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EU-Tobacco industry redaction revelations must not go unchallenged, warns health NGO

Written by Florence Berteletti on 1 September 2015 in Opinion

The row over the European Commission’s release of heavily redacted documents documenting its relationship with the tobacco industry is just ‘another dirty drop in an already murky pool’, argues Florence Berteletti.

The adoption of the EU’s revised Tobacco Products Directive should be considered a victory for public health.

However, it also marked the end of five years of controversial lobbying practices by the tobacco industry, which included a multitude of well-documented unsavoury events.

One would have hoped that in the aftermath of these events, the European Commission would have learnt some lessons and would now be dealing with the tobacco industry in a different manner.

But no, even when confronted with the worst lobbying practices, the Commission remains resolute in continuing to deal with the tobacco industry as if it were any other, despite Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which states that “… Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry …”

The EU and its member states have all ratified the framework convention which entered into force almost ten years ago. Being party to the convention, the EU has an obligation to protect its policy setting and law making from the tobacco industry’s commercial and other vested interests.

Instead, when the Commission’s Secretary General, Catherine Day, was asked to release documents related to a series of meetings between her team and the tobacco industry during negotiations over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), she stated: “Whilst I fully recognise the importance of transparency in enabling citizens to follow trade negotiations, I take the view that this public interest does neither outweigh the public interest in protecting the Commission’s international relations and decision-making process, nor the commercial interests of the companies in question in this case.”

Let us not forget that through the framework convention, the world’s governments and the EU have, with the backing of the WHO, agreed that the tobacco industry should be judged separately from other industries. One-size-fits-all no longer works; the tobacco industry is different!

The fiasco related to the cover-up of the documents between Commission officials and the tobacco industry during the negotiations over the proposed TTIP treaty is another dirty drop in an already murky pool.

The lack of transparency illustrated by the heavily redacted documents provided to Corporate Europe Observatory is shocking.

How long will we, citizens and MEPs, continue to be duped in this way? Even if I am aware that the EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world and that the commission is interested in keeping it that way during the TTIP negotiations, it should not be done at any cost.

Over the years, Europe has been at the forefront of efforts to end the tobacco pandemic. We have made important strides to establish good policy and law which has helped reduce the burden tobacco places on our societies. In this, we should not be let down by today’s commission.

The EU bears a special responsibility with regards to tobacco control. Why? Because the tobacco pandemic was created by us and much of ‘Big Tobacco’ is still headquartered in Europe.

We need to recognise that we need to do better. I hope that the Europe will not let the current state of affairs go unchallenged and will continue to demand full transparency of meetings between the tobacco industry and the commission. This is the least we can do.

About the author
Florence Berteletti is director of Smoke free partnership, the Brussels-based tobacco control and policy research group

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