New challenges for tobacco control: is there interference from the tobacco industry in Spain?

The answer to this question was extensively debated in a monographic conference on the 27th of April and the conclusion was strongly “yes”. In fact, the tobacco industry has been and still is interfering both on a national and international level to stop the progress of policies aimed at achieving a tobacco-free world.

Evidence on this was provided at the conference organized by the Collaborating Centre of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Tobacco Control of the Catalan Institute of Oncology/Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge (ICO-IDIBELL) and the CIBER of Respiratory Diseases. The National Association of Health Informants, the National Committee for Tobacco Prevention and the Medical Collegiate Organization -where the conference took place- also collaborated.

In the debate, Andrés Perelló and Carles Escolà shared their experiences with tobacco lobbies. Perelló, a former European parliamentarian who participated in the presentation of the European Directive on Tobacco Products, explained how lobbies classified parliamentarians according to the degree to which they could be approached and qualified as indecent the great pressure to which they were subjected to in Brussels. Escolà, journalist and author of the book “License to kill: a history of tobacco in Spain”, talked about the lack of transparency of both the tobacco industry and the Commissioner for the Tobacco Market, an agency dependent on the Government, in all their attempts to interview with them.

Additionally, Armando Peruga, a tobacco expert who worked for decades at the WHO and is currently a researcher at ICO-IDIBELL, presented Spain’s appalling results in the Global Tobacco Interference Index, which places Spain in the middle of the ranking, with wide room for improvement. Examples of interference range from the acceptance of donations, the creation of industry-funded awards or the high-profile public presence of institutional representatives at industry-sponsored or organized events. Finally, Julio Doncel, an external technician from the Ministry of Health, reviewed the activities of the tobacco industry with public institutions that flagrantly violate the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This international treaty has been mentioned repeatedly, since its signatories, including Spain, agreed to protect themselves from the interests of the tobacco industry for the sake of public health. In addition to the imminent approval and implementation of a Comprehensive Tobacco Prevention Plan, Doncel shared the proposals that are going to be launched on transparency and monitoring of industry meetings and contacts with public entities.

The conference ended with a debate moderated by the journalist Javier Granda Revilla. The public, which included journalists, politicians and health professionals involved in tobacco control, actively participated, generating a deep and interesting debate. Amongst the conclusions, the following stand out: the concern regarding the lack of financing for the organizations (mostly non-governmental) involved in tobacco control, the need for a new law that allows progressing in regards to tobacco control in Spain – reducing the burden of associated morbidity and mortality- , and the need to detect and stop tobacco industry interference strategies at all levels of government.

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