Laurent Huber, Raquel Fernández Megina, Esteve Fernández, Cristina Martinez Martinez
In June 2022, the Spanish Ministry of Finance announced that 203 new tobacco retail licenses were to be added to the 13,000 already operating in Spain. Of these new tobacconists, 30 will be concentrated along the French-Spanish border, dramatically increasing the concentration along the French border, with 50 tobacconists per 10,000 inhabitants – more than fourteen times higher than the current frequency (approximately 3.4 per 10,000 inhabitants) in the rest of Spain. Furthermore, these new licenses would allow tobacco shops along the French border to be only 25 metres from another tobacco retailer or school while the distance for retailers in the Spanish interior is 150 metres.
The aim of this measure is clear; it is not only to supply local residents with tobacco products, but also to become a “tobacco dealer state” by providing cheap tobacco products to French residents across the border. It has been well established that raising the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective measures to reduce tobacco use, and for this reason France has raised the price of a pack of cigarette to above ten euros , much higher than the average cost of cigarettes in Spain which is under five euros per pack. This price differential will further encourage cross border tobacco purchases and also risks encouraging bootlegging of tobacco products into France and increasing tobacco use in France as well as Spain.
This initiative from the Spanish government will negatively impact the health of Spanish citizens, one of the rights stated in the Spanish Constitution in its Article 43. It also contradicts the commitments and obligations that Spain has made with Europe and the world by violating European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) agreements that call for a reduction in cancer rates as well as a decrease in smoking prevalence to achieve health, development and human rights objectives. These agreements include the:
- The E.U. Beat Cancer Plan which aims to achieve a tobacco free Europe “where less than 5% of the population uses tobacco by 2040” in order to decrease the number of cancers in Europe
- The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (ratified by Spain on January 11, 2005 and the EU on June 30, 2005) whose objective is “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke by providing a framework for tobacco control measures to be implemented by the Parties at the national, regional and international levels in order to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke”.
- The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (which Spain acceded to on December 23, 2014)whose objective is to “eliminate all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products”.
- The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and in particular Goal 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” which includes targets 4 which calls on countries to “ reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases” by 2030 and target 3.a, which urges countries to “Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries” with the aim of reducing “prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older”.
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by Spain in 1977) which recognizes in its article 12 “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. As specified in General Comment No. 14, by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to health is an inclusive right, encompassing not only timely and appropriate health care, but also the underlying factors that determine health status, such as the sale of tobacco products.
- As well as commitments by the Spanish Government to other treaties that Spain has ratified such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
By promoting an additional 203 tobacco retail shops, the Spanish government suggests that it has bowed to the interests of the tobacco industry at the expense of the welfare and rights of Spanish, French and other EU citizens. As a result, 129 organizations from 42 countries have sent a letter to President Sanchez denouncing this initiative and requesting that the Spanish government:
- Cancel the public auction for new tobacco outlets and instead begin phasing out tobacco outlets, a process that could begin with the non-renewal of tobacco retail licenses which are set to expire after 25 years, particularly for establishments close to schools and playgrounds.
- Increase taxes on all tobacco and nicotine products by harmonizing prices with France in order to reduce smoking prevalence and also raise additional fiscal revenue for the State without increasing the number of tobacco retail outlets in Spain.
- Launch the Comprehensive Smoking Plan 2021-2025 as soon as possible, as well as the legislative modification of Spanish Law 28/2005 Tobacco Control.
Now is an important moment in public health. The scientific evidence supports that increasing the number of retailers promotes the use and normalization of tobacco. If the Spanish Government wants to live up to its international commitments to protect “the right to the highest attainable standard of health” and increase fiscal revenue, it must advance the Comprehensive Smoking Plan in Spain and increase taxes on tobacco products and immediately retract the public auction of licenses to increase the number of tobacco retailers. These actions would align with well-established good practices in the area of tobacco control and will foster health, human rights and UN development objectives that will benefit Spain, France, the European Union as well as the world.
Laurent Huber is the Executive Director of ASH USA. Raquel Fernández Megina is the President of Nofumadores.org (Non-smokers.org Spain). Esteve Fernández is professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, School of Medicine, Universitat de Barcelona and the Director, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Department & WHO Collaborating Center for Tobacco Control, at the Institut Català d’Oncologia. Cristina Martinez Martinez is Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, School of Medicine, Universitat de Barcelona Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Department & WHO Collaborating Center for Tobacco Control, Institut Català d’Oncologia (ICO).