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25th Feb 2024

EU officials urged to boycott event with tobacco partnership

  • The European Business Summit features at least six EU commissioners and dozens of EU top officials
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Civil society organisations have urged EU commissioners to withdraw their participation from a major event - organised in partnership with one of the world's largest cigarette companies.

The European Business Summit is a high-profile event taking place in Brussels this week (Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 November) – with a large presence of EU high-level policy makers and business leaders.

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  • Partners 'get the opportunity to influence the EU decision-making process,' according to the event’s website - featuring the JTI logo of Japanese Tobacco International (Photo: European Business Summit website)

The event, which features at least six EU commissioners and dozens of EU top officials, is organised in partnership with Japan Tobacco International, one of the biggest players in the tobacco industry, who are speaking in a panel called "the corporate responsibility to foster trust in the public debate".

Other partners include 'Big Tech' companies such as Google, Facebook, and Huawei, powerful fossil-fuel companies like ExxonMobil and biomass giant Enviva.

According to the event's website, partners "get the opportunity to influence the EU decision-making process" by bringing their views to an audience full of policy-makers and thanks to "unique networking moments".

However, the group of NGOs has argued that the European Commission's presence in this event "will undoubtedly be used to create an appearance of respectability for a [tobacco] company – and indeed an industry – with an abysmal track record".

They also pointed out that commissioners' participation in an event with a tobacco company as a partner and speaker is against the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, "based on the principle that the interest of tobacco industry are incompatible with the public interests".

This global treaty, which the EU signed to in 2005, calls on countries to reject partnerships with the tobacco industry, urging parties to "protect their policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry".

'No direct meeting'

An EU official told EUobserver that there is no direct meeting planned between EU commissioners participating in this event and Japan Tobacco International, while arguing that the European Business Summit will not touch on health or tobacco policies.

In 2017, several EU officials, including former EU commissioner for security Julian King, declined to attend the European Conference on Fighting Organised Crime and Terrorism sponsored by British American Tobacco after pressure from public health and tobacco control organisations.

Currently, nearly 20 percent of the EU population aged 15 or over smoke cigarettes daily.

But under the EU's Beating Cancer Plan, the EU Commission wants to promote a tobacco-free generation - aiming to have less than five percent of the population using tobacco by 2040.

Nevertheless, previous studies have shown how tobacco companies have been successfully influencing EU policies, such as the 2014 Tobacco Products Directive - considered one of the most-lobbied files in the history of the EU institutions.

Earlier this year, the EU ombudsman pointed out "the sophisticated and intricate tactics used by the tobacco industry" – and the risks of allowing a former commissioner join a consultancy firm whose biggest EU lobbying client is tobacco giant Philip Morris.

A WHO report published on Tuesday found that global consumption of tobacco is falling, but it urged countries to implement measures to reduce the consumption of this product that kills over eight million people each year.

These include raising taxes, prohibitions for public smoking and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

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