During the night of 17-18 October 2012, in Brussels, the offices of the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP), the European Respiratory Society (ERS), and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) were broken into. Intruders stole several laptops, petty cash, and bank cards.
The burglaries occurred within two days of the sudden resignation of John Dalli, the Health Commissioner of the European Union. See DalliGate.
The circumstances and the timing of the burglaries were seen by many as suspicious. In an office building with eight floors, only three offices were targeted. The offices broken into were on the 5th floor, the 2nd and the 8th floor. Three out of the four organisations involved were active on tobacco control (the other was a law firm). Four laptops got stolen from the ERS/SFP office, three of which belonged to people working on tobacco control.
The EPHA reported that two laptops were gone, those belonging to the policy team and a senior staff member – while desktops and other laptops were not taken, “both electronic and physical files were targeted including policy and strategy documents, as well as confidential internal documents relating to EPHA’s organisation and staff.” In a public statement the day after the break-ins, the EPHA said they received a number of questions as to whether this break in was related to the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the resignation of John Dalli as Health Commissioner. The EPHA stated that “early indications are that this was not opportunistic, but a professional and well-equipped team.” The ERS issued a similar statement on the same day:
While the office initially seemed carelessly ransacked, our security report shows that the break-in was in fact very methodical and calculated. Outdoor sensors were destroyed, and the intruders managed to skilfully evade indoor sensors within the office.ERS is an evidence-based organisation and we do not subscribe to conspiracy theories. However, in light of the evidence we feel we have legitimate reason to suspect the intrusion was well-planned, researched and targeted.
Both the resignation and the burglaries happened in the week before Dalli and the Commission were going to present the revised TPD proposal. The ERS commented: “These unfortunate events have delayed and jeopardised the long overdue revision of EU legislation on tobacco products aimed at protecting citizens from the serious health effects of tobacco use.”
Ironically, in May 2012, just few months prior to these events, the SFP exposed the tobacco industry’s block, amend and delay tactics on the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive and warned that these tactics were being deployed again in the current review process.
Florence Berteletti Kemp, Director of SFP said: “At the time, we emphasized that policy-makers need to be aware of how the tobacco industry tries to influence the legislation – and when it cannot, to block or delay the process.”
Monika Kosiñska, the secretary general of the EPHA, added that there was a need to put a halt to powerful corporations and their influence on EU policy-making. In her article, published just days after her office was burgled, she pointed at other examples of industry interference in the revision of the TPD. “For example, the consultation for the Tobacco Product Directive resulted in 57 per cent of the 82,117 responses being duplicated, largely as a result of rent-a-mob tactics from the tobacco industry and its allies to delay and undermine the legislative process that would introduce stronger tobacco regulation in Europe.” The reliance on multiple choice questionnaires in public consultations limits the ability to discuss problem definition, objectives, policy options as well as their impacts, Kosiñska argued
In the week following both Dalli’s resignation and the tobacco control office break-ins, several organisations demanded the immediate adoption of the revised tobacco directive. The EPHA said: “The roadmap of the TPD clearly states that it was meant to be adopted last December 2011. Not only we are almost a year behind schedule - the reasons for this delay remain distinctly blurry.”
Matthias Groote, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, also stated that the long wait for the Commission’s proposals on the TPD was becoming a never-ending story. He urged Mr Šefčovič, the European Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, to take the Commission's foot off the brakes and publish the tobacco proposals before the end of this year. “The European Parliament and European public will not tolerate further delays."
Revision of TPD in Motion
Despite widespread fear it would take many more months before the revised TPD was published following Dalli's resignation, the new Commissioner Tonio Borg announced the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive within a month of his appointment. On 19 December 2012 the College adopted the proposal.
Related TobaccoTactics Resources
For more background on the TPD see these pages:
- TPD: Pictorial Warnings and Standardised, Plain Packaging
- TPD: Delaying the Process of Consultation
- TPD: DalliGate
- Block, Amend, Delay, Report on Tobacco industry's efforts to influence the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive, Smoke Free Partnership report, May 2012.
- Smokescreen or smoking gun? Scandal exposes deep problem of corporate influence over Commission decision-making’, Corporate Europe Observatory, 25 October 2012.
- Smoke Free Partnership, SFP Office Break-In Statement, 18 October 2012, accessed October 2012
- European Public Health Alliance, EPHA public statement - Break in will not distract EPHA, 18 October 2012, accessed October 2012
- ERS, European Respiratory Society Statement: 18th October 2012, 18 October 2012, accessed October 2012
- Smoke Free Partnership, Block, Amend, Delay, Report on Tobacco industry's efforts to influence the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive, May 2012, accessed October 2012
- Smoke Free Partnership, Dalli resignation - SFP statement, 16 October 2012, accessed October 2012.
- M. Kosiñska, Commissioner Dalli's resignation raises further questions 22 October 2012, accessed October 2012
- EPHA, Commissioner Dalli resigns amidst OLAF investigation 23 October 2012, accessed October 2012