THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch appeals court has refused to order public prosecutors to open a criminal investigation against tobacco companies, in a major setback for anti-smoking activists.

In a written ruling Thursday that upheld a lower court's rejection, The Hague Appeals Court said that cigarettes aren't illegal because they adhere to European Union regulations "so there is no criminal behavior" by tobacco companies.

The court says "the fact that cigarettes can have an addictive character and can create health risks changes nothing."

Dutch lawyer Benedicte Ficq in 2016 sought a criminal prosecution on behalf of ex-smokers and a youth smoking prevention organization. Hospitals, doctors and other groups later joined the call.

Ficq called for the prosecution of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.

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