ASH Scotland condemns governments’ unqualified invitation for ‘interested businesses’ to participate in consultation

10 October 2023

ASH Scotland is raising concerns about a consultation led by the UK Government in collaboration with the devolved administrations, including the Scottish Government, that invites the participation of ‘interested businesses’ to shape health policy without stated parameters, a development which contravenes World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines forbidding interference by the tobacco industry or its allies.

The health charity will be submitting its agreement in principle with proposals to introduce positive messaging encouraging people to quit smoking and be signposted to advice and support inside the packaging of cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco and other related products before the ‘Mandating quit information messages inside tobacco packs’ consultation closes at 23:59 tonight (Tuesday 10 October 2023) but is outraged by the implication that  businesses connected to the tobacco industry are treated as health stakeholders.

Under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3, tobacco industry interests are described as ‘fundamentally and irreconcilably opposed’ to the aims of public health and guidelines state that ‘Parties 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; this recognises that their expertise is in business regulation and implementing health measures, not in influencing health policy decision making.

The consultation, which has an online-only opportunity for feedback risks excluding the views of people who smoke and are experiencing digital exclusion through the cost-of-living crisis, does ask respondents to disclose direct or indirect links to, or funding from the tobacco industry. Participants answering that they do have ties with tobacco companies, however, are allowed to proceed to input their views without requiring to provide details.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said: “The failure of the UK Government and the Scottish Government to follow through on WHO guidelines in this consultation is regrettable and sends a troubling signal to the global tobacco control community that our democratic processes for developing health policy are open to interference by the tobacco industry’s business associates. We have written to Ministers to share our deep disappointment that the door has been opened and there is a warm welcome for tobacco industry allies to influence health policy development.

“The inaccessibility of the consultation for people with protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010 is also concerning as having it available only online is not inclusive of residents in our most deprived communities who are digitally excluded, and there were no options for those requiring reasonable adjustments meeting individual communication needs.

“ASH Scotland welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to audit its compliance with FCTC Article 5.3 10 years ago and it is now beyond time for the government to be fully transparent about how it is protecting Scotland’s citizens’ right to good health. Allowing profit-motivated tobacco corporations’ vested interests to participate in the consultation without setting clear parameters for their involvement directly undermines this commitment.”

ASH Scotland is also urging the Scottish Government and UK Government to both go further to help drive significantly quicker progress for Scotland to achieve a tobacco-free generation by 2034 through replicating the introduction of bolder, more ambitious measures that have been passed by the parliaments in Canada, New Zealand and Australia in the last year.

Ms Duffy added: “Research suggests messages including cessation-related tips could potentially encourage more people who smoke to attempt to quit so we support in principle the proposal to mandate quit information messages inside packs of tobacco. It is vital, however, that people living in Scotland are signposted specifically to NHS Scotland’s free person-centred Quit Your Way services where expert cessation advice and support is delivered by qualified health professionals, and that the quit messaging is accessible.

“We are also calling on the governments to consider the merits of other measures which have recently been voted through in Canada, New Zealand and Australia and could help make more substantive progress to Scotland’s tobacco-free goal, such as adding health warnings to the actual cigarettes, removing addictive nicotine and reducing the availability of tobacco products in retail environments.”