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Lobbyists do battle in Brussels over tobacco industry's future.

LINES are being drawn for another titanic battle in Brussels between the tobacco industry and anti-smoking activists. And the weapon of choice is lobbying.

The first phase, forcing cigarette companies to sell their product in plain, unbranded packets without logos, has already started following the 31-page document of non-binding recommendations (not a directive) published last year by the European Union (EU) Council of Ministers and which was briskly approved by the European Parliament.

And while 11 of the 27-country bloc already has comprehensive public place smoking-ban laws, the EU's intention is for the remaining capitals to enact similar legislation to create a smoke-free Union by 2012.

So there is much to play for in tobacco regulation and with the multiplicity of political authorities in the EU--the council (and its member states), parliament, European Commission, there are thousands of officials and politicians who need persuading of a point of view.

While Luk Joossens, advocacy officer of The Anti Cancer Foundation, is one opponent of the tobacco sector lobbying directly against its interests. He told Tobacco Journal International he was "confident the argument is moving in his direction--pointing out, for example, that Bulgaria which is big in its smoking culture will pass laws this June which are as drastic as those already in place in Ireland and the UK.

Up against him are a phalanx of tobacco industry lobbyists. Although they have slightly disparate interests, the main thrust of tobacco's lobbying efforts in the so- called Capital of Europe is through the European Community Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM), the European Smoking Tobacco Association and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC). In Eindhoven, The Netherlands, is to be found an outrider organisation, the European Cigar Manufacturers' Association (ECMA).

Using these bodies to lobby in Brussels helps tobacco companies deal with EU officials and politicans at arms length: these organisations are not obliged to identify their clients, members , or donors--although it is of course pretty clear they will push the tobacco industry's line. One key issue here are the voluntary European Commission and European parliament lobbyists' registers--which are supposed this year to be rolled into one common register for lobbyists covering all EU institutions.

"The European [Commission] lobbyists' register which was set up two years ago is a real pain," one expert who wished to remain anonymous, said: "The tobacco industry is highly cautious. It doesn't show its hand unless it has to."

This expert said that because the current register is not compulsory, it makes following a trail of interests hard to follow some advocates may be missing.

For instance, the smart thing for a lobbyist who wants to keep a low profile to do would be to employ a law firm. Why? "Because such firms have consistently rejected registration since the system was launched: so, through them, low profile lobbying can be conducted without any pressure, moral or otherwise, for the activities to be declared," he said.

That's a point of view but it is the case that the European Commission prefers to deal with the above trade organisations rather than individual companies because to do so saves time and gives a broader picture of the industry's concerns.

Separately, the Commission has to deal with Copa-Cogeca, the European farmers' organisation said to be the largest lobby in Brussels and where, among many agriculture specialisms are represented, tobacco leaf growers find their voice. In the past, theirs has been the most heavily subsidised crop in the Union on a per hectare basis although subsidies are being phased out and later this year will no longer be linked to production. As a lobby, therefore, its significance will diminish.

One potential benefit for tobacco industry Brussels lobbying is the fact that two major international companies--BAT and Imperial Tobacco--are based in nearby London. But although based in the UK capital, BAT operates globally and has only a relatively small presence in the British tobacco consumer market; it does not use headquarters staff to lobby Brussels-based institutions, even though they are a short Eurostar train ride away. The company maintains offices in all the countries it operates in, and staff lobby their respective governments. So, for lobbying the EU institutions, BAT operates though its own employees in its Brussels office and is also a member of CECCM though it normally conducts its lobbying independently. "We're on the European Commission's register of lobbyists and we tell them everything about how we lobby," said a spokeswoman for the company. BAT also supports a number of industry organisations outside the mainstream tobacco business, such as those promoting smoke-free products.

Of course, not everyone agrees that BAT is that transparent.

David Leloup, a researcher responsible for a major Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) inquiry into the tobacco industry's influence, claimed: "The trouble is that BAT also hides behind myriad associations which are used as vehicles for EU lobbying." He noted that the Commission's passion for consulting any group potentially affected by a decision through its 'stakeholder dialogue' system allows many lobbyists to "follow the golden rule: Put your arguments in someone else's mouth."

Oliver Hoedeman, of CEO, recently complained to the Commission about BAT and CECCM for allegedly under-reporting their lobbying costs in the Commission register. Hoedeman claimed BAT had spent more than four times the figure, Euro 700,000 it had declared but his complaint was rejected.

The most noticeable lobbying company in this area is BXL Consulting, a Czech outfit which works for BAT and for whom it conducts conversations with Commission officials on a wide range of subjects. It has a flying start in that one of its chief executives is Pavel Telicka, a former European Commissioner for health policy.

The other global tobacco manufacturer based in the UK Imperial Tobacco maintains "a small Brussels-based team which monitors legislative developments in the EU and seeks to engage with relevant stakeholders, including MEPs, about our business and our industry," said spokesman Simon Evans. Imperial is also a member of industry groups such as ESTA, ECMA, and CECCM, he said.

Britain's Tobacco Manufacturers Association does not lobby the EU directly and works through CECCM. By contrast, the powerful German cigarette association DZV (Deutscher Zigarettenverband) does its own lobbying alongside the individual lobbying activities of leading German tobacco producers. "We do not employ any other outside companies like many do, we do it ourselves, which means me and the head of the DZV, Marianne Tritz," said the association's spokesman Peter K0nigsfeld. "The two of us do it because we have real political connections, we talk to members of the [German] parliament and the government and we talk to the secretaries at the ministries if this is necessary," Mr K0nigsfeld said.

"At the European level we are members of CECCM. If it is necessary to talk to say a German member of the European Parliament we do that ourselves, but most of the work is done by CECCM or by the tobacco companies themselves," he said.

Antonio Abrunhosa, chief executive of the International Tobacco Growers' Association (ITGA) said the ITGA did not do any lobbying in Brussels or Strasbourg "because we represent basically the tobacco growers from outside the EU." Growers inside the EU were represented by UNITAS, which worked with the EU institutions. At present however, the ITGA is uneasy about the work of European Commission working groups set up to establish detailed regulations for tobacco ingredients, among other things, as part of implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation. "We're not lobbying but we need to be fully informed," Mr Abrunhosa said.

The British-based ASH anti-smoking campaign describes itself as a pressure group "and a lot of our work is to put pressure on governments to implement measures to benefit health," said Amanda Sandford, research manager. When tobacco policy is being decided at EU level "we would make representations, but we're a small organisation and we don't employ outside firms so we do it ourselves. We don't make many visits to Brussels for cost reasons so a lot of our work is by e-mail and telephone," she said.

Another leading campaigner against smoking, the British Medical Association (BMA), has a one-person Brussels office to promote BMA policies on a number of initiatives at EU level and monitors the work of EU institutions. But "tobacco is only one of these issues," said Nicola While, the BMA's EU liaison officer.

The Brussels-based Smoke Free Partnership "is not a lobbying organisation--what we do is inform decision-makers of evidence-based policies with regard to tobacco control," said the director Florence Berteletti-Kemp. "We inform decision-makers, sometimes through workshops and seminars, of their obligations regarding the FCTC and tell them what the various articles of the convention mean by going into detail," she said.
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Author:Haworth, David; Osborn, Alan
Publication:International News
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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