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13th Dec 2019

Tobacco firms under fire for EU lobbying

  • Andriukaitis and Chan warned that Greece is more tobacco friendly (Photo: microturbian)

Lobbying by companies such as Philip Morris risks harming the EU's new anti-tobacco law, senior policy makers have said.

Lithuania's health minister, Vytenis Andriukaitis, in charge of steering the bill through the EU institutions under his country's EU presidency, rang the alarm bell at a press conference in Vilnius on Wednesday (11 September).

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He noted that MEPs recently postponed a vote on the law from this week until October, making it harder for Lithuania to clinch a final agreement before its EU chairmanship ends in December.

"This was [due to] direct meetings between hired lobbyists and certain MEPs. As many as 233 meetings with tobacco industry lobbyists were organised in the past 17 months. Around 31 percent of members of the parliament were affected by lobbyists in one or another way,” he said.

He noted the lobbying effort was directed at MEPs from tobacco-growing southern countries.

He said the delay "is a big breakthrough" for the tobacco sector because the Greek EU presidency, which takes over in January and which is more tobacco friendly, might inherit the file.

Speaking at a separate event in New Delhi, India, also on Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Margaret Chan, voiced similar concerns.

Chan spoke of a "massive army" of lobbyists which is fighting WHO policy around the world, AFP reports.

"The most recent example concerns efforts on the part of [tobacco firm] Philip Morris to sabotage the vote on a strong European directive on tobacco," she said at a forum organised by an Indian NGO, the Public Health Foundation of India.

She added that Greece' integrity is at stake because Philip Morris is currently opening a new distribution facility in the cash-strapped country.

"Here industry is counting on the historical pattern where economic and commercial interests trump public health concerns," Chan said.

The EU's revised tobacco products directive (TPD) aims to ban flavoured and slim cigarettes and to impose stricter rules for health warnings on packaging, among other measures.

British weekly The Observer on Sunday reported that Philip Morris has hired 161 people in Brussels and spent millions of euros trying to fight the bill.

Previous research by Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels-based NGO, found that nine tobacco firms, 22 tobacco industry lobby groups and 12 PR firms are involved in the wrecking campaign.

The TPD was already delayed due to a scandal surrounding former EU health commissioner John Dalli.

Dalli, who drafted the bill, last year lost his post amid allegations that he solicited a bribe from a Swedish tobacco firm.

He denied the accusations and was later cleared by Maltese police.

He said the affair was orchestrated by the tobacco sector in order to buy time.

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