EU policy language shift ‘follows tobacco industry lobbying’

Cancer Research UK

UK researchers have tracked how tobacco industry language has permeated throughout recent EU tobacco control legislation.

“Tobacco control measures must not be allowed to be derailed or diluted by the lobbying of an industry whose business relies on recruiting new addicts" - Chris Woodhall, Cancer Research UK

Using a word tracking technique, the study found that in the latter stages of recent tobacco control regulation, the European Commission veered more towards language used by tobacco industry lobbyists than public health groups.

The researchers, based at the University of Oxford, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Bath, found that massive tobacco industry pressure was to blame for “significant policy shifts” between 2010 and 2013.

Publishing their findings in the journal Tobacco Control, the team used an automated system called Wordscores to track the use of language in three main drafts of the recently approved European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).

Analysing 20 reports published between 2010 and 2013 from different interested parties – including health groups and representatives from the tobacco industry – the team compared how the use of language stacked up against the EU documents.

They found that in 2010 the European Commission’s draft documents were more closely in line with the views of public health groups. But by the time the legislation passed through the European Parliament in 2014 they found a significant policy shift as tobacco industry language crept in.

Researcher Professor David Stuckler from Oxford University, said: “This study documents a significant policy shift in EU legislation in favour of the tobacco industry following massive lobbying.

“This shift happened in spite of the fact that all EU countries have signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty developed to protect policy-making from industry manipulation, which is a cause of concern.”

The shift appeared to coincide with the tobacco industry employing over 170 full-time lobbyists. The study states that these heightened levels of pro-tobacco lobbying correspond with key changes to tobacco control policies – including a reduction in the proposed size of health warnings and delays on proposed bans of menthol cigarettes.

Cancer Research UK expressed concern about this further evidence of tobacco industry influence on the EU, stressing that vital health policy must not be “derailed” by corporate pressure.

Chris Woodhall, senior policy officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Policy makers cannot ‘meet in the middle’ with the tobacco industry. Aligning views with tobacco companies only compromises vital public health standards.

“Tobacco control measures, such as standardised packaging of tobacco products, must not be allowed to be derailed or diluted by the lobbying of an industry whose business relies on recruiting new addicts to a product that kills half of its long term users.” 


  • Costa, H, et al. (2014). Quantifying the influence of tobacco industry on EU governance: automated content analysis of the EU Tobacco Products Directive Tobacco Control DOI: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-051822