The 2016 tobacco product directive (TPD) in Romania overlapped with two consecutive attempts by industry-backed front groups to relax the provisions of the smoke-free ban. These attempts went so far as to propose specific amendments to relax the smoke-free provisions being included in local transpositions of the TPD. As such, the tobacco control civic movement became actively engaged with local TPD legislation. The tobacco industry in Romania has concluded partnerships with fiscal and customs authorities which allowed them to severely tamper policy development.
Tobacco-related CSR activities are not banned as such in Romania due to an inadequate implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), although transposed into a law in Romania in 2005. Generally, the contributions of the tobacco industry to different governmental agencies are “masked” into operational support or directed through third parties/front groups.
The tobacco industry constantly lobbies for preferential treatment from the government of Romania, either in the form of exemptions or benefits, or through delaying the adoption or implementation of specific policies. Although Romania is an EU country, the government still gives subsidies for tobacco farming; although very limited as the number of beneficiaries, the tobacco farming subsidy is the highest available farming subsidy.
Despite frequent changes of governmental structures over the past years, the tobacco industry maintains a constant pace of engagement with top governmental officials. Existing finance and customs partnerships allow direct engagement at the highest level, participation in events and high-level meetings. Also, there were frequent instances of events organized through third parties. A well-known media newswire received funding to organize a series of events focused on harm reduction/prevention concepts. These events engaged the Minister of Health, the Minister of Finance and key health policy decision-makers. All three big tobacco player companies, (Philip Morris International [PMI], British American Tobacco [BAT] and Japan Tobacco International [JTI]) meet the highest-level authorities on a regular basis, although these ongoing interactions are not disclosed to the public.
In 2016 there was a specific initiative of the government to set up a Transparency Registry. Such a Registry would have allowed for full transparency across governmental bodies on meetings with any commercial or non-commercial entity/interest group. The Registry was implemented until it was completely dropped as of 2017 upon the installment of a new political governmental structure. Currently, none of the interactions with the tobacco industry are made in a transparent manner. Moreover, specific attempts of the civic society in 2018 and 2019 to set transparency rules for engagement with the tobacco industry, at least at the Ministry of Health level, were not embraced by the Ministry.
Political parties’ contributions, though governed by a specific law, were, historically, rarely scrutinized by public opinion or the media. In recent years, there has been an increase of civic society focus, however, these inquiries almost never focus on commercial interests or the links between specific industries’ contributions and advancing their interests. Due to significant tobacco industry investments behind media channels, specific investigations are very rare.
Overall, there is almost no action taken to prevent and regulate the interference of the tobacco industry in policy-making, no proactive approach towards it nor any willingness to accept civil society proposals to regulate the area. On the contrary, the government generally views the tobacco industry as a reliable and trustworthy business partner. There are frequent engagements and commitments to act to advance its interests.
- There should be a code of conduct for public officials to guide them when dealing with the tobacco industry. This code should provide a procedure to limit the interactions with the tobacco industry to only when strictly necessary.
- There should be a strict code of conduct for all the health institutions and health professionals to guide them when dealing with the tobacco industry. This code and policy must provide a procedure to ban any financial or non-financial support from the tobacco industry and any engagement with the tobacco industry.
- The government must put in place a program to consistently raise awareness on policies relating to Article 5.3 to ensure all units of the government are aware of tobacco industry interference and to reduce unnecessary interactions.
- The government has to require tobacco companies to report on the various aspects of their business including marketing expenditures, revenues, lobbying and philanthropy.
- The transparency registry must be installed.
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