It’s been a bad week for the righteous warriors of Tobacco Control.
First there was Dick Puddlecote, taking a pot shot at Dr Vivienne Nathanson:
Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA lied on BBC radio. No, really, quite comprehensively in fact.
a woman who is not willing to stand by and watch man’s inhumanity to man; a woman who walks on the larger stage to try and make the world a better place.
Case closed, huh!
“You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money’s worth!”
What’s wrong with that? It was no less a figure than London mayor Boris Johnson who encouraged Londoners to “Vote early and vote often!” at the last mayoral elections which returned him to office (no doubt because his supporters took his advice).
Nevertheless, Deborah Arnott FRCP (Hon) described it as “inappropriate and ill-advised” in an email that was unaccountably only sent on the very day that the consultation ended.
Point is that, when you’re fighting something as evil and mendacious as Big Tobacco, you can’t play by Queensbury Rules. The aims of Tobacco Control are pure and noble, and if they have to bend the rules a bit, and tell a few fibs, then they’re pure and noble fibs, told in a good cause, and with a straight face.
So nothing to write home about there either.
And finally there’s John Dalli, the Maltese EU Health Commissioner and antismoking zealot who resigned earlier this week. It seems that some Maltese businessman, a friend of Dalli’s, went to the Swedish Match Company, which sells snus (which are banned everywhere in Europe, except Sweden), and told them that if they coughed up 60 million euros – 10 million up front -, they could have the bans lifted.
Swedish daily Aftonbladet reported that the businessman had asked Swedish Match for 10 million euros in advance and another 50 million once the legislation was changed.
“That’s the kind of sums we are talking about,” Swedish Match spokesman Patrik Hildingsson told Reuters.
A Swedish Match employee met the businessman in Malta after he had sought contact, Hildingsson said.
“The Maltese businessman expressed to us very clearly that he was speaking on behalf of Dalli. He had a manner and information that made us wary,” Hildingsson said.
“He said it was, in principle, political suicide to lift the ban and therefore he wanted money for it, simply put, since the career (of the EU commissioner) would be over afterwards.”
Swedish Match declined the offer and informed the Commission of what had happened, Hildingsson said.
Isn’t that just typical of the underhand methods of Big Tobacco (of which the Swedish Match Company is part, obviously) to go and immediately snitch to teacher? The offer was clearly just an opening bid, and could have been reasonably expected to have been reduced to €20 million or so over the course of negotiations. A lot of people would have to be bought to push through changes in legislation like this. And now they’re not going to get anything.
Anyway, Dalli was given no choice by EU President Manuel Barroso:
During the four o’clock Barroso-Dalli meeting of yesterday (October 16), Barroso asked Dalli to resign, otherwise he threatened that he would dismiss him….
… Dalli asked from Jose Barroso 24 hours to consult with his lawyer and his family. Barroso refused categorically and told him, “you have three quarters of an hour as at 17:00 pm I will issue a press release. You have either to resign or I will dismiss you by five o’clock”.
Call that justice? One hour to pack your bags?
The Maltese Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, (no relation of Carlo Ponzi) reacted angrily to suggestions that Barroso never wanted Dalli in the EU Commission, despite Dalli’s impeccable record of complete honesty and devoted public service:
The outburst, when it came, was sparked off by a question suggesting that Jose Barroso, the Commission president, had not wanted John Dalli on his team when Malta nominated him, and would have preferred to keep Joe Borg who had been a relative success as Commissioner for Fisheries.
Dr Gonzi denied this and claimed this was all “speculation”, even daring to suggest to the media to keep away from “speculation”. (news update about the baseless speculation)
If that wasn’t enough, all this was followed by a Watergate-style break-in:
Brussels police have swept the offices of two major public health organisations for bugs following a break-in at a building in the rue de Tréves in which laptops and documents relating to their battles against the tobacco industry were stolen.
It is a convenient address for those involved in lobbying and monitoring the European political process, just five minutes walk from the Parliament building, and there are eight floors of well-equipped offices for burglars to investigate. But it appears they were interested only in those of the European Smoke Free Partnership and the European Public Health Alliance on the 5th and 1st floors. A third office – a company that has clients on the other side of the argument – was also entered, but nothing was taken.
The burglars struck within 48 hours of the resignation of the European health commissioner, John Dalli. On Wednesday, he revealed that he had been forced out by commission president José Manuel Barroso over a report by EU anti-fraud investigators accusing a fellow Maltese of attempting to sell influence over the commissioner to a Swedish tobacco company.
Amid the confusion and the denials of wrongdoing on all sides, one thing looks certain – the tough new tobacco products directive that Dalli wanted to launch this autumn will not go ahead on schedule. It may even be stymied for this parliament and pushed back beyond the next elections – or be dead in the water.
Anti-tobacco campaigners are convinced that they are looking at a dirty tricks campaign designed to strangle the new directive (TPD) at birth. But nobody beyond Barroso and a few others knows the strength of the evidence, because Olaf – the EU anti-fraud office – is refusing to release the report that led to Dalli’s downfall. It is now being passed to the Maltese judiciary…
“What we are witnessing is the biggest tobacco industry interference in public health policy at the European level. The backdrop to the burglary at our office is the political scene. We believe that is no coincidence,”
It’s already being dubbed Tobaccogate:
Antismoking campaigners believe the break-ins and the Dalli affair are linked to an alleged dirty tricks campaign by big tobacco to delay further curbs on the industry.
“For me, it’s 100 percent industry-commissioned,” Luk Joossens, a Belgian expert at a cancer-prevention organization, told EUobserver in reaction to the break-ins.
Well, obviously! There were only a few days left to kill the Tobacco Directive. Cui Bono, as they say in U2.
the Tobacco Directive, which the tobacco industry considers a matter of life and death and wants at any cost to block, is due to go to the final stage of approval and enter into effect on Monday , October 22. Under the circumstances, if John Dalli resigns, the Tobacco Directive process will be delayed for at least two years, if not forgotten, to the great satisfaction of the tobacco industry.
Truth be told though, if Manuel Barroso only had a quarter of an hour to spare for John Dalli, it was probably because he’d been working days and nights to get the EU’s latest press release out the door.
TOWARDS A GENUINE ECONOMIC AND MONETARY UNION
Yes, this time it’s going to be a genuine one, not a pretend one. Three cheers!
No, don’t laugh.