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April 26th, 2016:

Tobacco lobbyists demand say in EU debate on … tobacco lobbying

When European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly announced she would host a public conference on how to improve transparency in tobacco lobbying, her office quickly found itself grappling with an ethical predicament: Should tobacco lobbyists be let in?

It may sound counter-intuitive to prevent the industry that this Wednesday’s conference will discuss from having an official role in it. Yet the organizers of a similar event in the European Parliament earlier this month did just that, arguing that they were required to keep tobacco lobbyists out by an international treaty.

In the past, the ombudsman has expressed concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding tobacco lobbying, causing some anti-tobacco campaigners to expect a strong statement from her which would set a standard for other EU institutions. But tobacco lobbyists were equally worried that they would be shut out altogether from a debate directly involving them.

“What could be more transparent than a public debate?” — Tobacco lobbyist

The issue is how the EU chooses to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a United Nations deal signed by EU institutions that seeks to keep the tobacco industry out of the health policy process. The language in the treaty is open to interpretation, but lobbyists insist it should not be used to ban them from public events.

“Keeping the industry off the panel while they talk about our business doesn’t make any sense and has nothing to do with FCTC,” one tobacco lobbyist said. “For an event supposedly about transparency, what could be more transparent than a public debate?”

The ombudsman ultimately chose a compromise likely to please nobody: Tobacco lobbyists can attend as audience members, but will not be invited to join the panel discussion. Anti-tobacco and transparency campaigners will be unhappy about policymakers and lobbyists sharing a venue; lobbyists argue they are being denied their right to free expression.

In any case, the upshot is that when European Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis arrives at the event in Brussels, he will be surrounded by tobacco lobbyists — although not all of them will be immediately recognizable as such.

According to a preliminary list of participants, some lobbyists who plan to attend have not signed up to the EU Transparency Register and, therefore, should be barred from having any interaction with the commissioner and his staff.

The controversy is forcing EU health bureaucrats to figure out how to implement provisions regarding industry lobbyists, and to decide whether a hard-line stance will expose them to the accusation they are stifling debate on the future of a legal product.

No blanket ban

The dispute focuses on an article in the convention which states that when “setting and implementing” public health policies, officials should “protect these policies from commercial … interests of the tobacco industry.”

The industry argues that the ombudsman’s conference, which has nothing to do with formulating health policy, does not fall under the remit of the article. What’s more, it says the thrust of the convention is to bring about transparency in tobacco lobbying — something most industry representatives accept.

This argument gets some unlikely support from the framework convention itself: Officials at the FCTC Secretariat point to the accompanying guidelines as the key to understanding how governments should handle day-to-day interaction with lobbyists.

“The Convention calls [on] parties to limit their interactions with the tobacco companies and their interests as much as possible, but does not mandate a blanket ban,” said Tibor Szilágyi at the secretariat in Geneva. “However, the [FCTC] calls for transparency of interactions that still occur.”

The largest tobacco industry association, the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, is relieved to be let in but is still angry at being excluded from a panel including Giovanni La Via, who chairs the European Parliament’s public health, food safety and environment committee.

The group wrote to O’Reilly on April 19 to protest, according to a redacted version of the correspondence released by the ombudsman’s office. An uncensored version of the letter, seen by POLITICO, was signed by Ronan Barry, a British American Tobacco executive and president of the industry body.

Tobacco manufacturers were “disappointed” by O’Reilly’s decision not to invite them, Barry said, urging her to “reconsider our request to allow a representative [to] participate fully in the event as a speaker” or at least to ensure that the industry be “provided with adequate time to present our position and address any queries” raised in the debate.

The response from ombudsman spokesperson Gundi Gadesmann made it clear officials were taking a strict interpretation of the tobacco control treaty, meaning they could not involve the industry in the official discussion.
“It would be harmful if they started taking the floor all the time and hijacked the discussion” — Florence Berteletti, director of Smoke-Free Partnership, an anti-tobacco NGO

In line with the convention, they did not invite in industry representative, she wrote, adding that the event “is not about the tobacco industry. It is about how the EU institutions comply with their transparency obligations as regards their dealings with representatives from the industry.”

That left the tobacco industry fuming. One tobacco lobbyist said the letter proves how indefensible the ombudsman’s position is, because it conceded the conference was not about the formulation or implementation of health policy.

Yet Article 5.3 of the tobacco convention, which Gadesmann invoked in her justification to exclude industry panelists, refers specifically to the “setting and implementing” of public health policies.


