• €3 million EU tobacco control contract awarded to 3 contractors

  • Bloomberg’s Vital Strategies is involved

  • Alarm bells over accountability and potential conflicts of interest

On 24 January, EU officials announced that the tender for the Single Framework Contract for Support Actions in the Field of Tobacco Control had been awarded to three contractors: Open Evidence (a Spanish research and consulting firm), the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP), and the University of Crete. Open Evidence reports that they will be leading the international consortium. The consortium also includes ICF Consulting in the UK, Milieu Law & Policy Consulting, Vital Strategy (sic) and SGS. The contract will last for four years and has a value of €3 million. 25% of the value is likely to be subcontracted to third parties.

The tender procedure was initiated in mid-2022 by the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) and is based on the EU4Health Programme which envisages, among other things, “evaluating legislation in the field of tobacco control for possible revisions.”

The introductory note to the tender specifications of HaDEA provides a legislative background of the EU tobacco control policies that aim to ensure a ‘tobacco-free generation’ by 2040. To achieve this, a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive is planned and includes “working in full transparency towards plain packaging and a full ban on flavours, using existing EU agencies to improve the assessment of ingredients, extending taxation to novel tobacco products, and tackling tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship on the internet and social media” (From page 6 of the Tender Specifications document, the download link is here).

According to the authors of the document there is a concern that the EU’s regulatory framework “does not currently address systematically all novel tobacco and emerging products, nor provide flexibility to address rapid product developments”.

The contractors are asked to perform the following:

  • Review of existing scientific literature and studies and/or assessment of health and clinical outcomes related to one or more tobacco or nicotine related topics,
  • Statistical, market and econometric analysis related to health or one or more tobacco or nicotine related topics,
  • Tobacco Control Policy modelling,
  • Behavioural studies and outcomes' analysis on a specific topic/issue,
  • Support on Combined Health Warnings,
  • Support on Labelling and Packaging of tobacco and related products,
  • Emissions/ingredients limits and relevant content/emission markers,
  • Technical input supporting development of information systems,
  • Contribute to legal assessment of the EU, national and international tobacco control measures.

    (From page10 of the Tender Specifications document, download link is here)

When applying for the tender, interested parties were obliged to suggest solutions to the case study titled “Development of messaging and pictorial health warnings for heated tobacco products with a deliverable of a set of combined health warnings for heated tobacco products.”

This looks a huge task ahead of the contractors. More importantly, this reveals that the European Commission’s policy-setting obligations are now being outsourced to third parties. And, questions of accountability arise: When EU member states are presented with proposals to change current legislation, how will they know which proposals come from the accountable official, and what was the role of external actors in setting EU legislation? Another issue is one of potential conflicts of interest (COI) for the groups awarded the tenders. Of course, they are obliged to declare that they do not have COI’s when it comes to the tobacco industry. But, what about potential conflicts from their work for other industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, which we might not know about?

And, notable to us is the absence of any intention to examine the potential benefits to people who smoke of using Safer Nicotine Products.