News Release

UK falls further behind in global tobacco industry interference ranking

University of Bath Press Release

Reports and Proceedings

University of Bath

The UKTI has been produced by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath with input from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), ASH Scotland, ASH Wales, and Cancer Research UK. It covers the period between April 2021 and March 2023. 

The UK scored 48 out of a possible 100 in the 2023 ranking, compared to a score of 32 in 2021, where a higher score means greater tobacco industry interference. This year’s index highlights several areas of concern: 

  • A lack of transparency across government about its interactions with the tobacco industry and no requirement for the tobacco industry and its associates to register with the government, which is of concern given the industry’s growing use of third parties. 
  • A wide range of unnecessary interactions between government officials, including senior ministers, and tobacco companies. 
  • No government ban on tobacco industry activities described as “socially responsible,” meaning the industry was able to launder its image. 
  • Tobacco companies attempt to influence policy by submitting responses to public consultations and officially commissioned policy reviews, including on issues of tobacco control.  

The policy brief that accompanies the UKTI makes eight recommendations to improve the UK’s performance. These include the introduction of a legally binding and publicly accessible register that covers all lobbying and policy influence activity across UK administrations, as well as a call for a renewed commitment to addressing conflicts of interest by prohibiting the tobacco industry from making contributions (monetary or otherwise) to political parties and public officials at all levels. 

The lead author of the UKTI report and policy brief, Dr Raouf Alebshehy (University of Bath), said: “Our two-year research highlights a sharp increase in activity by tobacco companies to interfere with health policy making. Unfortunately, this has been coupled with a lack of awareness and absence of implementation of measures protecting public health from the industry interference. Except for the UK’s health agencies and departments, we have evidence of incidents of tobacco industry interference at the most senior political levels.”  

“The UK can regain its leadership in the global ranking and put an end to tobacco industry interference if it addresses the issues set out in the index and acts on our recommendations that would be relatively straightforward and inexpensive to implement, including the introduction of a lobbying register.”  

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK said: “The Tobacco Interference Index rightly highlights that the UK needs to improve cross government understanding about the processes which must be used to protect public policy from tobacco industry interference.

“Our ministry of health, which is the custodian for the UK of the WHO Convention on Tobacco Control, has already moved to address this through publication in June of guidance to all UK government officials on just this issue. We feel confident that the next UK Tobacco Industry Interference Index will show the UK moving back up the rankings.”

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of health charity, ASH Scotland, said: “The UK’s fall to 21st place in the Global Tobacco Interference Index is alarming. Unfortunately, it accurately reflects the reality that the tobacco industry, through its vested and commercial interests, has been constantly seeking to influence the development of public health policy on tobacco.”

“The failure of the UK Government and the Scottish Government to follow through on best practice in the recent 'Mandating quit information messages inside tobacco packs' consultation sends a troubling signal that our processes for developing health policy are open to interference by the tobacco industry and its business associates.

“The UK’s plummeting performance and diminishing global status require immediate and robust remedial action to protect from commercial interference that skews public consultation processes, disrupts democratic debate and impedes progressive health policymaking.”

Suzanne Cass, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health Wales said: “It is deeply concerning that the UK has slid to 21st place in the Global Tobacco Interference Index. It is a stark reminder of the need for additional actions to guard against the persistent efforts of the tobacco industry and its associates to exert influence on public health policies.” 

“ASH Wales successfully called for Welsh Government to publicly support the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3, yet we feel more can be done to ensure there is a cross-party embrace of these principles and protect public health policy from malign influences.”

“Transparency in the decision-making processes and actions of all departments of the UK Government and devolved administrations are a key element of building the trust of the nation.”

Researchers at Tobacco Control Research Group measured the intensity, frequency, and severity of incidents of tobacco industry interference against 20 indicators over two years. Whilst the UK has improved in a few indicators, there has been no change or a deterioration in most areas. 

The WHO FCTC came into force in 2005. It is the world’s first global public health treaty. Developed in response to the tobacco epidemic, it reaffirms every person’s right to the highest standard of health and provides a legal framework for international health co-operation. In total, there are 183 Parties to the WHO FCTC, including the UK. 

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