The report published in the British Medical Journal reveals the extent of tobacco companies inviting lords and MPs to major big ticket events, offering hospitality and talking things over in the convivial atmosphere of a private box or lounge at the Chelsea Flower Show, the Oval cricket ground, or Glyndebourne Opera.
This kind of lobbying by major brands goes against international guidelines. Under the terms of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which the UK adopted in 2003, parties to the framework — including politicians — "should interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products."
UK HC to Pak accused of lobbying for British American Tobacco — sits in on meeting between BAT chief and ministers pic.twitter.com/UacDctEmKw— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) April 20, 2015
The World Health Organization guidelines on the implementation of article 5.3 of the framework convention, says:
"Parties should not allow any official or employee of government or any semi/quasi-governmental body to accept payments, gifts or services, monetary or in-kind…"
Despite this, ahead of planned legislation on standardised packaging for tobacco products, the tobacco industry has been using hospitality events to try to influence MPs and lords.
Parliament's Addictive Interests
Eighteen lords declared their membership of the Lords and Commons Cigar Club, each with an identical statement recording that they "receive regular hospitality and invitations to events during the course of the calendar year which together amount to more than $217 (£140) and all of which are paid for by the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association."
Nine peers also declared ownership of shares in tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco, Philip Morris, and Imperial. Examination of the House of Commons register of members' financial interests shows that since 2010, 38 MPs — 29 Conservatives, eight Labour, and one independent — have accepted hospitality from the tobacco industry on 55 occasions, receiving tickets to events worth a total of more than $93,000.
The most popular destination was the Chelsea Flower Show, where in 2014 alone ten MPs were entertained by tobacco industry executives. But MPs have also accepted free tickets to the men's final at Wimbledon (courtesy of Imperial Tobacco) and, from JTI, the third largest tobacco company, test matches at The Oval, opera at Glyndebourne, and a concert by Paul McCartney at the O2 Arena in London.
When plain packaging was put to an open vote in the House of Commons on 11 March, 20 of the 38 who had accepted industry hospitality voted against the measure. Only seven supported it, and 11 did not vote at all.
JTI, whose brands include Camel, Winston, Benson and Hedges, Silk Cut, Sobranie, and Glamour, is against standardised packaging. It says that the measure would "deprive us of the value of our brands — our most valuable assets. It would unjustifiably damage our ability to compete, worsen the illicit trade in tobacco and be unlawful."