Industry sources said Barry planned to try to speak from the audience to confront the ombudsman about her decision to exclude tobacco manufacturers from the panel.

“It would be harmful if they started taking the floor all the time and hijacked the discussion,” said Florence Berteletti, director of Smoke-Free Partnership, an anti-tobacco NGO. “I would hope they would intervene just once and that the discussion would then move on.”

Tobacco lobbyists are dismayed but not surprised. In February, O’Reilly took aim at the European Commission for not making its dealings with the tobacco industry “more transparent” and for lacking “proactivity” in implementing the convention

However, the ombudsman’s decision to let lobbyists attend the conference gives the industry an opportunity to make its presence felt. The preliminary list of attendees, obtained by POLITICO, suggests at least 17 industry representatives have already signed up.

The list highlights the challenge of enforcing the requirement that signatories to the convention “ensure that all operations and activities of the tobacco industry are transparent.” Under EU transparency rules, it’s possible for some lobbyists to avoid disclosing their activities.

For example, Brussels lawyer Kathryn Davies, from the firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, will be in the audience, according to the list. When contacted, Davies declined to reveal whether her firm was working for tobacco companies.

Lawyers are not required to sign up to the European Parliament and Commission Joint Transparency Register, even if they are working as lobbyists. As a result, the names of their clients often remain secret, protected by attorney-client confidentiality.

Some lobbyists who will be in the audience are also not signed up to the Register, which means that under EU rules they will not be allowed to interact in any way with Andriukaitis or members of his cabinet.

Lobbyist Finn Meunier, who works for German firm Concilius AG, would not disclose whether he would attend on behalf of a tobacco company. Another German lobby firm called 365 Sherpas did not respond to requests for information.

Among the lobbyists who are listed on the Register and will therefore be able to speak to the commissioner and his staff are those from Bernstein Public Policy and Red Flag, representing British American Tobacco; lobby firm Pantarhei Advisors Europe, for Philip Morris; and Kreab, representing Swedish Match. Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco will also be represented by in-house lobbyists.

Quentin Ariès contributed reporting to this article.

James Panichi

Tobacco firm Philip Morris pleads not guilty to huge Thai tax dodge

Tobacco giant Philip Morris on Monday pleaded not guilty to dodging hundreds of millions of dollars in import tax to Thailand, a crime carrying a massive fine of up to US$2.27 billion.

Thai prosecutors accuse the local unit of the company, which owns the Marlboro and L&M brands, of evading some 20 billion baht (US$568 million) tax by under declaring import prices for cigarettes from the Philippines between 2003 and 2006.

In fact the duty-free end price of the cigarettes was much higher, according to prosecutors.

The company and seven Thai staff pleaded not guilty according to a written statement read out by a judge at a pretrial hearing at a Bangkok court on Monday.

If convicted prosecutors say the company could be fined up to four times of the sum of unpaid tax, while the employees face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Four foreign executives have also been charged but have left the country in a case that dragged for a decade.

The company “vigorously” denies the “baseless” allegations, Alejandro Paschalides, managing director of Philip Morris Thailand, said after the hearing.

“We would like to encourage the Thai government to reconsider these meritless charges which will harm Thailand’s standing in the trade community and ultimately cause damage to the Thai economy and thus the Thai people,” he added in a statement.

The cigarette manufacturer insists that its import valuations complied with World Trade Organization agreements and had been cleared by local Thai customs officials.

We would like to encourage the Thai government to reconsider these meritless charges which will harm Thailand’s standing in the trade community

Alejandro Paschalides, managing director of Philip Morris Thailand

The legal issue has simmered since 2006 under the administration of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, shortly before his ousting in a military coup.

Thailand has since been hit by a decade of political instability with frequent government changes and a second coup in 2014.

In 2011, the attorney general at the time recommended against charging the tobacco giant, but the prosecution was restarted two years later.

The next hearing will be in October but the trial is likely to drag out for a number of years.
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Teenage e-cigarette use ‘clustered’ in certain schools, study finds

Since 2011, the prevalence of adolescent electronic cigarette use has drastically increased in the U.S. Certain school environments have an impact on electronic cigarette use among teenagers, a new study concludes.

A new study from the University of Colorado Denver finds that certain school environments have an impact on electronic cigarette use among teenagers.

The study was led by Adam Lippert, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and published in the journal Health and Place.

Since 2011, the prevalence of adolescent electronic cigarette use has drastically increased in the U.S. This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that e-cigarette use has surpassed the use of other tobacco products and that over 3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2015.

