EU policymakers urged not to bow to tobacco industry pressure

In collaboration with Adfero

Experts have urged the European Commission to ensure it focuses on public health when developing policies, rather than succumbing to pressure from the tobacco industry.

The Commission's progress on reducing tobacco-related deaths has been welcomed by health experts, but there are still concerns that the tobacco industry could hamper future attempts to introduce effective health policies unless the system of consultation in policy development is revised.

Experts want a full review of the current system to be undertaken in order to develop a new process and match the legally-binding obligations of the EU to the commitments of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) - a World Health Organisation treaty that was ratified in June 2005.

The treaty sets out clear objectives to minimise tobacco-related harms, such as banning tobacco advertising and raising prices.

Furthermore, Article 5.3 of the treaty states that policies must be protected from commercial interests of the tobacco industry.

But experts are concerned that, despite this treaty, the tobacco industry continues to influence policymakers' decisions.

In particular, there are fears that the business-friendly 'Better Regulation' reforms have increased the influence of tobacco companies over policymakers in the field of public health.

Florence Berteletti-Kemp, director of the Smoke Free Partnership, commented: "Better Regulation is a little like the Emperor's new clothes. A lot of people talk about how 'good' the system is. But like the child in the story, the research points to the fact that the system is very complex and that very few stakeholders understand it fully."

Ms Berteletti-Kemp said that large corporations clearly spend "a great deal of time thinking about how to influence the Better Regulation agenda".

"Without a serious examination of the whole process of health policy development, of making sure that health - not profits - is the goal of these policies, then we risk having ineffective regulations that fail to protect people from the harm of tobacco," she warned.

"The commission needs to ensure that risk assessments and impact assessment are not biased in favour of corporate interests so that the policies using them can adequately protect health and the environment. We look forward to seeing a fair, transparent and democratic system being maintained and developed under (European Commission president Jose Manuel) Barroso."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "The FCTC clearly states that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the tobacco industry and public health.

"In its recent tobacco control strategy for England - 'A Smokefree Future' - the UK Government has committed to transparency and to publish details of meetings held between officials and representatives of the tobacco industry. We urge the Commission to do the same."