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Press Release

Big tobacco’s attempts to infiltrate UK health policy completely unacceptable

24 Feb 2020

24 February 2020

Big tobacco’s attempts to infiltrate UK health policy completely unacceptable

Following revelations today that the makers of Marlboro cigarettes (PMI) is seeking to infiltrate UK health policy, charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is calling on Government to reaffirm its commitments to protect health policy from tobacco industry interests.

The Guardian and Channel 4's Dispatched have revealed leaked documents setting out a PMI strategy to influence UK health policy in a bid to further their commercial interests. The documents illuminate the company's ‘normalisation’ strategy arguing for a national ‘Tobacco Transition Fund’ that tobacco companies would be able to influence the spending of. Their proposed fund would seek to switch people to the companies’ alternative products. Alongside this Fund PMI wants to see rules relaxed on advertising their heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes to further increase its profits.

PMI’s proposals are in direct contrast to the model proposed by leading health organisations for a fund to tackle smoking. Earlier this month an ASH-led campaign [backed by Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, Royal College of Physicians and others] was launched to call on Government to commit to further bold action to realise the Government’s vision for a smokefree country by 2030. Central to the call to action is the creation of a Smokefree 2030 Fund resourced on a ‘polluter pays principle’ through a levy on big tobacco companies that would be spent based on advice from health experts rather than tobacco companies.

The Government indicated their interest in this policy in last summer’s Prevention Green Paper. A response to the Green Paper is keenly anticipated and must reiterate the Government’s commitment to keeping big tobacco out of health policy in line with the UK’s international obligations.

The UK is a signatory to the first global health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control(FCTC), which includes a commitment to protect health policy from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. The UK has been rated first globally for its implementation of the FCTC including the protection of health policy from industry interests.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, ASH said:

“PMI’s ‘Tobacco Transition Fund’ may look like ASH’s suggested Smokefree 2030 Fund which follows the ‘polluter pays’ approach. But the aim, as set out in the company’s ‘normalisation’ strategy revealed in leaked internal PMI documents, is to rebrand it as a ‘trusted and indispensable partner’ with the overarching goal ‘support of our combustible and reduced risk products.’. This is completely unacceptable. The tobacco industry is the most profitable consumer business on the planet, selling products which kill 7 million people a year globally and nearly 100,000 in the UK alone. The industry can afford to pay and it should be made to pay, not allowed a seat at the Government policymaking table so it can ensure the Fund is used to further the interests of its shareholders rather than public health.“

She continued:

“The Government has put on the public record that its aim to become smoke-free must be completely separate from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. That’s one of the reasons why the UK is ranked as the country with least tobacco industry interference in policymaking, and smoking is declining faster than anywhere in Europe, if not the world. The Government has a legal obligation not to partner with tobacco companies, and it must stick to its commitment not to do so.”


Notes and Links:

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358593.


[1] The Guardian. Philip Morris drew up plan for £1bn tobacco transition fund. 24 February 2020.

[2] ASH. Every day in England 280 children start smoking while Government action on its Smokefree 2030 pledge is awaited. 3 February 2020.

[3] ASH. ASH Briefing on the Smokefree 2030 Fund. January 2020.

[4]. Department for Health and Social Care. Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s. July 2019.

[5] World Health Organization. Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. [website]. Accessed 24 February 2020.

Note to editors

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.