A former British ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, breached diplomatic guidelines by attending the opening ceremony of a Jordanian cigarette factory, part-owned by British American Tobacco (BAT), where he praised the new facility in a televised interview.
According to a report in the Guardian, the incident took place in 2019 and was only discovered a year later by an Arabic-language media researcher, who launched a year-long freedom of information (FoI) campaign to have the Foreign Office confirm it. "I thought this might be a mistake," said Raouf Alebshehy, from the tobacco control research group at the University of Bath, who discovered the article and has since published his findings in a public health journal.
Aron is understood to have been present at the ribbon-cutting event and later appeared in promotional material on BAT's website. However, the British Embassy in Amman had "no formal record" of the envoy's attendance as the event was not considered to be a "formal meeting".
The British diplomat has previously served as ambassador to Kuwait, Iraq and Libya, and was posted to Yemen between 2018-2021. He told the Guardian that he made an error by attending the event, claiming that he did so for the benefit of the Yemeni business community. "In retrospect, I accept it was a mistake and had no intention whatsoever in promoting the tobacco company," he explained.
The report noted that the incident was one of the latest examples of British diplomats contravening strict guidelines by promoting the tobacco industry overseas. Such examples stand in stark contrast to Britain's own robust policies in limiting ties between the government and cigarette corporations.
While smoking rates have declined significantly in the west, tobacco consumption in the Middle East has grown rapidly in recent decades, with Jordan's considered to be the highest in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2020. This has happened amid accusations of widespread interference in policy-making by tobacco multinationals.
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