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Licensed to Kill

Editor’s Introduction: On April 23 more than 200 teenagers from 5 states and the District of Columbia held a rally on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol to expose and condemn the Commonwealth of Virginia for its part in allowing the incorporation of Licensed to Kill, Inc. a company whose articles of incorporation, as approved by the State Corporation Commission, say the company's purpose is "to manufacture and market tobacco products in a way that each year kills more than 400,000 Americans and 4.5 million other persons worldwide." Licensed to Kill was incorporated by Robert Hinkley, a corporate lawyer and activist, to show how state governments impose no limitations on the ability to incorporate and to suggest that they should. The following is the speech he delivered at the rally.

"Why should the state government of Virginia provide for the formation and operation of companies whose method of making money involves killing millions of people?"
Public Statement Made at the Rally by Robert C. Hinkley

I am here to announce the formation of Licensed to Kill, Inc., a corporation organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Last month Licensed to Kill obtained a corporate charter from the Commonwealth to manufacture and market tobacco products in a way that generates profits for investors while each year killing over 400,000 Americans and more than 4.5 million other people worldwide.

We are gathered here on the grounds of this historic state house to expose the Commonwealth for the assistance and continuing cooperation it is providing to Licensed to Kill. As a corporate lawyer, I can tell you that without this assistance and cooperation, Licensed to Kill could not become a corporation.

The investors in Licensed to Kill would not be held harmless from liabilities the company creates, Licensed to Kill's access to capital would dry up and the ability of Licensed to Kill to achieve its purpose--profits at the expense of the public health--would be frustrated.

But our real purpose today is to expose the Commonwealth of Virginia, not to praise it.In doing so, we raise this question: "Why should the state government of Virginia provide for the formation and operation of companies whose method of making money involves killing millions of people?"

In one sense it is unfair to pick on Virginia. Licensed to Kill could have been incorporated in any of the 50 states.

But, in another sense, it is entirely appropriate that we are here today in Richmond. In addition to being the state where America's biggest tobacco manufacturer is incorporated, it is also the home of Thomas Jefferson, America's founding father who best understood the danger corporations pose to our democracy and the public interest. His fears have proven to be well founded.

Today, the pursuit of profit by big corporations does substantial damage to our environment, human rights, the public health and safety, the dignity of employees and the welfare of our communities. Just one example of this is big tobacco ending the lives of millions of people each year.

But it is important to recognize that none of this damage would occur if not for the assistance provided by our state governments. Laws passed by state governments (i) provide for the formation of corporations, (ii) license them to operate and (iii) grant their shareholders immunity from liability.

We are gathered here to uncover this assistance and to say it is time it stopped. We are not saying that smoking should be made illegal. We know that government cannot and should not be so intrusive.

But something is wrong when the State Corporation Commission has no choice but to issue a corporate charter to a company which boldly states it plans to make money by killing people.

Our state governments should not be giving licenses to operate and other corporate advantages to companies which kill people, destroy the public health and each year create billions of dollars in costs which the public, including state government, must bear.

It is time to deny the advantages of corporate status to those companies which use such advantages to make our fellow citizens sick and die.

It is time to change the corporation. Today, the corporate law of Virginia and every other state says that the purpose of the corporation is to make money.

We are saying that this purpose should be balanced by adding nine simple words, "but not at the expense of the public health". Any company which cannot abide by these nine words in their pursuit of profit should be denied the benefits of corporate status conferred by state government. Their "License to Kill" should be revoked.

Thank you.

Robert C. Hinkley is a corporate lawyer and former partner of the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. He now resides in Brooklin, Maine. For more information concerning Licensed to Kill, Inc., visit

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This story was published on May 13, 2003.
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