Education And Debate

Are tobacco subsidies a misuse of public funds?

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 30 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:832
  1. Luk Joossens, consultanta,
  2. Martin Raw, honorary senior lecturer in public healthb
  1. a International Union Against Cancer, European Union Office, Rue Pascal 33, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
  2. b King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry, London SE5
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Joossens.
  • Accepted 12 March 1996

The European Union spends about 1000m ecu (pounds sterling800m, $1240m) a year subsidising tobacco production but only about 1.55m ecu (pounds sterling1.2m, $1.85m) on smoking prevention. The subsidies, part of the common agriculutral policy, were originally intended to encourage farmers to grow commercially valued varieties of tobacco and thus reduce imports. But they also aimed to guarantee farmers' income, a goal in direct conflict with the first. The policy has failed to adapt production to demand or reduce imports, since most tobacco grown in the union has little commercial value. Reforms introduced in 1992 have had a limited impact on expenditure, and data produced as a result of the reforms show that it would be much cheaper to give farmers direct income support than to subsidise them growing tobacco. Tobacco subsidies should be abolished and more should be spend on smoking prevention.

Exchange rates and conversions

pounds sterling1=1.24 ecu

$1=0.8 ecu

pounds sterling1=$1.54

1 tonne=1000 kg

1 ecu=pounds sterling0.80

1 ecu=$1.24

$1=pounds sterling0.65

The common agricultural policy of the European Union subsidises tobacco production by about 100m ecu a year ($1240m, pounds sterling800m).1 This is in stark contrast with the tiny sums spent on initiatives to prevent smoking related diseases. One of the key goals of the common agricultural policy in relation to tobacco was to reduce dependence on imports by subsidising farmers to grow commercially valued varieties. In spite of huge expenditure this goal has not been achieved. Almost 70% of the union's manufacturing needs for tobacco products are still met by imports, and almost two thirds of union production is still of tobacco of low commercial value.

In 1991 we concluded that the system was incapable of real reform because of its complexity, vulnerability to exploitation, and internal contradictions and because of its fundamental contradiction of European …

View Full Text

Sign in

Log in through your institution