LEADING health professionals and charities have urged Holyrood to limit engagement with the tobacco industry after a senior representative gave evidence to MSPs.
A public petition has been lodged calling on Scottish Parliament authorities to ensure politicians and staff adhere to international guidelines for interaction with tobacco companies.
It follows the appearance of Charlie Cunningham-Reid, the UK head of corporate affairs and communications for Japan Tobacco International (JTI), at Tuesday’s meeting of the health committee.
He was giving evidence on proposed Scottish Government legislation that would introduce restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes as JTI owns the E-Lites electronic cigarette company.
But he also commented on another aspect of the Bill that would make it an offence to smoke in parts of hospital grounds, as did the company’s written submission to the committee.
Campaigners point out that the UK is bound by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international health treaty set up by the World Health Organisation.
Parties to the convention are required to protect their public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
The petition states: “For a senior tobacco industry representative to give evidence to a Parliamentary committee on a submission which claims to not relate to smoking raises serious concerns over the Framework Convention obligations regarding transparency, and the witness did take the opportunity to comment on smoke-free hospital grounds proposals.
“We believe that no guidance regarding the committee’s obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was provided to the Health and Sport Committee members and would question how the members and clerks can operate within the obligations of the convention without good information as to what is required of them.”
The petition accepts that “materials originating with tobacco companies can and will still form a legitimate part of scrutiny and debate” at Holyrood but calls for “parameters and checks” to ensure compliance with international treaties, and better guidance for staff.
Signatories include Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the British Medical Association Scotland, Dr Alastair Cook, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, and Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland.
Ms Duffy said: “The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is there because there is fundamental conflict between tobacco industry profits and the health and well-being of their customers.
“For years tobacco companies have tried to protect their interests by opposing health policies and this is why they have been singled out for restrictions.
“We know that the tobacco industry seeks to influence political action on health, as shown by the millions it recently threw at opposing plain packaging for tobacco products.
“MSPs and Parliament staff need to know about this history, and the limits placed on engaging with the tobacco industry.”
Responding to the petition, Mr Cunningham-Reid said: “In addition to our written submission, JTI was invited to attend the Scottish Health and Sport Committee’s meeting to consider the Scottish Health Bill.
“The comments by Ash Scotland are unhelpful and deliberately confusing, as the FCTC and specifically Article 5.3 does not ban or exclude the tobacco manufacturers from the regulatory process but encourages any interaction to be open and transparent.
“This is something we support fully and what could be more open and transparent than a broadcast live debate in the Scottish Parliament building.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “A petition from Ash Scotland has been received and will be considered by the Public Petitions Committee in due course.
“During the course of their scrutiny, committees of the Scottish Parliament gather a diverse range of views in order to inform their work.
“All views expressed are considered by committees and their purpose is to inform MSPs in reaching their own conclusion on an inquiry or on proposed legislation.”