Kenneth Clarke's tobacco industry links make him unfit for party leadership

10/13/05

Personal View: Why Kenneth Clarke is unfit to be Tory leader, BMJ Volume 331, p 912

Prospective candidate for the Tory party leadership, Kenneth Clarke, is "unfit" for the role because of his continued connection with the tobacco industry, says a contributor to this week's BMJ.

MP Kenneth Clarke, deputy chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT) which holds one sixth of the global tobacco market, has been a leading supporter of the industry for well over thirty years, says Mike Daube, a Professor of Health Policy and campaigner for tobacco control.

While he was minister for health in the eighties his Government was criticized for its "cosy relationship" with the tobacco industry, and Clarke was accused by the Observer newspaper of writing a letter "pressurising the Chairman of the government-funded Health Education Council 'to soften its line on low tar cigarettes and actively to promote their use.'"

Throughout his ministerial career Clarke maintained contact with BAT and other tobacco companies, and accepted an invitation from tobacco giant Philip Morris to the Formula One Grand Prix saying at the time that he was "happily opposed to the advertising and sponsorship ban being proposed by the [European] Commission" and "I will certainly do my best to ensure that our Government maintains its opposition".

Clarke is in no doubt about the dangers of smoking to health and has even acknowledged the "rather feeble attempts to dispute the scientific evidence". Yet he "has been actively involved in BAT's efforts to undermine the tobacco control work of organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the European Union", says Professor Daube.

The herald of modern Conservative values Benjamin Disraeli wrote that "the first consideration of a minister should be the health of the people", says Professor Daube. As deputy chairman of BAT, a company which "can already be credited with upwards of three quarters of a million deaths every year", Kenneth Clarke is not fit for the office of party leader, he concludes.

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