Associate Feature: Holyrood must take a stronger stance against tobacco firms’ interference
Smoking continues to cause 100,000 hospitalisations and 9,000 deaths in Scotland each year and, at ASH Scotland, we are deeply concerned about the ongoing opportunities afforded to Big Tobacco companies attempting to influence policy-makers in the Scottish Parliament.
With the Scottish Government’s refreshed Tobacco Action Plan being published later this year, it is vital now more than ever that all at Holyrood take a much stronger stance against tobacco firms’ interference, if Scotland is to make quicker progress towards meeting our goal of achieving a tobacco-free generation by 2034.
The tobacco industry and its vested interests are not permitted to lobby on health policies under the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3.
WHO describes tobacco industry interests as ‘fundamentally and irreconcilably opposed to the aims of public health’ and, through their long record of denial and deceit, tobacco companies have demonstrated repeatedly that they cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their health-harming products.
Profiteering multi-national tobacco corporations promoting lethal, addictive products are not credible public health stakeholders and Members of the Scottish Parliament should not be giving one second of their valuable time to engage with representatives whose messaging distorts and delays progressive public health policy development and implementation.
In recent years, the industry has shifted its focus to promoting e-cigarettes which, due to their bright colours and sweet or fruit flavours, appeal to young people who have never smoked and, worryingly, leads to an increased risk of later tobacco use.
Despite the FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines, according to the Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register, several MSPs have met with representatives from tobacco companies to discuss vaping products during the last few years.
Many e-cigarette brands are owned by the same companies that produce tobacco and have a vested interest in seeking to disrupt or prevent the regulation of recreational nicotine products.
With the Scottish Government having published an analysis of responses to its consultation on tightening the rules on advertising and promoting vaping products in September 2022, ASH Scotland wants to see swift action to introduce the long overdue measures, enabled by the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016, to protect young people from predatory promotional activities.
According to FCTC Article 5.3, MSPs should be limited to meeting tobacco industry representatives or associates only after the point such regulations have been voted on to be implemented, and only to an extent strictly necessary to enable the products to be effectively regulated.
If MSPs are approached by organisations seeking a meeting to discuss e-cigarettes or vapes and want to check their links with Big Tobacco, ASH Scotland recommends the comprehensively detailed Tobacco Tactics website published and maintained by the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group.
Scotland needs to send a strong message that maintains our positive international reputation for health and tobacco control leadership. We must secure our democratic processes against the interference of greedy corporations which consistently prioritise making obscene profits for a few over the health of most people and the planet.
ASH Scotland is continuing to call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to fulfil its 2013 strategic commitment to audit its compliance with FCTC Article 5.3.
And we also believe that the ‘Lobbying and Access to MSPs’ section in the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament should be amended in line with the FCTC, to restrict and prescribe engagements with representatives from an industry whose tobacco products kill up to half of its long-term customers and whose newer products are creating an epidemic of youth uptake.
Scotland can and must do better in ensuring that the doors to our democratic institutions are firmly closed to any attempts to hijack or impede progressive health policy-making.
Sheila Duffy is Chief Executive of ASH Scotland.
This article is sponsored by ASH Scotland.