Tobacco subsidy row hits cancer campaign

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The Independent Online
A row between a government minister and a senior member of the European Commission has overshadowed the launch of Europe against Cancer Week, a premier event in the European Union's health calendar.

Geoffrey Martin, head of the Commission's representation in the United Kingdom, accused Tom Sackville, a junior health minister, of ridiculing the Commission "for party political reasons" on the eve of the Conservative Party conference.

Mr Martin and Mr Sackville shared a platform in London yesterday to publicise the results of a survey of 16,000 people which revealed that the British are more ignorant about the causes of cancer and preventive measures than their neighbours in 15 European countries.

Defending the Government's health education strategy, Mr Sackville said Britain's attempts to dissuade people from smoking - a leading cause of cancer deaths - with heavy taxes and controls on advertising and promotion, were undermined by the millions of pounds in subsidy paid to European tobacco farmers. "While we pile on taxes on tobacco in this country, some of those taxes are being spent in Europe to subsidise tobacco farmers. That is ironic and it is unsatisfactory, as I hope everyone will agree," he said.

However, after Mr Sackville had left the press conference early, Mr Martin said he was out of step with his own government policies which backed the Commission's attempts to dissuade southern European farmers from growing tobacco.