Belgium’s Court of Cassation has found Philip Morris, manufacturer of the Marlboro and L&M brands, guilty of systematically violating a ban on cigarette advertising in Belgium, Belga News Agency reports.
The ruling, which is final, relates to offences committed throughout the country, particularly sponsoring agreements concluded with stores, according to the Flemish daily De Tijd.
Belgium’s Justice authorities decided to sue Philip Morris after multiple checks showed that the U.S. cigarette manufacturer had failed to comply, on many counts, with the legal ban on tobacco advertising and sponsoring, at least up to the end of 2017.
Public health inspectors documented proof of infractions in dozens of establishments throughout the country. These included a distributor in Wijnegem (Antwerp Province), a tobacconist in Adinkerke (West Flanders), gas stations in Anderlecht and Forest, a supermarket in Huy, a bookstore in Bree (Limburg Province) and a grocery in Châtelineau (Hainaut).
These businesses received money and other benefits for giving added visibility to Philip Morris products and displaying them “in a sophisticated, well-thought-out manner.” The more cigarettes from the U.S. manufacturer they sold, the higher the rewards they received. According to the judge, these confidential arrangements constituted illegal sponsoring.
The matter was never brought to the attention of the public, Belga reports, quoting De Tijd newspaper.
Philip Morris Benelux, headquartered in Antwerp, turned to the Court of Cassation after losing an initial appeal against a guilty verdict handed down by a lower court. However, the Court of Cassation turned down its appeal, so the judgement is final.
Kobe Verheyen, spokesperson of Philip Morris Benelux, told De Tijd the company had not yet received notification of the Court of Cassation’s ruling. “Even though this just concerns an old case, we are disappointed that the Court has apparently not listened to our arguments,” Verheyen said.