Sheila Duffy: Tobacco firms should have no say in public health

IN SCOTLAND we know only too well the harm that tobacco causes – smoking is responsible for around a quarter of our adult deaths each year.

So we should celebrate our significant successes in tobacco control – most famously leading the way on introducing smoke-free public places, but also the halving of smoking rates from 47 per cent in 1972 to 24 per cent now.

Yet, having made a clear decision to place its own profits above the health and lives of its customers, the tobacco industry fights every public health measures.

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Last week the tobacco lawyers were busy again, this time appealing the decision of the Scottish courts to uphold the decision of the Scottish Parliament to ban vending machines, implicated in young people accessing cigarettes.

Over the last month a joint UK and Scottish Government consultation on requiring tobacco to be sold in plain packaging has been met with industry-funded opposition, scaremongering stories and misleading information.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the first international public health treaty. It is brokered by the World Health Organisation and 174 governments are parties to the FCTC, representing 90 per cent of the world’s population.

Article 5.3 of the FCTC recognises the “irreconcilable conflict” between public health and tobacco industry interests and requires governments to engage with the industry only so far as is absolutely necessary to organise effective regulation.

If Scottish ministers were fully to implement Article 5.3 that would mean agreeing to transparency in all contacts with the industry.

It would involve a policy of disinvestment of public money from tobacco shares. It should require a special declaration of any tobacco interests from any individuals and organisations engaged in public health policy discussions.

Most importantly, committing fully to comply with Article 5.3 would send a clear message that the tobacco industry has no role to play in determining the public health policies of our nation.

• Sheila Duffy is chief executive of anti-tobacco charity ASH Scotland