Spanish health officials prompt outrage after handing out ashtrays from tobacco lobbyists

IN MADRID – Health officials from a Spanish city council have provoked outrage by working with a tobacco industry lobby to hand out ashtrays.

Alberto Cuadrado Toquero, a member of the far-right Vox party and councillor in charge of public health and security in Valladolid, led the initiative to give out 7,500 portable ashtrays with the Mesa del Tabaco, a tobacco industry body, before a festival in the city this weekend.

The city, which is governed by a coalition between the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the hard-right Vox party, said the ash trays would “raise awareness of the need to correctly leave the cigarette butts in bins or appropriate containers to help the adequate management of waste at a time when lots of people come to the city”.

However, the move prompted strong criticism from medical experts and opposition politicians, who accused Valladolid’s head of public health of working with the tobacco lobby instead of trying to improve people’s health by discouraging smoking.

“As a doctor I find it surprising and paradoxical that the health authorities promote a measure which is more designed to manage rubbish. We were expecting that the health authorities would promote measures to reduce the habit of smoking. It is well known the harmful effects on health,” Dr José Luís Almudi, president of the Valladolid Medical College, which represents physicians, told i.

Mr Toquero with the reusable ashtrays (Photo: Valladolid City Council)

“It is surprising that this comes from the Mesa del Tabaco, which promotes the tobacco industry. It wants to cover its harmful effects with measures like this, preventing butts on the streets.”

The portable ashtrays resemble pouches and can be reused. The Mesa del Tabaco, which has given out a total of 110,000 portable ashtrays in cities across Spain, represents growers, processors, manufacturers of tobacco products and vending machines, importers, wholesale distribution and tobacconists.

Alberto Bustos, a former Socialist councillor in Valladolid, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Incredible! Valladolid was a reference for the protection and defence of health. Today, the councillor for HEALTH from the new team started the distribution of 7,500 ash trays in collaboration with the Mesa del Tobacco. Amazing!”

Óscar Puente, who was the Socialist mayor of Valladolid until the PP won the council in local elections in May, criticised the initiative, saying on Twitter: “The Vox public health councillor in Valladolid. Distributing ashtrays. Did we really deserve that you change us for this?”

Some policies proposed by the Vox party have proven highly controversial. In January, Spain was embroiled in a row over abortion after authorities in the region of Castilla y León, which is governed by the PP and Vox, proposed giving women seeking terminations the option to listen to the foetus’s heartbeat, view a 4D ultrasound scan and receive psychological advice, in order reduce abortions.

Juan García-Gallardo, the Vox leader of the region’s council, said the measures, originally due to come into effect on Monday, “would be worth it if even just one baby who was due to be aborted is born”.

Health experts said the suggestions could be harmful to women’s health. Critics said the proposals would put pressure on those seeking abortions and reverse progress on women’s rights.

The plans were abandoned after Spain’s left-wing government said that “any actions that would infringe laws on sexual and reproductive health and the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy” would face legal action.

Then, in June, farmers rioted after a court in Castilla y León banned plans proposed by regional authorities to relax restrictions brought in by the European Union to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis.