A moment of truth for UK tobacco control?

Posted in: Culture and policy, Drug and alcohol policy, Health, Science and research policy, UK politics

Raouf Alebshehy is a public health consultant with a background in medicine and healthcare reform. He is managing editor of Tobacco Tactics, part of the award-winning Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog STOP. Raouf’s work helps maximise the impact of tobacco control policies through monitoring and countering tobacco industry interferences.

Tom Gatehouse is a writer, editor and translator with a background in Latin America. He is a research assistant at Tobacco Tactics, part of the award-winning Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog STOP. His interests include how the tobacco industry impacts human rights and the environment, greenwashing, and industry misappropriation of harm reduction.


In late 2023, the UK government announced its intention to introduce ambitious new tobacco control measures. These include a proposal to restrict the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009, effectively creating what has been called a “smokefree generation”.

Given the transformative potential of this legislation, it is vital that we understand how the tobacco industry (TI) interferes in policy making and put measures in place to prevent it. And with recent research by the University’s Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) suggesting that TI interference has been increasing, this need is particularly urgent.

The UK Tobacco Industry Interference Index (UKTI) is a detailed and in-depth report on tobacco industry interference in public policy. This is the fourth time the TCRG has produced the UKTI, and the most recent report, published in November last year, uncovers several areas of concern.

These include evidence of repeated attempts by the TI to participate in the development of public policy and having a range of unnecessary interactions with senior ministers, diplomats and political parties. As a result, the UK received a score of 48 out of a possible 100, the worst it has ever received. The UK ranked 21st globally, a significant drop from 3rd position in 2021 and 1st position in 2019.

The government’s smokefree generation proposal was included within the suggested Tobacco and Vapes Bill, and is one of a range of policy measures sometimes referred to as part of the tobacco “endgame”. This concept refers to policies which aim to phase out tobacco products entirely  .

The public consultation stage has recently closed and the tobacco industry is already trying to interfere. For the legislation to be implemented effectively, it must be developed without the unwelcome involvement of the tobacco industry.

Below we set out our recommendations on how this could be achieved in the UK. These recommendations are covered in further detail in our policy brief.

  1. Create and maintain a legally binding and publicly accessible register that covers all lobbying and policy influence activity across UK administrations.
  2. Require the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to regularly update and disseminate a comprehensive set of rules for public officials, prescribing standards they should comply with in their dealings with the tobacco industry and vested interests.
  3. Ensure that regulatory consultations are transparent and open to the public or all stakeholders for participation, but with appropriate regard for the irreconcilable conflict of interest between public health and the tobacco industry. Identify, publish, and separate out tobacco industry responses to consultations that relate to public health and tobacco control, and establish measures to ensure that the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry do not influence development of public health policy.
  4. Prevent conflicts of interest by prohibiting the tobacco industry and vested interests from making contributions (monetary or otherwise) to political parties and public officials at all levels.
  5. Prevent the tobacco industry from influencing official positions by banning their CSR activities; excluding them from public groups responsible for tobacco control; and ensuring that the only meetings that occur between public officials and the tobacco industry are those necessary for effective regulation of the industry and its products.
  6. Ensure that performance at all governance levels is compliant with the UK’s obligations as a Party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
  7. Require the tobacco industry to collect and provide data to government (including on profits, taxes, prices, spending on marketing, research and CSR, and local sales data of all products).
  8. Ensure that there is no preferential tax exemption to the tobacco industry, including by removing duty-free concessions for tobacco products.

The WHO FCTC – the global tobacco control treaty – requires Parties to ensure that that public health policies are protected from TI interference. One of our recommendations is that all public officials are fully aware of their responsibilities under the treaty, and we at TCRG will be disseminating our report and recommendations to reinforce this.

Tobacco is the world’s leading cause of preventable illness and premature death, with two out of three long-term smokers dying prematurely from tobacco-related diseases. We now have a once in a lifetime chance to end the tobacco epidemic in the UK and protect future generations.

Full implementation of our policy recommendations would significantly increase the chances of success of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and other future endgame policies.


This blog was written with the assistance of Jacqueline Oliver, Marketing and Communications Lead in the Tobacco Control Research Group. For enquiries on the UKTI or any other TCRG work, please get in touch at tobacco-admin@bath.ac.uk.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.

Posted in: Culture and policy, Drug and alcohol policy, Health, Science and research policy, UK politics


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response