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Health workers in Mauritius are accustomed to their government’s willingness to cosy up to BAT, the hugely dominant cigarette manufacturer in the local tobacco market, especially when the company lubricates the relationship with university education grants and other economic beads for the natives. But they felt a bitter disappointment recently to see the British government doing the same thing.
In March, newspapers carried cheery reports, complete with colour photographs, of the acting British High Commissioner attending a high profile reception organised by BAT to welcome its new general manager in Mauritius. Not only were those trying to protect the health of Mauritians sickened by yet more positive publicity for BAT, but they had every right to expect a boycott. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s guidelines for senior diplomats (quaintly termed “posts”) clearly state, “Posts should not inter alia be associated in any way with the promotion of the tobacco industry… Nor should they attend or otherwise support receptions or high profile events—especially those where a tobacco company is the sole or main sponsor.”
Action on Smoking and Health, the UK’s leading public health campaign on tobacco, wrote to the Foreign Secretary expressing its concern and demanding an explanation, and to request him to remind all “posts” of the FCO guidelines, to ensure that such participation is not repeated elsewhere.
The UK government nowadays likes to think it is in the forefront of tobacco control, and as one of the countries that has ratified the FCTC, it has a responsibility, as the FCTC states, to “be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts”. So Foreign Office officials will have their work cut out to explain not one, but two serious breaches.