An earlier story by the same Guardian writer quotes Parminder Singh, President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents:
There is no way that the NFRN could afford the resources and expertise to mount such a high profile campaign to fight on its members' behalf to oppose the tobacco ban without some help towards funding. We are grateful, therefore, to have some help from the tobacco manufacturers to do this.At stake is the tobacco display ban, legislation enacted already in the Republic of Ireland (a tobacco smuggling hotspot) and voted into law in both Westminster and Holyrood, but not yet implemented. To say the law is controversial understates the case. There is no conclusive evidence that putting tobacco out of sight will make the prospect of smoking any less attractive to young people.
The retail trades, including newsagents and convenience stores, have to put their case against the combined wisdom of the Department of Health and all the health charities, with added lobbying from pharmaceutical interests. The government will not give tobacco interests a hearing. This seems a marriage made in heaven: the newsagents have access to government but no money, the tobacco interests have pots of money but no access.
I have no idea, nor do I really care, how much of the campaign was paid for by British American Tobacco. The reason Health Secretary Lansley will not speak with tobacco interests is that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control forbids it. Then the health lobby loses itself in moral indignation when the tobacco industry behaves like businesses all over the world, and uses its funds (which it is forbidden by law to use for its own advertising or to sponsor kids to play football) to help business partners. As far as I'm concerned placing obstacles in the way of tobacco interests attempting to buy influence simply diverts their direction of travel. Tobacco interests have every right to a voice in decisions affecting their product, especially considering the level of taxes levied on their products. Stifling the voice of the tobacco industry and taking the huff when it refuses to lie down and die is just being childish. Here's illustrating:
"For any major company to seek to covertly lobby MPs through the back door is disgraceful, but particularly when it comes to tobacco. The Government has legal obligations to protect public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry and it can only do this if the tobacco industry is transparent about its lobbying activities", said Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).Since the WHO forbids tobacco companies from lobbying openly, the inference is clearly that they're not allowed any voice.
"Lobbying by the NFRN was effective in significantly delaying the implementation of the legislation in small shops and it has already admitted that it received support from tobacco manufacturers for this campaign. The question is which tobacco manufacturers. If BAT was involved it needs to come clean."The inference here is that NFRN's delaying tactics were successful only with tobacco industry funding. Does that mean the newsagents should have been silenced by lack of funding? The alliance with tobacco was enough to discredit the NFRN's campaign completely?
Behind the scenes are the extraordinary demands of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, not least its dictates about who may influence public policy: as if this needs to be decided by a non-elected global body.
Interestingly, outside the doors of the British American Tobacco AGM, was gathered a group of young people demonstrating against child labour in the tobacco plantations. They were photographed with Deborah Arnott, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health and Kevin Barron, the Labour MP who questioned BAT. I hope, but don't expect, that Deborah Arnott and Kevin Barron will be sure to remind these young people that exploitation of children isn't limited to tobacco companies.