Clearing The Smokescreen: How Tobacco Industry Undermines Global Efforts To Curb Cigarette Smuggling
Investigative reporters have uncovered some of the covert ways the tobacco industry players have been undermining global efforts to curb cigarette smuggling:
- In Italy, a Big Tobacco manufacturer is accused of bribing customs officials in exchange for confidential information;
- In Pakistan, the tobacco industry is alleged to have manipulated the tender process to award a contract for tracing illicit cigarettes to their preferred company;
- In the EU, the tobacco industry captured the regulatory process to their own advantage, effectively rendering the infrastructure meant to tackle the illicit trade in cigarettes unworkable.
Secret Lobbying & Big Money The tobacco industry has a history of employing covert tactics to influence EU decisionmakers. In 2012, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy resigned following a high-profile investigation by OLAF, the EU's antifraud office, over dealings with the tobacco industry lobbyists. In 2015, even after the EU lobbying transparency reform, the European Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that with the exception of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission officials were not disclosing their interactions with tobacco industry lobbyists. Disappointingly, the European Commission did not act on the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The Integrity Watch platform by Transparency International EU shows that between 2014 and 2018, only 13 tobacco-related lobbying meetings with the European Commission representatives were disclosed in the Transparency Register. Ten were with the industry representatives or the consultants hired by them, the rest with advocates of stricter regulations on tobacco. Full transparency in lobbying by industries such as tobacco is especially important. The vast sums spent on lobbyists give the industry unequal footing that other stakeholders calling for stricter controls for tobacco simply cannot match. In 2013 alone, Philip Morris International reportedly spent almost US$7 million (EUR 5.25 million) to lobby Members of the European Parliament as they deliberated on the EU’s Tobacco Product Directive. Information provided by lobby groups through the EU Transparency Register – and available on Integrity Watch – shows that, in 2018, pro-tobacco organisations had at least EUR 4 million available for their lobbying work with the Commission, including EUR 2.25-2.5 million that British American Tobacco had estimated for its costs that year. This is a sharp contrast from the mere EUR 25,000-50,000 registered organisations lobbying for stricter tobacco controls said they had available for the same period.
The public should be able to trust the system works in their interest, especially when it comes to their health. What we see in this case is Big Tobacco essentially deregulating itself under the guise of regulation.
Jorge Valladares, Research & Policy Expert on Political Integrity, Transparency International
Global Ramifications The cost of undue influence by the tobacco industry in the EU cannot be overstated: smoking kills 700 thousand people in the EU every year. In monetary terms, EU taxpayers lose US$11 billion in tax revenues due to the illicit trade in cigarettes – money that should pay to mitigate devastating health impacts of smoking. This has significant ramifications that go way beyond the EU’s own borders. As Vitor Teixeira, Policy Officer at Transparency International EU put it, the EU is a “high-value target for multinational corporations that want to set global regulation on a course that suits their interests.” Tobacco industry is eying emerging markets as smoking rates fall in Europe. Governments in Asia and Africa are reportedly already planning to replicate the flawed EU system in their own countries, following lobbying from tobacco companies. The new revelations should sound the alarm in all countries where the ineffective Track & Trace infrastructure is proposed. Major reforms are needed to ensure policy and regulatory processes are not tainted by undue influence by powerful private interest. The European Commission needs to start with the mandatory lobbying register. Courtesy: transparency.org