Westminster and Holyrood “must up their game” on tobacco firms 1

Westminster and Holyrood “must up their game” on tobacco firms

Westminster and Holyrood “must up their game” to prevent tobacco firms influencing public health policies, say researchers.

A new report says the UK Government has given tobacco companies opportunities in policy areas of significant public interest, by lobbying under the guise of social responsibility.

The authors also raised concern over the Scottish Government’s failure to meet its commitments regarding an international public health treaty on smoking.

The Tobacco Industry Interference Index is an annual study containing information supplied by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, and ASH Scotland, among others.

Researchers identified several issues. They said the UK Government has given tobacco companies opportunities to use so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes to “open the door to government officials and policy makers”

Tobacco lobbying

Firms have conducted CSR activities via informal parliamentary groups and by lobbying, the report says. It points out that in 2020 British American Tobacco lent the UK government equipment from its research laboratory for use in Covid-19 testing centres, following a request from ministers.

The report also highlights the UK Government’s international links to the tobacco industry. Despite Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidelines to the contrary, UK diplomats have engaged with the tobacco industry in countries such as Brazil and Pakistan. 

Tobacco is the single most damaging consumer product on the market, and the corporate multi-nationals who promote it and profit from it have long and well-documented track records of deceit and attempts to interfere with proposed public health measures. 

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland

It is also noted that senior Tories have links to the industry. They include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received a £20,000 loan and £3,000 donation to his leadership campaign from CTF Partners (Crosby, Textor, Fullbrook), a company with links to the tobacco industry, as previously reported.

The study concluded there was a lack of transparency across government departments about their interactions with the tobacco industry and its front groups.

Tobacco treaty and Scotland

Regarding the Scottish Government, ASH Scotland said that despite committing in 2013 to auditing its compliance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – ministers had failed to do so.

The FCTC is the only international public health treaty on tobacco control. Article 5.3 of the treaty refers to protecting public health policy from undue interference from the tobacco industry

In such cases, as a minimum, who said what must be clearly documented and made public. Submissions from the tobacco industry can’t be equated with submissions from health advocates. This is not a level playing field.

Dr Raouf Alebshehy, lead researcher for the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, said: “Tobacco is the single most damaging consumer product on the market, and the corporate multi-nationals who promote it and profit from it have long and well-documented track records of deceit and attempts to interfere with proposed public health measures. 

Westminster and Holyrood governments must “reject any suggestion that the industry and its vested interests are valid health stakeholders or partners,” she added. 

Dr Raouf Alebshehy, lead researcher for the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, said: “The UK’s policy-making system accepts stakeholders’ submissions in some instances, allowing tobacco companies to present opinions. 

He added: “In such cases, as a minimum, who said what must be clearly documented and made public. Submissions from the tobacco industry can’t be equated with submissions from health advocates. This is not a level playing field.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to an audit of Article 5.3 as part of the 2018 Tobacco Action Plan, and will work with ASH (Scotland).”

The UK Government was asked to comment.

Earlier this month The Ferret reported concerns that Facebook campaigns opposing proposed anti-vaping legislation were linked to the tobacco industry.

The Tobacco Control Research Group, at the University of Bath, produces the UK Tobacco Index with ASH, ASH Scotland, ASH Wales and Cancer Research UK.

The UK Tobacco Index, is one of the 80 country reports featured in the Global Tobacco Index.

Photo Credit: iStock/Funtay

This article was updated on 7 December 2021 at 16.55 to state that the Tobacco Control Research Group, at the University of Bath, produces the UK Tobacco Index with ASH, ASH Scotland, ASH Wales and Cancer Research UK.

The UK Tobacco Index, is one of the 80 country reports featured in the Global Tobacco Index.

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