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Time to end tobacco subsidies

This week I am going to have a rant about the hypocrisy shown by Euro MPs who voted not only to continue tobacco subsidies to European farmers, but to actually increase them.

I have to confess I am not really interested in politics and am probably what is described as a swing voter, having no real affiliation to any party. I know even less about European politics but could not believe what I was seeing when I spotted a tiny article about EU tobacco subsidies.

It had apparently been previously agreed that these subsidies would end in 2010, but earlier this year MEPs voted 379-244 to continue them until 2013. I am currently trying to find out how individuals voted. The USA, a huge tobacco-growing country, got rid of tobacco aid in 2002.

These subsidies are vast amounting to €1bn a year. This is surely a direct contradiction of the EU Treaty's obligation to ensure that all policies contribute to human health. The UK contribution to this subsidy was £88m in 2004.

Eight European countries receive these subsidies: Spain, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal, and Italy and Greece, the two main beneficiaries of these subsidies. Farmers are paid £5,250 a hectare to grow tobacco while wheat farmers receive £240 a hectare!

In the EU as a whole the number of deaths from tobacco is estimated at over 500,000 people a year. In 2006 EU-subsidised farmers grew enough tobacco to produce more than seven million cigarettes. In the UK alone the NHS spends around £1.5bn a year treating people for smoking-related illness, £30m on antismoking campaigns and a further £40m helping people to give up smoking.

Spot the hypocrisy. All this information was easy to find. I just can't believe I was unaware of this going on and I don't think I am alone. All last week I asked friends and patients if they were aware of these subsidies. Only one person I spoke to was aware of them and they certainly were not aware of the money involved.

Not content with supporting Europeans' intent on killing themselves, they are subsidising an industry that is dumping about half of its tobacco in developing countries because the quality is not good enough to sell in Europe. Smoking is aggressively marketed in these poor counties whose health services are unable to afford to treat smoking-related diseases.

So I am all fired up to campaign against these ridiculous subsidies. Maybe nurses, not only in the UK but Europe-wide, could find a way to get involved. I have started by finding contact details for Scottish Euro MPs and intend to contact them about this. Any ideas would be welcome.

Finally just another example of the EU government's hypocrisy I wanted to share. I discovered that they had voted 14 to 1 to scrap the smoking ban in Parliament buildings only six weeks after it was introduced last year. The reason given was that the smoking ban was interfering with the "smooth running of our parliamentary and administrative business".