Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Tobacco Control

European watchdog is failing to hold tobacco industry to account over smuggling

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 29 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6973
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  2. Anna B Gilmore, professor of public health2
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1H 9SH, UK
  2. 2Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee Martin.McKee{at}

What are agreements with the industry worth?

For over a decade the European Union’s antifraud organisation, OLAF (Office Européen de Lutte Antifraude) has, controversially, engaged with the tobacco industry, ostensibly to counter tobacco smuggling. This is despite extensive evidence of industry complicity in smuggling,1 a situation that seems to persist.2 It also represents a U-turn by OLAF, which in 2000 filed a lawsuit accusing tobacco manufacturers of “an ongoing global scheme to smuggle cigarettes.”

In 2004 OLAF halted this litigation in exchange for a legally binding agreement with Philip Morris International to tackle the illicit trade.3 Subsequently, the European Union signed similar agreements with three other big tobacco companies. The agreement with Philip Morris is about to expire, and talks on possible renewal have begun.

Lack of transparency

These agreements may have undermined OLAF’s judgment.3 Analysis has highlighted a lack of transparency in how the agreements operated, …

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