Health NGOs decry ‘big tobacco’ attempt at derailing Dalli anti-smoking campaign

Sliema PN councillor Silvio Zammit resigns after being identified in email as having been offered money to broker meeting with Dalli for Swedish tobacco snuff producer | Swedes say they received ‘indecent but credible’ proposal.

Anti-smoking groups said John Dalli's resignation was a major setback to the review of the Tobacco Products Directive.
Anti-smoking groups said John Dalli's resignation was a major setback to the review of the Tobacco Products Directive.

A Nationalist councillor and well-known small entrepreneur in Sliema is at the heart of the investigations by the EU's anti-fraud watchdog OLAF, which yesterday led to the resignation of Maltese commissioner John Dalli from the European Commission

MaltaToday understands that Silvio Zammit was in email and telephonic communication with the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC) as recently as March 2012, in an attempt to broker a meeting with European Commissioner John Dalli. Swedish snuff producers Swedish Match were also in contact with Zammit back in 2011, allegedly having had an advance from Zammit himself. The report to the European Commission and OLAF was made in May 2012.

While an email between the two parties shows that Zammit was offered an undisclosed fee by ESTOC to fix a meeting with Dalli, Swedish Match have told MaltaToday they had received from a Maltese businessman an "indecent proposal which was credible and real enough" for them to inform the European Commission. Swedish Match also told MaltaToday they informed the Commission a few weeks later after receiving the offer.

The chairman of ESTOC is Patrik Hildingsson, the public communications director of Swedish Match who yesterday spoke to MaltaToday.

Zammit yesterday tendered his resignation as deputy mayor from the Sliema council five hours after Dalli's resignation was announced at 5:30pm.

Dalli's resignation yesterday came just days before he was planning to present a review of the Tobacco Products Directive to further regulate the access of tobacco to minors and non-tobacco products.

Allegations of a big tobacco conspiracy yesterday were evident in two particular statements from anti-smoking groups. The European Public Health Alliance claimed Dalli's resignation showed "how powerful the tobacco industry can be in influencing and undermining decision makers that are trying to support public health measures.

"We hope that this will not achieve precisely what big tobacco intended with this action: blocking a reinforced and stronger future Tobacco Product Directive. We trust that the European Commission and Member States will fulfil their duty as representatives of the public interest, acting for the health of their citizens and will not delay the adoption of the Directive," secretary-general Monika Kolinska said.

The cancer charity Smoke Free Partnership called on the European Commission to "take its foot off the brakes" on the review of the Tobacco Products Directive that Dalli was leading.

SFP director Florence Berteletti Kemp said Dalli's resignation was an unfortunate event. "A few months ago, we exposed the tobacco industry's block, amend and delay tactics on the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive and warned that these tactics are being deployed again in this review process.

"Today we are witnessing a major potential setback in the TPD review and we call on the Commission, European Parliament and on Member States not to let themselves be detracted from the goal of reviewing legislation to improve public health in Europe."

Elsewhere, a spokesman for the European union of tobacco growers, focused more on the planned tobacco legislation, saying, "Throughout this flawed process, Dalli and his health department have consistently ignored the many concerns expressed by a very wide range of EU citizens, including the European tobacco growers during the public consultation and the rushed impact analysis.

"We call on the commission to abandon the proposals developed by Dalli and begin again with a fair and transparent process that results in tobacco regulations that will both protect public health and our jobs during this time of crisis."

John Dalli yesterday denied the allegations emerging from the OLAF investigation, which so far has not implicated him or his office directly in what is being described as a 'corruption' attempt, and also stated he will take legal action to clear his name.

According to the investigation, and from what Swedish Match told MaltaToday, the Maltese entrepreneur - a circus organiser and kiosk owner from Sliema - used his contacts with Dalli to try to gain financial advantages from the company in return for seeking to influence a possible future legislative proposal on tobacco products, in particular on the EU export ban on snus (is a moist powder tobacco product).

