ASH Daily News for 16 March 2020



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UK

  • Welsh MPs received donations from tobacco industry

International

  • The EU’s Track & Trace Smokescreen
  • UAE: Shisha damaging to smokers’ health, research finds

UK

Welsh MP’s received donations from tobacco industry

Two Welsh MPs who vocally opposed plain packaging and voted against several tobacco control measures received donations from the tobacco industry, according to Wales Online. Both Simon Hart, appointed as Welsh secretary in 2019, and his predecessor Alun Cairns, received donations from Japan Tobacco International between 2011 and 2014.

In 2011 and 2012, Mr Cairns received two tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show worth over £2,200 from Japan Tobacco International. This was around the same time he voted against a bill banning smoking in cars carrying children and vocally opposed plain packaging on cigarettes.

In May 2014, Mr Hart accepted two tickets to the Chelsea Flower show worth £1,404.00 from Japan Tobacco International. Just three months before that, Mr Hart was one of only 24 MPs who voted against tabled amendments to the Children and Families Bill which enabled the UK government to introduce plain packaging regulations for tobacco products and made it an offence for an adult to buy cigarettes for anyone under the age of 18.

Two years earlier, Hart was one of 50 MPs who wrote to then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressing serious concerns over the government’s plain packaging proposals. Mr Hart refused to respond to Wales Online’s requests for a comment.

Source: Wales Online, 15 March 2020

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International

The EU’s Track & Trace Smokescreen

An Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) investigation has found that the world’s top cigarette manufacturers, collectively known as Big Tobacco, spent years trying to control the design of a new system to curb the EU’s 10 billion-euro-a-year ($11 billion) black-market tobacco trade. After spending millions developing “track and trace,” the bloc has been left with what some experts say is an ineffective system that hands key functions to companies with ties to the tobacco industry.

Just over nine months after the EU adopted the track and trace system, it remains unclear if it is working. Further, the penalties imposed by member states are hardly a deterrent. While tobacco companies have been fined billions for smuggling cigarettes, there are no EU-wide penalties for any manufacturers found to be defrauding the system. The UK’s law includes no penalties beyond the illicit product being seized and a possible ban on tobacco trading for repeat offenders.

In the UK, which for this year at least is part of the EU’s cigarette monitoring system, track and trace has already proved controversial. Cigarette packs have to carry at least five security features to comply with the Tobacco Products Directive. But the UK customs authority managing the system, HMRC, drew criticism when it announced plans to use numeric codes on packs that critics say are easily compromised, rather than more sophisticated systems.

Kate Pike, a regional coordinator at the UK’s trading standards office, which normally polices cigarette smuggling, says they haven’t been given the right equipment to check them either. “Track and trace is completely useless, from our point of view. There’s no benefit,” said Pike.

More concerning in the long-term, experts say, is Big Tobacco’s influence over the companies that are running key parts of the EU’s system. EU documents, leaked internal industry records, and court filings seen by OCCRP, call into question the independence of several companies managing vital aspects of the EU’s track-and-trace system.

Allen Gallagher, an academic from the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog STOP, said the fact that companies with ties to the tobacco industry are part of the bloc’s track-and-trace system shows its independence criteria are not working.

Despite its flaws, the EU’s system looks set to become a template for the rest of the world. The result, say experts, is that international efforts to stop a trade whose profits are notorious for fuelling organized crime and corruption may be fatally flawed.

Source: OCCRP, 11 March 2020

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UAE: Shisha damaging to smokers’ health, research finds

New research shows shisha smoking is connected to DNA damage and changes in lung function, with most damage being seen from exposure to fruit flavoured products.

Scientists at UAE University found that among mice, exposure to apple or strawberry-flavoured shisha was associated with higher levels of some chemicals linked to oxidative stress compared with non-flavoured shisha, with some chemical changes only seen in those exposed to flavoured smoke.

The new research is the latest study to reveal already well-known health risks associated with smoking shisha, a common pastime in the Emirates.

Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy for the UK-based public health organisation Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: “Although shisha smoking has not yet been as extensively researched as cigarette smoking, the existing research suggests that it is associated with many of the same risks as cigarette smoking and may incur some unique health risks too.”

Professor Kamran Siddiqi, a professor in public health at the University of York in the UK, who has also researched shisha, said: “The smoke contains not just burned tobacco smoke, but particles from charcoal, which if anything is going to worsen the impact of tobacco smoke.”

Source: The National UAE, 13 March 2020

Nemmar A et al. Comparative Study on Pulmonary Toxicity in Mice Induced by Exposure to Unflavoured and Apple-and Strawberry-Flavoured Tobacco Waterpipe Smoke. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2020;2020.

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