Lippert’s study examined data collected by the CDC in the 2011 and 2013 National Youth Tobacco study to determine if individual e-cigarette use coincides with total use at the school level over time.

Lippert’s research showed that students attending schools where e-cigarette use was very common were more likely to use themselves, regardless of personal risk factors including whether they smoked regular cigarettes or knew someone who did.

Furthermore, Lippert found that school-to-school differences in e-cigarette use rates have increased over time, suggesting that certain schools have fueled the rise in teen e-cigarette use while in others, use has remained low. Lippert argues that there is something in the culture of some schools that encourages students to use e-cigarettes.

“Our results indicate that there are certain types of schools that facilitate higher rates of e-cigarette use among students,” said Lippert. “Since our data was collected over several years, we can determine something is happening within these school environments that contributes to e-cigarette use.”

One reason for electronic cigarette use clustered in particular schools may be the pervasive perception that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. Lippert notes that educators should take these types of perceptions, as well as the number of individuals using e-cigarettes, into account when implementing initiatives to curb e-cigarette use.

Teen’s ‘e-cigarette explodes in his face in car’ leaving him with burns and missing bottom teeth

Daniel McClelland had just told his mum that morning that he was planning on vaping more to help him quit smoking

A teen has been rushed to hospital after he says the electronic cigarette he was using exploded in his face.

Daniel McClelland was using the device as normal while he was in friend’s car, he says – but was stunned when it suddenly blew up.

The impact of the blast reportedly cracked the windows of the car he was in and left him in need of medical attention.

Bleeding, he says he ran home to his mum’s where she called for the emergency services.

The 17-year-old of Fresno, California, was rushed to Twin Cities Community Hospital by emergency crews called to the scene.

Read more: Users lose teeth and need skin grafts after exploding e-cigarettes

As well as losing many of his bottom teeth, a small hole was blown through Daniel’s tongue, his family have revealed.

His tongue was also severely swollen and he was needed help with breathing. He was later taken by air for treatment at a specialist burn unit.

Jesus Matias, a friend who was in the car, told Paso Robles Daily News : “We were just sitting in my girlfriend’s sister’s car, listening to music, laughing and joking around like always and we just heard a sound like a gun shot.

“I look up and I see flames, we all got out of the car and my ears were ringing, then I realised Daniel was hurt.”

Daniel’s mum Gina Skove Krasnow has been posting updates on her Facebook page.

“It was just that morning that Daniel told me he planned to quit smoking cigarettes by switching to that vape.

“I told him, I really don’t like either of them but if that’s what it took to help him quit smoking cigarettes then that was that,” she said.

Daniel took to his own account on Monday to thank his friends for their support.

“Tears coming to my eyes in reality of everything that’s happened but mostly how many people are here for me in support and love,” he wrote.

“Life is a very precious thing and I am more than grateful to still have mine. I want to thank every single individual person that’s done anything to help my recovery process.”

He told his loved ones they were “all miracles and a blessing to my life” and asked that they keep praying for him.

“I promise you all I’m not going to give up on this fight until I’m back to healthy me I was. I love you all so dearly thank you.”

The family have launched fundraising online which is currently at £645.

Benefits of smoking bans on preterm and early-term births

A natural experimental design in Switzerland



Birth outcomes are relevant for future children’s heath. Capitalising on a natural experimental design in Switzerland, we evaluated how regional smoking bans introduced at different time points affected birth outcomes, including preterm and early-term births.


We used birth registry data of all singleton neonates born in Switzerland (2007–2012). We developed canton-specific interrupted time-series followed by random meta-analysis to evaluate the benefits of smoking bans on preterm (<37 gestational weeks) and early-term (37–38 gestational weeks) births. Heterogeneity across type of ban and contextual characteristics was explored through metaregression. A time-to-event approach was used for evaluating duration of pregnancy under the smoking bans and effects, taking into account individual maternal factors.


We observed a decrease in the risk of preterm birth of 3.6% (95% CI, −9.3% to 2.5%), and early-term birth of 5.0% (95% CI −7.5% to −2.5%). Results showed a clear dose–response relationship. Greater risk reductions were obtained for preterm births in areas with more comprehensive bans (−6.8%; 95% CI −12.1% to 0.1%), and for pregnancies with the longest gestational time under smoking bans (HR, 0.991; 95% CI 0.984 to 0.997 per 10% increase in duration). Benefits were unequal across outcomes and characteristics of cantons and mothers.


Smoking bans resulted in improved birth outcomes in Switzerland with cantons that adopted more comprehensive smoking bans achieving greater benefits. Early-term births constitute a previously ignored though important group.