Dalli was said by OLAF "that he was aware of these events."

Snus is a type of smokeless tobacco that users stuff under their upper lip - snus sales are banned in the EU, except in Sweden, which insisted on an exemption when it joined the EU. Swedish Match says the ban is discriminatory and a violation of the free trade principle.

Swedish Match spokesperson Patrik Hildingsson told MaltaToday that the Sliema businessman's offer had been "real and credible enough for us to warrant a report to the European Commission. We felt it was highly indecent, and a few weeks later we informed the EC of the circumstances of this offer.

"We're not after anybody's head. But we felt it was credible enough for us to inform the Commission. We never heard of anything since then and only now have we been informed of the OLAF investigation."

Dalli was expected to unveil his review for the Tobacco Products Directive in the coming weeks after pushing a smoking-cessation campaign throughout 2012 in a to regulate tobacco products and reduce cigarettes' appeal to young people in the form of a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive. The revision included the regulation of access to tobacco in a more stringent manner to limit the exposure of minors to tobacco products, and how to address new types of nicotine products on the market, such as electronic cigarettes.

In an offical press statement released later in the evening, Swedish Match said it took this incident very seriously. "Swedish Match expects that the European Commission in the future will ensure a transparent and legally fair process for the proposal of a new Tobacco Products Directive which is expected during the autumn. Swedish Match expects that proven scientific facts regarding snus, including the well documented significantly lower health risks compared to cigarettes which are allowed in the EU, are considered in a continued fair legal process for the proposal of a new Tobacco Products Directive."

Dalli resignation

John Dalli was verbally informed of the OLAF investigation on Tuesday afternoon, where he proceeded to inform Commission president Jose Manuel Durao Barroso that he would resign.

"I resigned so that I could have a free hand in opposing the allegations made about me. I don't want to be a liability to anybody," Dalli told the national broadcaster PBS yesterday when asked why he resigned when he was denying any wrongdoing.

Dalli plans to take legal action to clear his name. "OLAF is basing itself on circumstantial evidence because they claim I should have known what was going on... I am speaking to my lawyers to open the necessary procedure to prove that these conclusions are false. I will keep working so that the efforts I made to review the tobacco directive that was going to propose stronger anti-smoking laws will proceed as schedule."

In an official statement, Dalli categorically denied being aware of Zammit's advances to Swedish Match. "I am taking all action open to me to ensure that these unfounded conclusions will be proved completely false. I will continue to work so that all efforts made by myself and my services to revise the Tobacco Directive will proceed as planned."

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi read out a statement in parliament on Tuesday evening but said the matter was now the competence of the Attorney General's office.

Dalli's sudden resignation comes two years before the end of his term. A former finance and foreign minister, Dalli lost the race for the PN leadership in 2004 to Lawrence Gonzi. Shortly after being appointed foreign minister, Dalli resigned as minister in July 2004 after being implicated in a false report by a private investigator of having accepted kickbacks on a medical equipment tender for Mater Dei. He was appointed Lawrence Gonzi's special advisor on economic affairs after he was cleared of the report's implications, while the private investigator was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Dalli was later appointed social policy minister in 2008 and then appointed Commissioner in 2009.

