A “David and Goliath” campaign mounted by the tobacco industry to lobby against Europe-wide anti-smoking legislation highlights the ability of big corporations to influence EU law-making, a report claims today.
The report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) claims that the industry sought to “subvert the democratic process” by deploying a multimillion pound campaign to access and influence key figures.
The tactics ranged from sending eye-catching publicity materials such as chocolate Santas (part of an argument that tobacco-style graphic health warnings were the first step towards attaching the same labels on confectionery) to the alleged swamping of consultation processes with tens of thousands of identical submissions. The study also cites data released under freedom of information legislation which suggests that at least a dozen meetings held between representatives of the tobacco industry and senior EU bodies, including the cabinet of former EU president Manuel Barroso, went undeclared, contrary to agreed rules.
The tobacco industry said it was exercising its right to put forward its views and was seeking to rectify “flaws” in the proposed legislation.
But the authors of the BMJ report, published in the journal Tobacco Control, told The Independent their investigations suggested corporations were being allowed to muster massive influence over the EU legislative process.
The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was finalised in Brussels last year – some three years later than initially expected and missing originally proposed measures such as plain packaging.
Lead author Silvy Peeters, of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, said: “The study documents a massive and underhand lobby to subvert the democratic process. The tobacco industry hijacked the public consultation and used numerous third parties to lobby on their behalf.
“More worryingly they successfully wielded influence via the highest officials in the European Commission leading to significant delays and weakening of the directive.”
According to leaked internal documents, one company, Philip Morris International (PMI), hired more than 160 lobbyists, who in turn claimed €1.25m (£920,000) for meetings with MEPs. PMI insists only a “fraction” of that number were involved in lobbying.
At least seven of those hired by the industry were themselves former MEPs or senior EU officials, it is claimed. By contrast, health campaigners were able to muster five full-time staff members in Brussels to lobby on the TPD.
One MEP said: “If you see who is fighting on the left-hand side and who is fighting on the right-hand side… then you get a shock. It is David and Goliath. It’s unbelievable.”
PMI, which described the TPD as “disappointing” and is challenging it in the European courts, denied it was seeking undue influence, adding it had voluntarily disclosed its activities in an EU register.
In a statement, the company said: “We believe that dialogue with decision makers is necessary for a well-considered and informed decision-making process.”
They successfully wielded influence via the highest officials in the European Commission
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