During the period of 2017 and 2018, the influence from the tobacco industry and its main allies—the National Federation for Tobacco Retailers (Confédération des Buralistes de France)—was blocked at the level of the health minister, the Prime Minister and the French President. The Minister, in charge of budget, had links with the tobacco retailers and negotiated a new contract with them to provide financial support, modernize their shops and diversify their activities.
Since 2016 and the adoption of new tobacco control provisions, the previous advertising, promotion and sponsoring ban has been extended to philanthropic activities and therefore includes all CSR activities. The legislation is comprehensive and prohibits these activities by the tobacco industry and third parties who directly or indirectly promote tobacco or tobacco products. However, this provision does not cover tobacco retailers and their related organizations, which continue to conduct CSR activities.
There are still some provisions which could be strengthened because they promote the consumption of tobacco products. Product placements and smoking in cultural works, especially in films, remain a problem and have not been addressed yet.
There are also some incentives like a higher quantity of tobacco products allowed to be brought in France from a country outside the European Union (EU). The quantity allowed from one EU member to another is also particularly high. Considering that the EU and its member states are parties to the WHO FCTC, this level should be reduced because it promotes cross-border purchases and an oversupply by the tobacco industry, which undermines policies to reduce tobacco consumption via higher taxation. France tried in the past to limit this quantity at its own level and failed.
The French government also continues to financially support the tobacco retailers, despite constantly increasing year-over-year revenues. The government has recently concluded a new contract with them that is meant to help tobacco retailers diversify their activities, even though in the past similar financial supports were already granted to them for this purpose.
The main problem between the government and the tobacco lobby is their interaction with tobacco retailers and their representatives. Such a situation is problematic because there are still links and financial relationships between the tobacco industry and the tobacco retailers / their representatives. The tobacco industry uses this organization as a third party to protect and develop its interests.
There are also some officials from public departments who attend events and meetings organized by the tobacco industry, especially in the field of illicit trade. The Parliament and local authorities still do not know the FCTC, particularly the guidelines on Article 5.3 and in their activities. They think that they have to work with representatives from the tobacco industry, which they too often treat like any other industry.
Different provisions were adopted in the last few years in France to improve general transparency in public activities and public life. These provisions apply to public officials and representatives of private interest. The concern is not specific to the tobacco industry, but the guidelines greatly improve transparency including for tobacco stakeholders. There are also specific provisions to the tobacco industry, particularly expenditures for lobbying activities.
Transparency and standards concerning public officials’ interactions with the tobacco industry do not provide sufficient details of the agenda, minutes, etc.
The disclosure of possible conflicts of interest and, as a consequence, the protection of public policies from these interests was adopted in the policies to promote better transparency in public life. It particularly concerns possible conflicts of interest with the tobacco lobby and many declarations are public.
Some public officials are also covered by a regulation on their public activities, but this control does not apply to some key stakeholders, such as retired public officials, who are particularly targeted by the tobacco lobby.
The government requires the tobacco industry to periodically submit information on lobbying expenses and tobacco products’ ingredients. Furthermore, there is a policy in place to disallow the acceptance of all forms of contributions/gifts from the tobacco industry.
The government has not formulated, adopted or implemented a code of conduct prescribing the standards for public officials in their dealings with the tobacco industry. The rules concern any possible interests, but nothing is specific for the tobacco lobby.
Despite information disseminated by the health ministry and civil society acting in collaboration with this ministry, there is no systematic information disseminated to all government departments who may be in contact with the tobacco industry and its allies. The WHO FCTC remains little known by many stakeholders, particularly its provisions regarding the protection of public policies from tobacco industry interests.
France has adopted some measures to comply with Article 5.3 guidelines. There are however some actions to improve:
- The government should conduct a systematic distribution of information on the WHO FCTC, Article 5.3 and its guidelines. This information should target all public officials who may be in relationship with the tobacco industry and its allies. Communication to the general public should be disseminated via the Minister’s website and the media. Specific rules would also be helpful.
- The government should complete and implement a procedure for disclosing the records of interactions with the tobacco industry and its representatives, including tobacco retailers.
- The government should include representatives of tobacco retailers in the provisions prescribed and imposed to the tobacco industry and its allies.
- The government should regulate activities of former and retired public officials if the new activity is linked with the tobacco industry.
- The government should mandate and support investigations to verify if disclosures made by the tobacco industry and its allies are true. They should also monitor possible circumvention of existing provisions.
- The government should be active at the regional level to introduce rules to European institutions regarding Article 5.3 and its guidelines.
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