Thatcher condemned on tobacco consultancy

Susan Watts
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:07

A FORMER tobacco policy adviser to the Thatcher government yesterday condemned discussions between Baroness Thatcher and Philip Morris Inc, the world's largest tobacco company, over her possible consultancy role.

Lady Thatcher is considering an appointment as an adviser to the American multi-national on 'geo- political' issues. The discussions amount to consolidation of work that she already carries out for the company, including speaking engagements.

Michael O'Connor was the civil servant in charge of tobacco policy from 1987 to 1989. He said yesterday he was 'saddened' to hear of the talks. 'Margaret Thatcher made the strongest anti-smoking speech ever made by a prime minister . . . I know because I wrote it. In the interest of future generations of children she shouldn't be supporting an industry that is going to kill millions of them.'

Lady Thatcher gave the speech he referred to in January 1989, to launch the Government's pounds 11m campaign to halve the number of teenage smokers by 1993. The speech also marked the start of Europe Against Cancer Year.

Philip Morris Inc makes 11 per cent of the 5,000 billion cigarettes consumed each year worldwide. The tobacco giant's post-tax profits amounted to more than dollars 1bn ( pounds 520m) in the first three months of this year. Lady Thatcher's discussions are thought to involve advising on resisting European Community moves to ban tobacco advertising, and on controversial expansions of markets in the Third World and eastern Europe.

Mr O'Connor, a former director of the Coronorary Prevention Group, now advises the World Health Organisation on developing anti-tobacco policy in eastern Europe. Today, he flies to Budapest for talks with the Hungarian government: 'Margaret Thatcher has a very high reputation in the governments of eastern Europe. It is difficult to encourage them to resist the multinationals when she is batting for them.'

Lady Thatcher's London office yesterday dismissed reports that the position on offer would be worth up to dollars 1m ( pounds 520,000) a year as 'unutterable rubbish'.

Mr O'Connor said: 'It provides her with another platform . . . But there are many good things that Margaret Thatcher could get involved in.'

She should take the high moral ground of cancer prevention instead, he said. 'The trouble is that health promotion doesn't have the money, or the political clout.'

'The tobacco industry has a history of recruiting ex-civil servants. I am surprised and saddened that a great ex-prime minister, who has still got a lot to contribute has chosen to work on behalf of those people who are denying a future for millions of children.'

Dr Douglas Chamberlain, president of the British Cardiac Society, said: 'Smoking is by far the most important preventable cause of premature death in the UK and is increasingly a scourge in many Third World countries.'

The Labour Party yesterday challenged Lady Thatcher to withdraw from the discusssions. Harriet Harman, a health spokeswoman, said: 'She is tarnishing the office of Prime Minister which she once held by accepting money from the tobacco industry to recruit her fellow citizens into this killing habit.'

Robin Cook, Labour's health spokesman, added: 'This is another link in the smoke chain that binds the Tory party to the tobacco companies. How many of today's ministers hope to join Mrs Thatcher as tomorrow's consultants to tobacco companies?'

Mr O'Connor said: 'It would be helpful if John Major reaffirmed his support for health promotion and indicated that he would fight against the tobacco industry.'

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments