Health Committee sets new anti-tobacco agenda
14th June 2000
Action on Smoking
Overall. ASH hailed the Health Committee report into the tobacco industry as bold new thinking opening the way for a major overhaul of the regulation of the tobacco industry.
“The companies have had it much too easy for much too long” said Clive Bates, Director of ASH, “when you consider that cigarettes are by far the most dangerous consumer product ever invented, the regulation of just about every aspect of the contents, design, consumer information and marketing of the product has been completely inadequate.”
“A ragbag of feeble voluntary agreements and supervision by a few harassed and over-stretched officials has basically left the tobacco industry untroubled by any meaningful regulation to date.”said Bates.
The Committee’s central recommendation is to introduce a Tobacco Regulatory Authority to oversee the tobacco industry – similar in concept to the American approach of having the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate tobacco – an approach currently blocked by the US Supreme Court. ASH thinks this sets a bold new agenda for the Government to take forward in the next parliament.
Smuggling and BAT. The Committee says the DTI should investigate British American Tobacco’s involvement in smuggling in Asia and South America, but ASH raised concern about the DTI’s role as sponsoring department for the tobacco industry. “BAT has got too many high-ranking friends in the DTI to make this an easy decision for Byers. But it would be suicide for any minister to side with the tobacco industry and shrug off the large and growing mass of evidence showing that BAT was running a huge smuggling operation through third parties. What will he do when more evidence emerges later this year? How will he look if a whistleblower comes forward and the DTI has refused to take it seriously?”
Smoking and health arguments taken apart. ASH also welcomed the thorough job done in dismantling tobacco industry rhetoric about health, addiction and passive smoking. “The tobacco manufacturers have survived by offering glib soundbites, ambiguities and distracting arguments about health and addiction. For once they have been held down and had their semantic gymnastics taken apart.”
Advertisers’ cynicism exposed. Commenting on the advertising agencies’ internal memos, Bates said, “It’s like peering into a deep dark vessel of distilled cynicism. No doubt they’ll carry on oblivious to the consequences, but the ad agencies’ documents reveal them engaged in the creative equivalent of designing land mines and perfecting dum-dum bullets.”
ASH gave oral evidence to the Committee twice – in 25 November 1999 and 16 February 2000:
ASH Evidence to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into the Conduct of the Tobacco Industry (pdf)
ASH Submission to Health Select Committee: Tobacco Industry Smuggling (pdf)
The DTI promised to examine the Select Committee report before deciding whether to investigate BAT.
Full report and evidence www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm/cmhealth.htm
Key points from the Health Select Committee Report
The Committee’s central observation is that almost every area of tobacco policy is under-regulated or poorly regulated. Voluntary agreements have served the industry better than the public, and at times the relationship with Government has bordered on “regulatory capture”. Though individuals are not criticised, UK regulatory resources are described as “pitiful” and EU staff resources “utterly derisory”. The Committee therefore proposes a Tobacco Regulation Authority. This would have responsibility for regulation of:
- All marketing practices – advertising, sponsorship, point-of-sale etc
- The hazards of the product itself and measures to reduce the hazards
- Claims made for reduced-risk products
- The effectiveness of continuing reductions in machine measured tar yield
- Additives and their wider impact on public health
- Pack design
- Warnings and consumer information on packs
- Health communication and education to smokers
- Research into smokers’ motivation and the appeal to children
Other headline grabbers…
- The Committee will push for a DTI investigation of BAT’s involvement in smuggling
- The Committee publishes confidential information from the companies on which additives are in which product – by brand.
- New internal documents from tobacco advertising agencies show shocking behaviour of ad-men.
- Imperial Tobacco singled out for withering criticism as still unwilling to accept that cigarettes are unsafe.
- BAT attacked for ‘glib’ use of semantics in its acceptance that nicotine is addictive.
- Gallaher slammed for marketing Amber leaf rolling tobacco directly to smugglers
- NRT should be available on NHS prescriptions
- The Treasury should plough some tobacco tax money directly to smoking cessation so as to prevent the tax policy making health and social inequalities worse.
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