A Tobacco Regulatory Authority
188. A consistent theme of the evidence submitted
to us from the tobacco companies was that Government no longer
engaged in a meaningful dialogue with them; confrontation had
superseded cooperation. According to the TMA, the trade body representing
the tobacco companies operating in the UK market, "There
has been a marked reduction in the productive dialogue between
the companies and Government, in particular in relation to the
smoking and health issue".
Gallaher commented: "Regrettably, at the end of 1999 contact
with Government is not as meaningful as it has been in the past
... a position Gallaher would like to see changed".
Imperial told us that it regretted the fact that "the constructive
and effective relationship between the UK tobacco companies and
the Government, which was epitomised by the consensual regulatory
system created by the Voluntary Agreements, has broken down".
Mr Martyn Day, however, felt that the cooperative arrangements
between the companies and the Government had benefited one side
only: "I think that the whole approach of voluntary agreements
... was in the end one that worked in the tobacco companies' interests.
It meant that they were always in negotiations and discussions.
There is always that interplay which meant that the regulators
became too familiar and were never keen to press too hard".
We believe that the Government is right to keep its distance
from the tobacco industry which has, in our view, been the main
beneficiary of the regime of voluntary agreements.
189. The final conclusion of the RCP in its Report
Nicotine Addiction in Britain was that "an independent
expert committee should be established to examine the institutional
options for nicotine regulation, and to report to the Secretary
of State for Health on the appropriate future regulation of nicotine
products and the management and prevention of nicotine addiction
We concur. It seems to us entirely illogical that treatments for
nicotine replacement therapy are subject to stringent regulation
whereas the infinitely more deadly tobacco products they are designed
to supersede escape any fundamental regulation. So we believe
a Tobacco Regulatory Authority should be introduced.
190. We have, throughout our report, indicated areas
for which we think a Tobacco Regulatory Authority (TRA) could
take responsibility. It could look at all aspects of the marketing
of tobacco, the product itself and the nature of its health risks
and developments in respect of 'safer' cigarettes. Smokers are
addicted to nicotine in tobacco smoke. Yet the nicotine itself
(contrary to what many smokers themselves believe) causes little
It is the tar that accompanies the nicotine that does the damage.
The companies themselves, in the 1960s, sought to isolate the
carcinogens in tobacco, then gave up. We think that it is time
that public health authorities addressed the issue of tobacco
product safety. We think that those smokers who cannot quit are
entitled to the safest possible product, and that no tobacco company
can be trusted to give objective information on the safety of
any of their products.
191. Consequently we would envisage the creation
of a TRA with its own scientists, completely independent of the
tobacco companies. When considering its function we should like
to stress that we do not believe that the TRA could, for example,
seek the elimination of nicotine from cigarettes. Its policies
would have to recognize the realities of a global market for tobacco
products, where any attempt to exclude nicotine - which would
in our view be tantamount to prohibition of cigarettes, in that
nicotine is, in the words of the RCP, the "unique selling
point" of cigarettes - would be likely to be counter-productive.
The proposed TRA could, however, examine nicotine:tar ratios
to determine how these could be optimised to minimise exposure
192. The TRA would, as we have stated, be the ideal
objective judge of which additives and flavourings should or should
not be permitted to be added to tobacco products, having as its
test the overall impact on public health. The TRA could consider
the marketing of tobacco products, looking at areas of promotion
going beyond advertising into issues such as point of sale displays.
193. We would not expect the tobacco industry to
welcome a regulatory authority with open arms - few industries
would. We believe, however, that for too long the companies have
enjoyed levels of commercial freedom entirely inconsistent with
the fact that they produce what the Health Education Authority
aptly called "by far the most dangerous consumer product
on the market".
Given a clear steer by an appropriate regulatory authority, we
believe that the tobacco companies could put some of their vast
resources into devising alternative, safer nicotine delivery systems.
