The Lithuanian example: reducing tobacco industry interference

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Vilnius, February 2017 - Early last year, Lithuania reached a consensus position on tobacco industry interference. On this occasion, our SFP Coalition partner, the Lithuanian National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition (NTAKK) prepared a statement with more information.

In February 2017 different branches of the Lithuanian government, legislative institutions and civil society involved in public health have managed to endorse a consensus position regarding tobacco industry interference, specifically towards tracking & tracing  (T&T) systems. “We strongly believe that the industry should have no role in choosing or deciding upon policy, implementation standards, assessment and development of all the functions inherent in the track and trace systems. Industry should meet all the incurred costs of control, while higher price of tobacco products would positively influence public health outcomes. Interaction between EU institutions, Member States and tobacco industry for the implementation of a tracking and tracing system should be limited to absolutely necessary processes of governmental control. Tracking and tracing system need to be reliable and transparent, controlled by governments and free from interference by the vested interests.” The consensus position was signed by the Parliament (Seimas) Committee on Health Affairs, The Ministry of Health, Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department, National Health Board and the Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition.

This was a unified intervention by the public health sector to strengthen advocacy for the need to eliminate tobacco industry interference. It is interesting to note, that such a position was adopted only after Lithuania had successfully transposed TPD in May 2016, ratified ITP in December 2016 AND AFTER an amendment banning all sponsorship by the tobacco industry came into effect in January 2017. The latter amendment was adopted six years after FCTC came into effect in Lithuania.

This did not happen earlier despite nearly a decade of successful cooperation between public health institutions and civil society in Lithuania, as well as the established practice of seeking consensus positions in other areas of substance control and the expertise provided by international NGOs, such as SFP and ENSP. Newly erected legal barriers towards the tobacco industry, seem to be an important ingredient in promoting advocacy cooperation. 

TPD is yet another legislation  besides FCTC and ITP that is instrumental in diminishing industry influence over T&T in Lithuania. The latest EC delegated regulation 2018/573 on key elements of data storage contracts to be concluded as part of a traceability system for tobacco products, released in April 2018 includes article 35 on Independence.  The regulation provides concrete criteria of independence from the industry, therefore making it easier for procurement officials to assess impartiality of providers (including subcontractors) for T&T components and services. The legislation has already helped to shelve contracts between governmental agencies and the tobacco industry that have been previously flagged by NGOs as causing alarm.

Overall this consensus position paper by public health organizations increased not only awareness regarding industry interference, but also an appetite for cooperation across the sectors. In this spirit Lithuania has joined the FCTC Secretariat and EC project aimed at raising awareness of illicit trade in tobacco products and promoting ratification of the Protocol in the Eastern European and Scandinavian regions. A team of academic researchers will conduct study visits in 11 target countries, including Lithuania, conceptualizing the law enforcement perspective in the fight against illicit tobacco trade.

Strengthening multisector cooperation is particularly important with the new and creative interference avenues paved with the PMI Impact initiative. Some grants have already been provided to the Lithuanian Free Market Institute and a company “Inta”, one of the providers of X-ray control equipment and custom control information exchange systems. Future will show if receiving the grants will have consequences or have an impact on the reputation of service and product providers. This might just become a test of feasibility test for the TPD independence criteria.

The case of Lithuania stepping up efforts towards eliminating industry interference adds to the evidence of the need for multi-sector cooperation and strengthening of international control mechanisms. Effective international control does improve cooperation and understanding between governmental agencies and NGOs nationally. Messages of public interest sound clearer locally, once the music paid by transnational tobacco stops.

Nijole Gostautaite Midttun

Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition

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