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The death toll from tobacco: a crime against humanity?
  1. Wentworth Chambers
  2. 180 Philip Street
  3. Sydney 2000, Australia;

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    Editor,—On 17 July 1998, by the Rome statute of the international criminal court, the United Nations resolved to establish a permanent court having power to exercise jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern.1 As of January 1999, 73 member states (excluding the United States) have become signatories to the statute. Few have yet ratified it. Article 126 requires ratification by 60 member states before the statute comes into effect. Article 5 of the statute confers jurisdiction on the international criminal court with respect to crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and “crimes against humanity”.

    A list of “crimes against humanity” is provided which covers events such as extermination, enforced prostitution and sterilisation, and religious persecution when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directly against any civilian population. Significantly, the definition of a crime against humanity includes “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health”.

    This definition begs the question of whether the death toll from tobacco does not constitute a crime against humanity, susceptible to prosecution in the international criminal court. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that of some 1.1 thousand million smokers in the world, 50% will …

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