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Birmingham Goes Into BAT

Birmingham Council and British American Tobacco are coming under fire for joining up to promote the Vype brand to smokers in the area.

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British American Tobacco (BAT) has attempted to win public health contracts on the back of obtaining one in the city of Birmingham, in a move branded as “a disgrace”. Health campaigners obtained emails under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and reveals BAT’s seedy attempt to then curry favour with further councils.

BAT has attempted to promote its Vype range of starter kits by securing public health contracts. Health Minister Stephen Brine labelled the most a “disgrace”. New York scientist

The problem is greater due to the fact that the Vype product in question was a closed style device, as in it only works with Vype refills and locks the user into BAT’s products.

The situation has come to light after health campaigners obtained emails following a FOI request. They uncovered a situation whereby Birmingham is piloting a scheme to provide the poor-performing products to current smokers as part of a quit program. Smokers are to be given vouchers to exchange at their local participating pharmacist, to be exchange for a basic starter kit.

The council has refused to allow BAT to declare that this situation is a partnership, but that hasn’t stopped the tobacco company from going on to approach other local council in an effort to obtain further contracts.

There are clear guidelines for the awarding of local government contracts – and they prohibit tobacco firms being involved in public health projects. The guidelines state that the tobacco industry “must not be a partner in any initiative linked to setting or implementing public health policies”. Also, any approach or partnership must be open for inspection – not hidden like this one.

The emails illustrate BAT’s integrity by asserting: “we have been working in partnership with Birmingham city council”. One goes on to include a presentation by local government employees detailing why they chose to partner BAT.

BAT is quoted as having approached Gloucestershire, Isle of Wight, Lancashire, Sheffield, Somerset and Leicester councils. Also, they have contacted the Somerset Partnership NHS Trust. Philip Morris was castigated recently for offering to supply its starter kits to NHS staff.

Becky Pollard, the person responsible for this move in Birmingham, said: “We remain committed to assessing the potential for e-cigarettes in our smoking cessation work but are now urgently reviewing this pilot scheme to ensure that in future this work complies with our commitments under the local government declaration on tobacco control and the framework convention on tobacco control.”

Her decision to involve BAT is bizarre given the wealth of leading vape companies based in and around the nation’s second city. BAT’s spokesperson is quoted as adding little:  “We understand the pilot scheme has been a huge success, with many participants making a switch from cigarettes, which is great news for them, public health and in line with government health policy.”

This is a kick in the teeth for the independent vape sector, not least because it gives the anti-vape lobby ammunition with which to attack us. One such campaigner, Neil Schluger, is quoted as saying: “These companies have no interest in a ‘smoke free future’ or the health of their customers,” and called the move “a Trojan horse.”

“Despite a billion-dollar PR campaign and a raft of new products, these companies have no interest in a ‘smoke free future’ or the health of their customers. Their one motivation is profit and this means delaying, derailing and undermining strong tobacco control policies that deter smoking and impede the industry from hooking a new generation on addictive combustible and smokeless products.”

Independent British Vape Trade Association’s Gillian Golden queried the situation: “Any local authority or NHS trust entering into a monopoly arrangement with tobacco companies could be seen to be supporting the companies responsible for the harms of smoking in the first place.”

Steve Brine, public health minister, said: “Stop-smoking services exist to save lives – it is a disgrace that British American Tobacco is seeking to exploit them for its own profit. I am committed to working towards a smoke-free generation – and councils play a vital role in this – but we have a duty to protect our public health services from the commercial interests of the tobacco industry.”

Deborah Arnott chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said: “Birmingham signed the local government declaration on tobacco control, promising to protect its public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. That should have prevented any involvement with BAT on the e-cigarette pilot, which BAT has misrepresented as a ‘partnership’ in its efforts to gain access to other local authorities up and down the country.”

She continued: “Birmingham’s experience is a salutary warning to all local authorities that any engagement with tobacco manufacturers should be avoided unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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