For example, it has been suggested that tobacco deaths in Sweden
have been reduced by the widespread use of a different nicotine
delivery system, moist oral snuff, snus, which seems to
pose a much lower health risk than cigarettes. We share the CMO's
grave doubts that there will ever be a safe cigarette and his
distrust of 'safer' products. Further, the gap between product
reform and epidemiological data is large, so mistakes could prove
extremely costly. Nonetheless, we do think that technological
means to make cigarettes safer and less addictive should be explored
and that a TRA could provide the necessary impetus for this. The
TRA could, we believe, profitably set upper limits, and progressive
reductions for known carcinogens.
194. In a research capacity, the TRA could examine,
and offer definitive statements, on the current scientific consensus
as to the dangers of smoking, and could examine the most effective
ways of persuading people to quit or never to start.
195. Assuming there is a will on the part of Government
to tackle nicotine addiction in the very fundamental way that
we propose, the question remains where should a TRA be located?
One possibility would be for the UK to have its own TRA, in a
way analogous to the Food Standards Agency or Medicines Control
Agency; another would be for a TRA to be located in Europe, the
source of much of what currently passes for tobacco regulation.
196. As we have noted, the Secretary of State told
us that he favoured "an independent scientific committee"
at a European level to monitor and assess information on products.
The EU option has many attractions, in terms of the wider scale
of the benefits it could produce to the total European population
and those countries receiving tobacco products sourced in Europe.
But we are not convinced that a European TRA could be set up in
the near future. Furthermore, although the current Health Commissioner
greatly impressed us in terms of his commitment to reducing tobacco
consumption, we believe that the current CAP subsidy of tobacco
undermines any credibility of a European TRA.
197. Accordingly, we recommend that the UK should
institute a TRA with responsibility for all aspects of tobacco
regulation consistent with the limitations posed by EU law. We
would eventually like to see a Europe-wide TRA, but we feel that
such a body would have no credibility until such time as the CAP
subsidy for tobacco growing is eliminated.
198. Turning to the question of how the TRA should
operate we think it vital that such a body should be very well
resourced to deal with the huge scientific and legal resources
of the tobacco companies. We think that a proportion of tobacco
duty should be hypothecated to finance the regulatory authority.
In oral evidence the DoH told us that, to analyse and understand
the technical composition of cigarettes, it relied on a scientific
adviser, Professor Frank Fairweather, who worked one day a week,
another scientific advisor working two days a week, and Mr Tim
Baxter who worked full time. Mr Baxter explained that, as head
of the Tobacco Research Unit, he had access to a technical advisory
group via the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health.
Finally the DoH provided over £500,000 a year to the Laboratory
of the Government Chemist to test tar and nicotine ratings.
Mr Baxter recognized there were many calls on the Department's
resources, but he admitted that it would be "very nice"
to have more resources since his team were "highly stretched".
When we put our concerns on this matter to the Secretary of State
he agreed that the tobacco team in the Department was "quite
small", but he contended that its work was supplemented by,
for example, the professionals working in Health Action Zones
and the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health. This latter
body he described as "a very useful organisation".
199. We would have more faith in the Secretary of
State's assessment of the added benefit of SCOTH had that organization
not been in abeyance for almost two years. We regard the current
staff resources devoted to tobacco control, especially in the
area of scientific knowledge and advice, to be pitifully weak.
Irrespective of whether the Secretary of State accepts our recommendation
that root and branch reform is needed in terms of a TRA, we would
expect to see a major increase in resources, met out of the enormous
income the tobacco companies pay in duties to the Treasury.
200. If UK staff resources are pitiful, those in
the EU are utterly derisory. As the Secretary of State informed
us, and as we saw for ourselves in Brussels, in Europe "there
is just one official dealing with tobacco", Mr John Ryan.
In fact the situation is graver still, in that tobacco forms only
one half of Mr Ryan's portfolio. We met Mr Ryan on our visit to
Brussels and were extremely impressed by his knowledge and commitment.
But we do not see how the Health Commissioner can deliver his
objective of reducing tobacco consumption with such scant resources.
We recommend that the Secretary of State makes immediate and
urgent representations in Brussels to create a far more substantial
unit to combat the enormous resources of the tobacco industry.
We believe that European policy is already hugely compromised
by the CAP subsidy, and that unless appropriate resources go into
tobacco control European action in this sphere will lack credibility.