Tobacco company 'influenced EU policymaking'

In collaboration with Adfero

A major tobacco company played a key role in dampening the impact of EU public health legislation, academics at the Universities of Bath and Edinburgh have claimed.

Researchers found that major corporations have brought about fundamental changes to the way in which new policies are assessed.

Experts are concerned that the changes could seriously impair measures designed to improve public health.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK on behalf of the EU Smokefree Partnership and is published in an article in PLoS Medicine and a separate paper in the journal Tobacco Control.

Lead researcher Dr Anna Gilmore commented: "Our research reveals how large corporations have secured fundamental changes to the EU policymaking system in order to prevent legislation that might damage their profits.

"They have done so by influencing the very framework through which all major policy options now have to be assessed. This raises serious concerns that the EU's ongoing ability to produce policies that adequately protect health and the environment could be compromised."

Researchers looked at internal documents which had been released following litigation in the US.

The documents revealed that over the past 15 years, British American Tobacco (BAT) recruited and worked with other large corporations in the chemical, oil and food industries in an effort to adapt the EU regulatory system to suit its interests.

Many of the corporations sold products that were damaging to health or the environment and BAT specifically hoped that the reforms it campaigned for would prevent certain tobacco control policies from becoming law, thereby placing its own profits before public health.

BAT achieved what it described as an "important victory" in ensuring that 'Better Regulation' met its needs - a series of regulatory reforms that ensured early consultation with interested parties and an economic form of impact assessment to increase the influence of businesses over policy.

According to Dr Gilmore and her team of co-authors, business interests played a pivotal role in shaping Better Regulation, a finding that is consistent with a recent Eurobarometer survey showing that EU citizens regard the close links between business and politics as the most common cause of corruption in Europe.

The rules have already been used by the chemical industry to water down the EU's first serious attempt to ensure that all chemicals used in the home or workplace are tested for toxicity and appropriately controlled.

Now, the rules are being employed by tobacco companies to challenge an article of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is the World Health Organisation's first public health treaty.

Article 5.3 of the treaty aims to protect public health policy from industry interference and was developed in light of overwhelming evidence of the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine public health policies.

Dr Gilmore commented: "While the commission's interest in Better Regulation was well intended, our research suggests it now needs to revisit its policymaking framework, including its approach to impact assessment, to ensure it acts in the public and not just corporate interest."

First author Dr Katherine Smith, from the University of Bath's School for Health, commented: "Whilst the principles of Better Regulation are intended to ensure EU policy works in the public interest, the agenda has been cleverly adapted by corporate interests to the extent that this may no longer be the case.

"Rather than actually reducing administrative burdens, many of the changes merely shifted these burdens from businesses onto civil servants, slowing down the process of producing EU regulations at taxpayers' expense."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "This research is yet more evidence of the tobacco industry's tactics of trying to protect their profits at the expense of people's lives. It shows why it's so important to isolate them from the development of any health policy. The World Health Organisation has said 'there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's and public health policy interests'.

"If trends continue, tobacco will kill 1,000 million people in the 21st century. Health not profits must remain the priority in health policies. It's important that all governments ensure that the tobacco industry and its representatives do not influence policies aimed at protecting the health of their citizens, in order to reduce the devastating impact that tobacco has on so many lives."