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SFP press release: European Commission embraces its failure to rein in tobacco industry influence

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Brussels – The Smoke Free Partnership is dismayed by the European Commission’s continued failure to implement more transparency in its dealings with the tobacco industry.

In a letter published today, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker rejected the European Ombudsman’s recommendation to increase the transparency of meetings between its officials and tobacco industry representatives. The Commission fails to get the point, amply explained and legally defended by the Ombudsman, that openness and transparency are not the same as responding to information requests

Despite some improvements in its overall transparency practices which SFP has welcomed at the time, the Commission regrettably fails to understand the importance of disclosing tobacco industry interactions proactively and at all levels of its hierarchy. The Commission also fails to adopt a whole-of-government approach to protecting the interests of public health, as is, in fact, required both by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its implementing guidelines.

Anca Toma Friedlaender, SFP Senior Policy Advisor, said: “We know that transparency adds no burdens; we know that there is no legal barrier to it; and we know that it can be done in at least some parts of the Commission. There is extensive evidence that the tobacco industry has a much wider range of attempted interference in public policy than public health departments – industry’s own. The Commission does nothing to explain its wall of denial, because there is no reasonable justification. Instead, it publicly and disappointingly embraced this failure to act and is trying to wear its failure like a badge of honour.”

The Commission’s response today shows that much is still to be done to protect public health policies from the tobacco industry’s interference. The Smoke Free Partnership remains committed to promoting the implementation of the provisions of the FCTC Article 5.3 requiring governments to set safeguards in place to protect public health policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry.

On 2 March 2016, SFP, together with the Belgian Foundation against Cancer, will organise a conference entitled “Combating Tobacco Industry Tactics: State of Play and a Way Forward” where high-level speakers including the Ombudsman, the former Commissioner for Health, and the Head of the FCTC Secretariat will discuss the existing situation at EU level and possible steps that could be taken towards more effective safeguards for public health. SFP was disappointed that two Commissioners with portfolios other than health have declined to address the audience.

Note to editors:

Anca Toma Friedlaender, SFP Senior Policy Advisor, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +32.2.430.7358

The Ombudsman case:
Following a complaint lodged by Corporate Europe Observatory, the European Ombudsman in October 2015 recommended that the Commission undertake the “proactive online publication of all meetings of all Commission staff with tobacco lobbyists” as practiced by the Directorate General for Health. In its response published today, the European Commission argued once again that its Staff Regulations and ethics guidelines, along with its transparency policy of meetings held by Commissioner Cabinets and Directors-General implemented in November 2014, are sufficient to secure the accountability and integrity of policy making within its services. More information available at http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/

Background on article 5.3 of the Framework Convention
The FCTC is an international legally binding treaty to which the EU and all its Member States are Parties. Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires that, “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”.

Article 5.3 guidelines further require Parties to adopt comprehensive and effective efforts in “all branches of government that may have an interest in, or the capacity to, affect public health policies with respect to tobacco control”. The guidelines also require, inter alia, transparency and accountability of all contacts between officials and the tobacco industry (Guidelines Recommendation 2.2), the formulation of standards for public officials when dealing with the tobacco industry (Guidelines Recommendation 4.2).

More information at
http://www.smokefreepartnership.eu/news/sfp-press-release-eu-ombudsman-finds-commission-breach-fctc-calls-changes-its-tobacco and http://www.who.int/entity/fctc/treaty_instruments/adopted/article_5_3/en/index.html

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The Smoke Free Partnership receives project funding from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.
E-mail: info@smokefreepartnership.eu
Phone: +32 (0) 2 430 73 59
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