The tobacco industry needs to explain itself better – starting with the European Ombudsman

Despite ongoing efforts to inform regulators worldwide about tobacco harm reduction initiatives, misconceptions persist, particularly in Brussels. Increased engagement is needed to dispel outdated perceptions and ensure transparent dialogue ahead of the upcoming EU Tobacco Products Directive revision

By Eric Sensi-Minautier

Director for EU Public Affairs, British American Tobacco

14 May 2024

EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has publicly commented on the subject of tobacco influence on the EU legislative process. While we share her concern for the negative health consequences of smoking and her strong desire for effective EU regulation, we feel compelled to address a number of assertions in the piece Protecting EU health policy from tobacco lobbying (socialeurope.eu). 

Firstly, the assertion that "If it wants to make money, the tobacco industry relies on people continuing to smoke", is inaccurate.  Over the past decade, the tobacco industry, including BAT, has been working hard to transform itself. We know that cigarettes pose serious health risks and that’s why we have created new, scientifically substantiated, smokeless alternatives.  

At BAT, our goal is to become a predominantly smokeless business by 2035. And we are well on the way, including in the EU. In the 10 years since our new portfolio of smokeless products was introduced, it has supported millions of smokers to switch to reduced risk alternatives.  

We work tirelessly to inform regulators around the world about our evolving business model, our product innovations, our role in tobacco harm reduction and the solutions we provide to address negative health outcomes, but it is clear that in Brussels we remain highly misunderstood as a sector. This shows, in our view, that far from restricting our engagements with policymakers, as the Ombudsman has called for, our industry must engage more often and more effectively with policymakers to correct outdated perceptions of an industry on the move.  

Secondly, we wish to correct the assertion that tobacco industry engagement with regulators is harmful. We disagree, and for good reason.  

We seek effective regulation that considers the ability of governments to effectively enforce the laws they promulgate. We require as many meetings as are necessary to achieve that common objective, because the tobacco industry is an unavoidable, and in our view critical partner in the move away from cigarettes. Broadly labelling our engagement as 'harmful' misunderstands the complexity of tobacco regulation and downplays the progressive technological innovations and concrete steps we have already taken and will continue to take.  

Sweden and the UK are now on the brink of becoming smokefree thanks to legislative policies which have supported smokers to switch effectively to less risky alternatives. They stand as testament to what can be achieved with the right regulatory framework.  

We fully adhere to the principle of transparency of interactions with public institutions, alongside other important principles such as participation of all interested parties in the policy development process. And this applies equally to the interpretation of Article 5. 3 of the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which must be informed, appropriate and legally sound. FCTC does not require exclusion, but transparency. Furthermore, it applies only to tobacco products – not to the new portfolio of products which provide smokers with less risky alternatives.  

A revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive is around the corner, and it is critical that EU policymakers and institutions are informed of new developments and therefore that constructive voices, including ours, are heard. 

 

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