European countries falling short on illicit tobacco controls

The latest edition of the Tobacco Control Scale includes a rating on curbing illicit trade for the first time – and reveals failings across 36 countries in Europe.

A key measure – worth one point out of a total of 100 possible across all categories – is whether countries have ratified the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. All the countries covered in the report claimed those, but fell down elsewhere.

Most tellingly, not one country claimed the two points on offer for implementing a system to track and trace tobacco products which adheres to the guidelines set out in the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). There was one point on offer for a track-and-trace system that doesn’t meet the FCTC.

Out of a possible three points, 17 countries managed two – including a block of EU countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Portugal, plus the UK and Turkey.

At the other end of the scale, Switzerland, Ukraine, Iceland and Israel scored zero on the illicit trade subcategory. None of them ratifying the protocol or having a track-and-trace scheme in place, scoring zero on this measure along with Norway and Serbia.

The poor track-and-trace scores reflect in part the view that the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive provisions doesn’t meet the FCTC requirements, which has prompted some EU lawmakers to set up a working party to try to amend the traceability provisions ahead of a scheduled review in 2021.

The third edition of the TCS also includes measures of tobacco industry interference of the first time, with two points available. The inclusion comes amid allegations of tobacco industry lobbying to control the design of the EU’s traceability system, which has resulted in a scheme that critics claim is riddled with weaknesses.

A whole range of measures, well enforced, monitored and sanctioned, to restrict tobacco industry interference is worth 2 points and some measures, well enforced, to restrict tobacco industry interference is 1 point.

On this measure, just four countries of the 36 countries scored one point – France, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. Unsurprisingly, the report puts addressing tobacco industry interference in public policy making high on its list of recommendations to governments.

Other recommendations include tobacco tax increases, comprehensive advertising and marketing bans, smokefree workplaces and public areas and effective smoking cessation programmes.

Across the whole ranking system – which also covers initiatives such as plain packaging, tax increases and spending on tobacco control – the UK, France and Ireland topped the European ranking on tobacco control, while Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg were at the bottom.

The full document is available here.

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