Birmingham city council has been criticised this week for a smoking cessation project with links to British American Tobacco, breaching health guidelines.

The council piloted a project which would promote BAT’s vaping products to Birmingham smokers who want to kick the habit with the help of e-cigarettes.

Emails obtained by The Observer newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act show that while the council to the UK’s second biggest city population dismissed the idea of labelling the deal as a parternship, the multinational tobacco company approached other local authorities seeking similar deals for more business with the British public sector, claiming, “we have been working in partnership with Birmingham city council”.

As part of the scheme, smokers looking to make the switch to vaping in attempts to quit cigarettes for good would see a pharmacist who would provide them with a BAT starter kit.

The news has sparked anger among health campaigners, who say the council’s actions were in breach of guidelines which prevent the tobacco industry from partnering with “any initiative linked to setting or implementing public health policies,” calling for total transparency between both sides.

Public health minister Steve Brine, MP, told The Observer the move is ‘a disgrace’.

“Stop-smoking services exist to save lives – it is a disgrace that British American Tobacco is seeking to exploit them for its own profit. I am committed to working towards a smoke-free generation – and councils play a vital role in this – but we have a duty to protect our public health services from the commercial interests of the tobacco industry.” 

This week’s revelations come just weeks after criticism of tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) at government level for making fresh attempts to approach the public sector via e-cigarettes by offering to help NHS staff quit smoking by providing them with smoke-free replacement products.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking Health (ASH) said:

“Birmingham signed the local government declaration on tobacco control, promising to protect its public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. That should have prevented any involvement with BAT on the e-cigarette pilot, which BAT has misrepresented as a ‘partnership’ in its efforts to gain access to other local authorities up and down the country. Birmingham’s experience is a salutary warning to all local authorities that any engagement with tobacco manufacturers should be avoided unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

In response, a spokesperson for BAT told The Observer: 

“We understand the pilot scheme has been a huge success, with many participants making a switch from cigarettes, which is great news for them, public health and in line with government health policy.”