different rules than, say, beer manufacturers,” said Derk de Haan of Utrecht’s Unitas society. Lucas de Jong, RSC’s treasurer, said the same thing, telling the Tobacco Investigative Reporters that his association had asked JTI for an explanation, and that the manufacturer had stated that it was not sponsoring the association, but rather giving it a sum to compensate it for granting exclusive sales rights.

NVWA starts investigation

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has commenced an investigation. “We are trying to get to the bottom of what is going on,” said a spokesperson. Agreements arranging the exclusive sale of one brand’s products constitute a type of sponsoring, a judge previously found in a case regarding the sale of tobacco at the Pinkpop festival.

Japan Tobacco International has so far proved unwilling to comment on the case. “The only comment we are prepared to make at present is that we will not comment pending NVWA’s investigation,” a spokesperson stated.

The Tobacco Investigative Reporters are funded by the publisher of the Dutch Journal of Medicine (NTvG). The journalists’ investigation of the tobacco industry is supposed to continue until the end of this year.