MPs accepted tobacco company freebies over last five years

In collaboration with the Press Association

Dozens of MPs have accepted hospitality from major tobacco companies over the last five years, according to an investigation by the BMJ.

“This report makes for disturbing reading, and we urge parliamentarians to reject these forms of hospitality" - Chris Woodhall, Cancer Research UK

The report, described as ‘disturbing’ by Cancer Research UK, found that 38 parliamentarians from across political parties have collectively accepted over £60,000 worth of tobacco industry gifts since 2010. 

This includes tickets to rock concerts, national events and sports matches.

Over half of the MPs in question represented constituencies in which the rate of smoking-related deaths was above the national average of 289 per 100,000. 

Worryingly, 20 of those who accepted hospitality voted against standardised packaging for tobacco products.

When contacted by the BMJ, Stephen Hepburn, Labour MP for Jarrow, was the only one of the 20 MPs who received hospitality but voted against plain packaging to respond. He justified it by explaining he felt it appropriate to accept hospitality because of jobs the industry has generated in his constituency.

But Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said no MP has to accept hospitality in order to act on behalf of their constituency. She suggested they instead look at the number of people dying every year compared with the number of jobs.

Jarrow, in Tyne and Wear, has the second worse incidence of lung disease and smoking related deaths among the 37 constituencies whose MPs accepted tobacco hospitality.

Chris Woodhall, senior policy advisor at Cancer Research UK, also expressed concern. 

“This report makes for disturbing reading, and we urge parliamentarians to reject these forms of hospitality,” he said.

“Tobacco company gifts are paid for by the profit from a product which kills up to two in three of its long-term users. And for decades the tobacco industry has opposed every effective measure to reduce smoking rates."

Companies are allowed to invite lords and MPs along to the occasional big ticket event. The only stipulation is that the recipient is required to register the details of the hospitality they have received.

There was nothing to suggest that the 38 MPs - 29 Conservatives, eight Labour and one independent - uncovered by the investigation failed to register such details.

“If public health policy is to be effective it needs to be protected from the vested interests of the tobacco industry,” added Woodhall. 

The UK became a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004. Article 5.3 of the treaty recognises the ‘fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests’. It came into force in 2005.

References

  • Gornall, J. (2015). Tickets to Glyndebourne or the Oval? Big tobacco's bid to woo parliamentarians BMJ, 350 (may20 12) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.h2509