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Industry had strong, undisclosed influence on tobacco legislation

Health experts say European Directive weakened by ‘massive’ indirect lobbying by industry

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Third-party lobbying deployed on a massive scale on behalf of the tobacco industry subverted revised European legislation on tobacco products, claim UK health researchers. In their paper*, published online today in Tobacco Control, they said anti-red tape reforms had helped industry to weaken the legislation.

The public health researchers were concerned that although the 2014 European Union Tobacco Products Directive, which becomes national law next year, includes an increase in the size of graphic health warnings, a ban on certain flavourings, restrictions on the size and shape of cigarette packs, and regulation of e-cigarettes – it is weaker than the original proposals for revision of the 2001 Directive. Furthermore, the revision process took more than five years and was dogged by controversy, including the forced resignation of the Health Commissioner John Dalli and claims of interference by the tobacco industry. They reported that “the Directive has been described as ‘the most lobbied dossier in the history of EU institutions’.”

They set out to find out how much influence industry lobbying had really had had, and how recent ‘anti-red tape’ reforms might have helped them to exert this influence. They analysed 581 documents obtained through freedom of information requests, 28 leaked Philip Morris International documents, 17 transnational tobacco company documents from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (University of California), web content via Google alerts and searches of the EU institutions' websites, plus four stakeholder interviews. They also carried out some semi-structured interviews with tobacco control experts, and Members of the European Parliament.

The researchers discovered that the tobacco industry had deployed lobbying on a “massive” scale, with Philip Morris alone employing more than 160 lobbyists; that company said that third-party involvement in lobbying was the “key to success”. They identified numerous third parties lobbying for the tobacco industry position; 51 had clear financial links with the industry.

They uncovered evidence that throughout the review process, tobacco industry access and influence were secured through the highest levels of political and legal power within the EU, often enabled by high-profile former EU officials. They also found repeated undisclosed contact between senior Commission officials and industry representatives, indicating that Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), supposed to curb the tobacco industry’s influence on public health policy, is not being implemented in some parts of the Commission, despite it being a signatory to the FCTC since 2005.

They said that these failings led not only to the Directive’s progress being repeatedly delayed, but also to the removal of two of the proposed changes to legislation that most concerned the tobacco industry – plain packaging, and a ban on point-of-sales display. They said their work confirmed earlier suggestions that the Smart Regulation agenda, which is supposed to reduce red tape and boost business competitiveness, had in fact enabled corporate interests to exert undue influence, and could undermine EU public health policy.

They said: “The EU’s approach to IA and Smart Regulation favours corporate interests over public concerns and economic over health considerations, and can be used to delay and ultimately prevent public health legislation. In contrast, FCTC Article 5.3, which aims to prevent industry influence on policymaking, is poorly understood and inadequately implemented.”

They concluded by demanding review of Smart Regulation tools so that they serve the public, not just corporate interests, and allow Article 5.3 to be consistently upheld – and to “fulfil the EU’s broader commitment to transparent policy making”.

* Silvy Peeters, et al.  The revision of the 2014 European tobacco products directive: an analysis of the tobacco industry's attempts to ‘break the health silo’. Tob Control, 2015 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-051919

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