Tobacco industry evidence on standardised packaging exposed as weak or off topic

Cancer Research UK

The deluge of evidence used by global tobacco companies to try to block the replacement of glitzy, glamorous tobacco packaging with standard designs, was either low quality or off topic, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded analysis published in BMJ Open today (Thursday).

An independent review* followed by a four-month public consultation concluded there is strong evidence that standard packaging would reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase the power of health warnings. 

As part of the consultation, four global tobacco companies cited 77 pieces of evidence to claim that standard packaging would not work. But researchers from the University of Bath and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies showed that, of the 77 pieces cited**, only 17 addressed the impact of standard packs on smoking. None of the 17 were published in a peer-reviewed journal and 14 of the 17 (82 per cent) were either commissioned by or linked to the tobacco industry. This link was not clearly stated in most companies’ consultation submissions. 

This study raises concerns about the impact of the Government’s consultation process*** on tobacco policy making because there is no requirement to declare conflicts of interest between respondents and the evidence they cite. 

This lack of transparency may undermine the UK’s commitment to protect tobacco control policy from industry influence, agreed by the world’s first public health treaty - the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control****.

Regulations could be in place before the next election to roll out standard packs, following a final evidence review chaired by Sir Cyril Chantler to be published in March 2014. 

Study author Professor Anna Gilmore, expert in tobacco control at the University of Bath and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, said: “Historically, the tobacco industry manufactured evidence to cast doubts on the health impacts and addictiveness of its products.  Now it is manufacturing evidence on the impacts of policies that could threaten its profits.
  
“By paying for evidence which created doubts about the impact of standardised tobacco packaging the industry successfully delayed the policy.

“As a result, between July 2013, when the government put plain packaging on hold, and March 2014, when the Chantler review will be completed, an additional 148,554 children (4951 classrooms full) will have started smoking.”

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s head of tobacco policy, said: “Once again, the tobacco industry has played fast and loose with the evidence to put its profits before the nation’s health.

"This report proves that we need more transparency about sources of evidence to stop the tobacco industry from using its vast resources to influence policy making. During the final evidence review it’s critical that the Government sees past the industry’s misdirection, and only considers high quality evidence."

ENDS

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References

Hatchard J.L. et al. A critical evaluation of the volume, relevance and quality of evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to oppose standardised packaging of tobacco products. 2014 BMJ Open. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003757

Notes to Editor

*To inform the consultation on standardised packaging, the Department of Health commissioned a systematic review of all the available evidence for its impact. Leading Cancer Research UK researchers were involved in the review. The preceding four-month public consultation ended in August 2012.

**All 37 studies included in the review of consultation evidence were highly-relevant independent studies focusing on the health impacts of standardised packaging. And two thirds (21/37) were published in peer-reviewed journals.   

After the review was published, research in Australia UK, Norway, Brazil, France and Germany has supported its findings.

***The government’s consultation process is called Better Regulation, which is a global governance innovation linked to evidence-based policymaking.  It requires policymakers to consult affected business interests early in the policy process and to conduct evidence-based impact assessments of proposed policies.  Evidence cited or submitted in consultations can influence impact assessments and policy decisions.  

****The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the world's first public health treaty. It was agreed by the World Health Organisation's 192 member states in May 2003 with the aim of stemming a global tobacco epidemic and the subsequent public health disaster. 

Measures outlined in the FCTC include a global tobacco advertising and sponsorship ban, increased tobacco taxes, control of illicit tobacco trade and new guidelines on tobacco health warnings. Article 5.3 of the treaty requires parties to protect public health policy from tobacco industry vested interests.

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