Spain is among the countries with fewer actions against the interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control policies during the period from 2018 to 2019. This is indicated by the latest ‘Global Interference Index of the Tobacco Industry‘ that has been published on November 17. This report classifies the behavior of 57 countries and the measures taken by governments at different state levels to counteract interference from the tobacco industry, as indicated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty on tobacco in which Spain has been a signatory to since 2005.
In this regard, Spain, in position 36 out of 57, has received a score similar to Kazan, Malaysia, and Germany, which in this case does not obtain a good score either. The list is headed by Brunei and France, in first and second place respectively, as the countries that have done the most to protect themselves against interference from the tobacco industry. On the other hand, the list is closed by countries such as Indonesia and Japan.
The report in Spain has been prepared by Rodrigo Córdoba, Esteve Fernández, Francisco Rodríguez Lozano, Armando Peruga, and Olena Tigova within the framework of the activities carried out by the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) and the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) as a WHO Collaborating Center for Tobacco Control.
Deceptive campaigns and revolving doors
The report delves into various components of industry interference and highlights as a positive aspect that the state government has not let the industry impose specific measures against smoking. Anyway, the director of Epidemiology and Cancer Prevention of ICO and IDIBELL and responsible for the report in Spain, Esteve Fernández, assures that “Spain has received a bad score for not curbing the corporate social responsibility campaigns used by the tobacco industry for self-promotion”. In fact, the report detailed the collaboration of the national, regional, provincial and municipal governments with the tobacco industry in these campaigns.
Another area in which there is substantial room for improvement is that of conflicts of interest between the industry and activities to favor them by former senior government officials. Thus, the report documents “surprising cases of former senior executives currently working for the tobacco industry” as Fernández points out. In addition, there would also be a conflict between the economic interest of the State, in the sale of tobacco, through the ‘Compañía Española de Tabaco en Rama’ (CETARSA) and the ‘Commissioner for the Tobacco Market’, and the interest in protecting the health of the population. In this regard, the permeability of these institutions with industry generates a strong appearance of conflicts of interest.
What are the recommendations for Spain to improve these results?
Finally, the report gives a series of recommendations to Spain to change this situation, such as:
- Build effective firewalls for all public organizations involved in the labor market, CETARSA and the ‘Comisionado para el Mercado de Tabacos (both derived from the privatization of Tabacalera), to prevent influences of the tobacco industry, and transfer to the Public Health Agency some of the functions of the Commissioner.
- Raise awareness of the interference of the tobacco industry in national and regional governments, particularly in those departments that usually participate in industry self-promotion activities, such as financing, development, health, environment, or aspects related to the policy of the woman.
- Prevent public administrations from participating in the self-promotion activities of the tobacco industries and their allies, under the umbrella of Corporate Social Responsibility.
- Establish criteria to limit interactions between governments and the tobacco industry and ensure total transparency of all interactions. At least, it is necessary to publish the agendas, acts and agreements established in these meetings.
- Support civil society from governments to participate in all efforts to counter the tobacco industry, through the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking.
The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.
IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).