The Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, Jo Churchill MP, responded in an adjournment debate in parliament last night to recent revelations that the world’s biggest tobacco manufacturer is attempting to subvert the UK Government’s tobacco policy.
The Chairman of the All Party Group on Smoking and Health, Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, tabled the debate after publication of leaked documents were published showing that PMI – the maker of Marlboro cigarettes – has been attempting to buy influence with Government.
PMI has proposed the setting up of a ‘Tobacco Transition Fund’ worth £1 billion over 10 years in return for the Government relaxing the complete advertising ban on heated tobacco products and putting in place a regulatory framework for such products designed by the company itself. PMI’s proposals would allow PMI to market its IQOS tobacco product in cinemas, online and at point of sale, something illegal under current legislation.
Bob Blackman MP asked the Minister to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to protecting public health from the commercial and vested interests of tobacco companies in line with the UK’s obligation to Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its guidelines.
Jo Churchill, Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care said: ‘In answer to my honourable friend’s direct question we will absolutely remain firmly committed to the Convention and importantly Article 5.3 during the transition period and beyond.
‘I am very proud that in the first Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index published last year we were rated number one for the work that we do to protect public health policy from tobacco companies, but I take on board that we need to continue on that path.’
Bob Blackman MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health responded: The UK was recently independently assessed as being the most successful country in the world in resisting tobacco industry interference. I’m delighted by the Government’s confirmation that it will continue to ensure that tobacco companies have no place in shaping public health policy.’
‘I am pleased that the Minister also confirmed that its response to the Prevention Green Paper consultation will be published shortly. In the Prevention Green paper the Government promised to consider how tobacco manufacturers could be made to fund tobacco control measures, in line with the polluter pays approach in place in the US. This would raise a fixed sum from tobacco manufacturers, without in return giving them a seat at the table to influence tobacco policy.’
PMI’s proposals for a ‘Tobacco Transition Fund’ in partnership with the industry have already been put to parliament in a 10-minute rule bill tabled by former MP Kevin Barron in the last parliament. Kevin, a longstanding supporter of tobacco control, admitted to the Guardian that he had had discussions with PMI before tabling the Bill, that he now supported partnering with the industry, and had spoken to Ministers about the proposals.
Alex Cunningham MP, vice-chair of the APPG said: ‘Kevin was the greatest parliamentary campaigner against the tobacco industry for nearly all his 36 years as an MP so I was really concerned that he was prepared to work with a tobacco company – albeit with the best of intentions – to change the law.
‘While some people may have been convinced that PMI has been reborn as a public health champion, that is not the case for the Government, or the All Party Group on Smoking and Health. PMI’s attempts to whitewash its reputation are nauseating in a company which continues to promote its deadly cigarettes to children and young people whenever and wherever it can get away with it.’
Modelling by Cancer Research UK shows that the Government is not currently on track to meet its ambition of a Smokefree (smoking rates of 5% or less) England by 2030, funding is needed to help smokers quit and prevent young people from taking up smoking. The APPG, along with public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is calling for a Smokefree 2030 Fund to make the tobacco industry pay for the damage it does.
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