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We all know who the tabocco companies' champion in Malta is. It is that fat slob of a lawyer who talks through his S and hates all that is labour, admirer of the evil Bidnija *itch. Who thinks is God's gift to Malta.
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Nahseb tajjeb wiehed jistenna qabel jiggudika lil John Dalli. Sa issa, l-ghar bicca l-kunsillier li kellu jirrizenja. Naraw x'ser jaghmel l-Avukat Generali. L-Isvezja dak il-pajjiz tat-tahwida fil-prosekuzzjoni ta' Julian Assange mhux hekk? Ma kienx ukoll il-pajjiz fejn WikiLeaks kixfu li s-servizzi sigrieti riedu jkomplu jghaddu informazzjoni bill-mohbi lis-servizzi sigrieti USA kontra kull ligi Svediza, bil-mohbi mill-Parlament u l-ministri Svedizi? U jalla kienx il-pajjiz fejn kundannat il-habs hallas ragel iehor johodlu postu u l-pulizzija ndunaw biss meta wasal iz-zmien li jehilsuh; izda hargu talba ghall-arrest ghall-hati iktar minn tlitt snien wara li ndunaw. Mhux ukoll fejn dan l-ahhar inkixef li s-servizzi sigrieti ghamlu festi ghalihom jiswew iktar minn nofs miljun lira sterlina, minkejja zmien ta’ awsterita. Ma nsemmix hawn il-borma tal-bejgh tal-armi, etc. Nergghu lura ghall-fatt li dil-kumpanija tat-tabakk kienet ser tkun issikkata mill-legizlazzjoni li John Dalli kien qed jaghmel kontra l-uzu tat-tabakk biex ihares lit-tfal u z-zghazagh.
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Nahseb tajjeb wiehed jistenna qabel jiggudika lil John Dalli. Sa issa, l-ghar bicca l-kunsillier li kellu jirrizenja. Naraw x'ser jaghmel l-Avukat Generali. L-Isvezja dak il-pajjiz tat-tahwida fil-prosekuzzjoni ta' Julian Assange mhux hekk? Ma kienx ukoll il-pajjiz fejn WikiLeaks kixfu li s-servizzi sigrieti riedu jkomplu jghaddu informazzjoni bill-mohbi lis-servizzi sigrieti USA kontra kull ligi Svediza, bil-mohbi mill-Parlament u l-ministri Svedizi? U jalla kienx il-pajjiz fejn kundannat il-habs hallas ragel iehor johodlu postu u l-pulizzija ndunaw biss meta wasal iz-zmien li jehilsuh; izda hargu talba ghall-arrest ghall-hati iktar minn tlitt snien wara li ndunaw. Mhux ukoll fejn dan l-ahhar inkixef li s-servizzi sigrieti ghamlu festi ghalihom jiswew iktar minn nofs miljun lira sterlina, minkejja zmien ta’ awsterita. Ma nsemmix hawn il-borma tal-bejgh tal-armi, etc. Nergghu lura ghall-fatt li dil-kumpanija tat-tabakk kienet ser tkun issikkata mill-legizlazzjoni li John Dalli kien qed jaghmel kontra l-uzu tat-tabakk biex ihares lit-tfal u z-zghazagh.
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Nahseb tajjeb wiehed jistenna qabel jiggudika lil John Dalli. Sa issa, l-ghar bicca l-kunsillier li kellu jirrizenja. Naraw x'ser jaghmel l-Avukat Generali. L-Isvezja dak il-pajjiz tat-tahwida fil-prosekuzzjoni ta' Julian Assange mhux hekk? Ma kienx ukoll il-pajjiz fejn WikiLeaks kixfu li s-servizzi sigrieti riedu jkomplu jghaddu informazzjoni bill-mohbi lis-servizzi sigrieti USA kontra kull ligi Svediza, bil-mohbi mill-Parlament u l-ministri Svedizi? U jalla kienx il-pajjiz fejn kundannat il-habs hallas ragel iehor johodlu postu u l-pulizzija ndunaw biss meta wasal iz-zmien li jehilsuh; izda hargu talba ghall-arrest ghall-hati iktar minn tlitt snien wara li ndunaw. Mhux ukoll fejn dan l-ahhar inkixef li s-servizzi sigrieti ghamlu festi ghalihom jiswew iktar minn nofs miljun lira sterlina, minkejja zmien ta’ awsterita. Ma nsemmix hawn il-borma tal-bejgh tal-armi, etc. Nergghu lura ghall-fatt li dil-kumpanija tat-tabakk kienet ser tkun issikkata mill-legizlazzjoni li John Dalli kien qed jaghmel kontra l-uzu tat-tabakk biex ihares lit-tfal u z-zghazagh.