Tobacco-linked organisations and executives fail to declare interests to TGA vaping inquiry

Tobacco-linked organisations and executives fail to declare interests to TGA vaping inquiry

Known links to tobacco multinationals and vaping lobby groups omitted in submissions to federal government consultation on reform.

Organisations and executives with known links to big tobacco and vaping companies have failed to declare them in submissions to a major government consultation on vaping reforms aimed at protecting children from nicotine addiction.

The submission of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) chief executive, Theo Foukkare, to the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s vaping reforms consultation on behalf of the AACS states “no” in response to the question: “Have you or your organisation ever received services, assistance or support (whether monetary or non-monetary in nature) from the tobacco industry and/or e-cigarette industry?”

Foukkare is a former consultant for big tobacco, having joined the graduate program with British American Tobacco (BAT) manufacturer Rothmans International in the late 1990s. The AACS has had major tobacco companies as its members, lobbying alongside tobacco companies to prevent plain packaging laws for cigarettes.

The AACS wants vaping laws weakened by moving away from a prescription-only model. They want vaping products to be available in a similar way to cigarettes, with adults able to provide ID to buy regulated vapes with strict electrical safety and ingredient standards from licensed retailers.

Foukarre also answered “no” to the questions about whether he or his organisation had ever provided support to vaping or tobacco companies, despite membership with the AACS entitling tobacco suppliers to perks such as free advertising and tickets to industry events.

Foukarre told Guardian Australia that he did not declare his history with tobacco because “I’ve always been open about the graduate role I had with British American Tobacco over 20 years ago. That information is publicly available on my LinkedIn page and has been published in almost every news article that I have been quoted in since taking on the role as CEO of AACS.”

He admitted the AACS receives funding via a membership fee from the tobacco industry. He did not say why this was not declared in the AACS submission, but said the amount received from tobacco companies via membership is not “major funding”.

Meanwhile Delon Human, the head of pro-vaping group Health Diplomats, did not declare the full extent of his links to vaping and big tobacco companies.

Human, a GP who supports vaping to help people quit smoking, stated in his submission: “I have spoken at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, where expenses were covered and advised pharmaceutical companies … Currently no contract with any nicotine company whatsoever.”

But he did not mention his role as president and CEO of Health Diplomats despite the organisation’s website stating: “Our current work, in advancing tobacco harm reduction policies, science and products, is in partnership with Nicoventures, a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco company.”

Human did not respond to requests from Guardian Australia for comment. In February, Michael Kauter – a former deputy director of the Nationals and a key lobbyist for the tobacco industry – added Health Diplomats to the federal lobbyist register as one of his clients.

Research group Tobacco Tactics from the University of Bath found that Human has collaborated with BAT. Human’s 2010 pro-vaping book on tobacco harm reduction, Wise Nicotine, received funding from the tobacco multinational, according to the foreword of the book, which also states that “the statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in the book were developed independently of BAT”.

Meanwhile a submission from the Reason party leader, Fiona Patten, who supports greater access to vaping products for those trying to quit smoking, did not state that she has spoken at the tobacco industry-funded Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum. Patten submitted her response via email and did not use the submission portal on the TGA website where any conflict of interest needed to be declared. Her office has been contacted for comment.

Guardian Australia understands the TGA will be retrospectively asking those who submitted responses via email to declare any conflicts of interest. A TGA spokesperson said: “The TGA is aware of examples where the conflict of interest declarations made by submitters do not appear to be correct. We are considering what action can be taken in relation to those submitters.”

Prof Simon Chapman, a tobacco control expert at the University of Sydney, told Guardian Australia: “Declarations to government inquiries should carry the same penalties as lying under oath.”

Like the majority of public health experts, Chapman’s submission to the vaping consultation supports ending the personal importation scheme and only allowing accredited pharmaceutical wholesalers to import the products. It also supports banning the importation of all vaping products whether they contain nicotine or not, except to pharmacies.

“Ensuring that a large cohort of adolescents becomes nicotine dependent has long been the sine qua non [essential condition] of the tobacco industry’s assessment of its future viability,” his submission read.

“It is hugely regrettable that the number of prosecutions undertaken against those flagrantly breaking the law and selling nicotine vaping products has trickled along at almost homeopathic proportions compared with the huge number of nicotine vaping product outlets (shops of many sorts) and online.”

On Thursday afternoon, the TGA advised the government that of the almost 4,000 submissions to its vaping reform consultation, an “overwhelming” number of health experts and authorities support tightening border controls, with many wanting an import ban on non-nicotine vaping products as well.

Source: The Guardian