Late last year we invited you to sign an online petition.
It was set up so consumers could respond to the European Commission’s public consultation on the possible revision of the EC's Tobacco Products Directive.
Last week the EC published its long-awaited report on the consultation. It makes for interesting and sometimes hilarious reading.
The first thing to note is that the consultation generated over 85,000 responses, which is similar to the 96,000 responses that were generated for the British Government's 'Consultation on the future of tobacco control' in 2008.
According to the Department of Health at the time, "Responses overwhelmingly supported removing tobacco displays in shops, and tough action to restrict access to vending machines", which is true. Digging a little deeper, however, we quickly found out why.
Writing on this blog in December 2008 I pointed out that of the 96,515 responses the overwhelming majority (79,272) were generated by the publicly-funded tobacco control industry.
Did the DoH think fit to comment on this? Did they heck, and why would they? After all, the result of the consultation suited the government because it rubber-stamped its own policy. As I said at the time, this was not a public consultation, it was a public sector consultation.
Fast forward to the report on the EC consultation and there are two striking differences.
One, there is a huge majority against further tobacco control measures. Yes, you read that correctly. I quote from the report:
A significant majority of (citizen) respondents were against extending the scope of the Directive (ie further regulations).
A vast majority of (citizen) respondents ... were in favour of lifting the ban on snus.
A significant majority of (citizen) respondents disagreed with the regulation of ingredients at the EU level.
A significant majority of (citizen) respondents opposed limiting access to tobacco products.
To put this in perspective, the number of citizen respondents was 82,117 (or 96 per cent of the overall total). We are therefore talking about a massive majority against further tobacco controls.
Two, unlike the DoH which chose not to comment on the source of the 'citizen' responses (no doubt because the result in 2008 suited its agenda), the EC is far less reticent. For example:
It is to be noted that the responses to the consultation do not represent a survey of a diverse cross-section of society ...
While it is encouraging to see a great number of responses, it should also be noted that this volume appears to be a result, to a large extent, of several citizen mobilisation campaigns that took place in some Member States ...
Several different methods of mobilising and encouraging participation in the consultation process were utilized: from producing websites providing detailed information and guidance on how to participate ... to producing and distributing videos via YouTube about the need to limit changes to tobacco product regulation and tobacco control policy.
The actions and efforts of these campaigns and their ability to mobilise citizens seem to have affected the overall results of the public consultation.
As a result of this, the report argues that:
"It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the outcome of the public consultation procedure".
Difficult to draw firm conclusions?!!
I beg to differ. I defy anyone to read this report without coming to the (remarkably easy) conclusion that:
- Most EU governments support further tobacco controls. Ditto public health organisations and pharmaceutical companies.
- A significant majority of EU citizens who will be directly affected by further tobacco controls are opposed to more tobacco regulation. Indeed, they would like some existing restrictions, like the EU-wide ban on snus, lifted.
The problem for the EC is this:
It is not the result they were expecting, hence the almost desperate need to point out that the largest number of responses were from Italy (36 per cent) and Poland (28 per cent) where there were two popular retailer-led campaigns. (The UK, btw, was third, with nine per cent, just ahead of Germany and Spain with eight per cent each.)
The implication is that the response to their own public consultation was not representative and they will focus instead on an earlier Eurobarometer survey, published in May 2010, in which "respondents .... were considerably more supportive of all proposed changes presented in the public consultation".
I would also hazard a guess that – to avoid similar embarrassment in future – EU member states will be encouraged to copy the example of the British Government in 2008 and large sums of public money will be given to tobacco control groups to ensure that such a result never happens again. We'll see.
To read – and enjoy – the full report click here.
Oh, and thanks to everyone who signed the Forest petition!