Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

Opinion

How Big Tobacco bypasses EU lobbying rules

  • Only the EU Commission's health department (DG SANTE) implements and enforces Article 5.3 by limiting its meetings with the tobacco industry and pro-actively listing meetings with the tobacco industry on their website (Photo: Piotr Drabik)

In early July Corporate Europe Observatory published a report, Smoke And Mirrors showing that the European Commission is failing to implement its obligations to protect public health decision-making from tobacco industry influence.

This is despite being obliged to do so as a signatory to the UN's 2005 tobacco treaty (UNFCTC).

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Article 5.3 of this treaty requires governments to ensure a firewall between officials and lobbyists, in order to end the tobacco industry's multi-decade manipulation of decision-making that has delayed and weakened effective regulation of their deadly products, causing countless premature deaths.

Only the commission's health department (DG SANTE) implements and enforces Article 5.3 by limiting its meetings with the tobacco industry and pro-actively listing meetings with the tobacco industry on their website.

All other commission departments (DGs) fail to do this; even worse, some appear to have an open-door policy towards tobacco lobbyists.

Corporate Europe Observatory's research – based on hundreds of documents received via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests – shows the commission's tax policy department and the trade department has had numerous meetings with tobacco lobbyists over the last few years and are clearly open to being influenced by the tobacco industry.

Corporate Europe Observatory's report points out that the EU appears to have no "rules, instructions, and guidance for commission officials about dealing with the tobacco industry".

Shortly after publishing the report, however, we received a much delayed but very significant response to a FOI request.

DG SANTE sent us a 2011 note for the department's staff from then director-general Paola Testőri Coggi, titled "Meetings with tobacco industry".

In this very clearly-worded text, written in the run-up to the last revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (finalised in 2014), Testőri Coggi refers to Article 5.3 and asks her staff to "in principle refrain from meetings with the tobacco industry", stating that any meetings that happen "should be conducted transparently and whenever possible, in public".

This document, which has never been in the public domain before, shows that at least the EU's health policy department is taking the UN tobacco treaty very seriously, including the obligation to protect decision-making from tobacco industry influence.

The problem is, as our research shows, that the health department is only one of many commission directorates responsible for tobacco control, and that other powerful Commission departments are failing to protect decision-makers from undue influence of the tobacco industry.

The preparations for the next review and possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) are to start in 2021, a process that no doubt will spark intensive tobacco industry lobbying to avoid stricter controls.

Bypassing DG SANTE

A clear lesson from the massive lobbying battle around the previous TPD review is that the tobacco industry's strategy is simply to bypass DG SANTE.

Instead they're influencing EU tobacco control legislation via other commission departments that do not have pro-active transparency around meetings, nor other measures to avoid tobacco industry influence.

It is high time for the commission to get serious about keeping this deadly industry from influencing EU legislation, not least for the credibility and success of the commission's ambitious 'EU4Health Programme' and Europe's 'Beating Cancer Plan'.

The solution is simple: expand the health department's approach, as outlined in Testőri Coggis note on meetings with the tobacco industry, across all commission departments, as the UN treaty requires.

Author bio

Olivier Hoedeman, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, an NGO which monitors lobbying of the EU.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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