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Doctors demand apology for UK diplomat’s involvement in Pakistan tobacco meeting

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1814 (Published 02 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1814

Rapid Response:

UK government must apologise for assisting tobacco industry lobbying in Pakistan

Last week the UK parliament showed leadership with the passage of legislation to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products to reduce their appeal, particularly to children. It is to be hoped that other countries will follow Australia’s and now the UK’s example and bring forward similar measures.

As health professionals, we were astonished to learn that the British High Commissioner in Pakistan had taken part in a lobbying meeting where British American Tobacco intended to persuade the government of Pakistan to reverse legislation that will mandate large graphic health warnings on cigarette packs1. This is a flagrant breach of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to which the UK is a signatory.2 The tobacco industry fears measures that will reduce consumption such as price increases, health warnings and restrictions on advertising. It has lobbied actively against measures such as price in other countries across Asia including India and Laos3,4 and such activities need to be countered.

It is morally incoherent to advance tobacco control at home but oppose measures in other countries intended to reduce the burden of this lethal habit - based on current predictions tobacco is expected to kill 1 billion people in the 21st century. We demand an immediate public apology for this shameful behaviour and a clear undertaking that it will not be allowed to occur in the future.

Dr Nicholas S Hopkinson
Chair British Thoracic Society Specialist Advisory Group on COPD
NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London, Royal Brompton Hospital, London SW3 6NP

Martin McKee
Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

John Britton
Professor of Epidemiology; Director, UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies

John Moxham
Professor of Respiratory Medicine, King’s College Hospital

1) UK cigarette firm criticised over Laos tobacco tax deal. The Observer 5/10/2014 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/05/imperial-tobacco-laos-cigar... (accessed 1/4/2015)

2) WHO Article 5.3, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – Tobacco Industry Interference http://www.fctc.org/media-and-publications/media-releases-blog-list-view... (accessed 27/3/15)

3) Government bows to tobacco lobby, puts off warnings on packs. The Tribune India 01/04/2015 http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/govt-bows-to-tobacco-lobby-puts-... (accessed 01/04/2015)

4) BAT asks government to withdraw decision. The Nation 20/03/2015 http://nation.com.pk/islamabad/20-Mar-2015/bat-team-asks-govt-to-withdra... (accessed 27/3/15)

Competing interests: No competing interests

03 April 2015
Nicholas S Hopkinson
Chair British Thoracic Society Specialist Advisory Group on COPD
Martin McKee, John Britton, John Moxham
London SW3 6NP