Monitoring ‘Big’ tobacco necessary in the face of a lack of transparency

Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer; it is estimated that by 2030 the annual global death toll caused by smoking will rise to 10 million

 

Criticism levelled against the European Commission by European Ombudsman Emily O’ Reilly over its dealings with the tobacco industry is welcome. She has accused the Commission of breaching World Health Organisation disclosure rules regarding its contacts with tobacco makers. Its stance is at variance with that taken by the European Parliament, a point highlighted by Minister for Children James Reilly. He said this week: “It is not acceptable that the European Parliament works hard to progress a tobacco directive which seeks to protect public health and yet the commission is not proactively transparent in all its dealings with the tobacco industry”.

The industry invests heavily in a lobbying programme aimed at rolling back public health initiatives which are intended to combat smoking. A report by the European Ombudsman in October sharply criticised the Commission’s transparency policy regarding contacts with the tobacco industry. While the health directorate general of the European Commission publicises its dealings with the industry, other sections of the body do not. “It appears that the sophistication of global lobbying efforts by big tobacco continues to be underestimated,” Ms O’Reilly noted.

The tobacco industry has a shameful track record, going back to the 1950s, when research was first published showing a statistical link between smoking and lung cancer. Documentation shows it has consistently placed public relations ahead of public health; initially by creating doubt and controversy surrounding the health risks of smoking; and, more recently, by stopping efforts to control tobacco, targeting new markets in the developing world and recruiting new generations of customers who become addicted to tobacco.

Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer; one half of all smokers will die from a tobacco related disease. It is estimated that by 2030 the annual global death toll caused by smoking will rise to 10 million. In Ireland alone there are more than one million smokers. Continued obfuscation by the European Commission in its dealings with the tobacco industry is absolutely unacceptable.

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