SFP Press release: European Parliament meeting sounds the alarm over tobacco industry meddling
Brussels - Tobacco industry interference remains the single largest obstacle to effective policies against tobacco use across Europe. Regretfully this interference is largely unrecognised and unchallenged by policymakers.
Today’s high level conference organised in the European Parliament by the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP) and the Belgian Foundation against Cancer (BFaC) focused discussions on combating undue influence in policy by the tobacco industry, as well as proposing possible measures such as transparency of meetings to curb tobacco industry effects on health policies.
Rules on curbing tobacco industry interference were adopted over ten years ago as part of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco control (FCTC), yet they remain poorly implemented across Europe. New data, commissioned by Cancer Research UK - one of SFP’s main partners and the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research - demonstrates the scale of the ongoing challenge. Some 30% of staff within the EU institutions believe the tobacco industry is a legitimate stakeholder in the policymaking process, and just 3% are engaging less with the tobacco lobbyists as a result of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In its recent response to the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the European Commission disappointingly refused to implement any specific transparency rules with regards to the tobacco industry, ignoring its legal obligation to do so.
The situation is no better at national level than at EU level. An SFP – BfaC questionnaire of tobacco control organisations in 34 European countries showed that few countries have any kind of policy in place to ensure the transparency and accountability of public officials’ contacts with the tobacco industry. While significant policy progress on this issue was achieved in recent months in France and The Netherlands, along with Ireland and the UK, more than half of European countries have no measures in place to formally protect public health policies from the weakening effect of tobacco industry interference.
At today’s meeting, participants heard first-hand accounts from policy makers of the effects of tobacco interference in the latest major legislative file – the Tobacco Products Directive, where ambitious provisions were adopted despite fierce opposition by industry at EU and national level.
The conference concluded that wide-ranging efforts are needed to expose and neutralise tobacco industry interference. Meetings with the tobacco industry should only take place if strictly necessary, and when they do they should be fully transparent. This is particularly important ahead of initiatives such as the planned Tobacco Tax Directive, the implementation of the Tobacco Products Directive, the ratification of the International Protocol to fight illicit trade in tobacco products, and ongoing discussions on agreements with the tobacco industry.
Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman, said: “The European Commission has a particular responsibility in its role as initiator of EU legislation to ensure that policy-making in public health is as transparent as possible. This is all the more true when it comes to tobacco control, for which there is a dedicated UN framework. The UN framework applies to all EU institutions, who should implement these safeguards against undue tobacco lobbying.”
Tonio Borg, former EU Commissioner for Health, stated during the conference: “There is no neutral ground between fire and firemen”.
Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the FCTC Secretariat sent a message to the conference through Dr Katharina Kummer Peiry, Senior Legal Advisor, FCTC Secretariat: “Policy makers and officials must understand that the tobacco industry cannot be co-opted to do the right thing. Its very essence is to keep alive an industry whose products kill six million people every year. Meetings with tobacco industry executives should end, attendance at industry-funded conferences should stop, and advice from the industry should be shunned.”
Gilles Pargneaux, MEP, said: “As we are holding this conference, Philip Morris is lobbying EU institutions to renew the so-called cooperation agreement with the EU to fight illicit trade which will expire on July 2016. While it was the outcome of a settlement after the European Commission joined by other Member States launched civil proceedings against them in the US, it is now a tool for the tobacco industry to undermine the implementation of the Tobacco Products Directive and the ratification of the WHO protocol to fight illicit trade. This is the latest instance of tobacco tactics! It shows the extent of duplicity one can expect from this industry which cannot be treated like any other. Calling for the implementation of article 5.3 of the Framework Convention is the sole strategy we have to oppose to the constant interference of the tobacco majors in our policies. We can't strike any deal with the tobacco industry! This is why I call the EC not to renew the so-called co-operation agreement with PMI, now that we have the Protocol to fight illicit trade”
Karl-Heinz Florenz, MEP, said: “During the negotiations on the Tobacco Products Directive in 2013 and 2014, I met with a lot of stakeholders, one of them was the tobacco industry. In my opinion as an MEP, it is important to listen to all stakeholders and to be aware of all the arguments to be able to come up with a good political decision. However, I personally believe that you must be careful when dealing with the tobacco industry.”
Alison Cox, Director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s unthinkable that tobacco lobbyists continue to enjoy a privileged seat at the table of public health policymaking. Policy makers cannot meet in the middle with the tobacco industry – they need to shut the door to health policy firmly in their faces.”
Florence Berteletti, SFP Director, said: “Legal obligations to prevent tobacco industry interference in health policy should ensure that the tobacco industry do not manipulate the democratic process for their benefit. The tobacco industry is a vector of disease and death and cannot be expected to contribute solutions towards reducing its own toll. We urgently call on policy makers to champion the public interest and ensure the transparency of tobacco industry contacts. Nothing less than full public accountability can suffice for our health.”
Luk Joossens, Tobacco Control expert of the Belgian Foundation against Cancer, said: “The EU and its Members States should review their policies towards the tobacco industry. Simply put, they should refuse any partnership with tobacco companies unless they are strictly necessary. When interactions occur, they should be fully transparent. In the short term, the EU should not renew its controversial anti-contraband agreement with Philip Morris International. By establishing extensive yet opaque collaboration between tobacco companies and the EU, the agreements threaten tobacco control within the EU. By enabling the industry to promote the agreements as an effective model of collaboration, they undermine tobacco control internationally.
Note to editors:
Background on article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
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).
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About the Smoke Free Partnership
The Smoke Free Partnership (SFP) is a strategic, independent and flexible partnership between Cancer Research UK, the European Heart Network and Action on Smoking and Health (UK). We aim to promote tobacco control advocacy and policy research at EU and national levels in collaboration with other EU health organisations and EU tobacco control networks. The SFP Coalition is a network comprising of independent EU and national organisations who work together to promote forward-looking and evidence-based tobacco control legislation in order to support the implementation of the FCTC in specific and cross-cutting policy areas with an overarching goal of improving health and reducing health inequalities among EU citizens.
About Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) is one of SFP’s main partners and is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
- ComRes interviewed 249 EU Influencers online and by self-completion paper questionnaire between the 27th October 2015 and 18th January 2016. Data were weighted by party group and region to be representative of the European Parliament. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
- About Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
- Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
- Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
- Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 years.
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
About the Belgian Foundation against Cancer
The Foundation against Cancer is a public interest foundation, active in all of Belgium. Every year over 65 000 Belgians get diagnosed with cancer. This is why the Foundation against Cancer funds scientific research, disseminates evidence-based information and provides support to patients and their loved ones. The Foundation also actively raises awareness on how to prevent cancer and encourages people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. 90% of the Foundation against Cancer’ budget comes from donations and legacies by the Belgian people. In 2014 this funding reached € 29.3 million. Out of this, € 16.6 million was spent on support for scientific research, € 4.2 million on psychosocial and financial support for patients and loved ones and € 4.9 million funded the promotion of information and health.
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