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$127 Billion Australian Manager Dumps Tobacco, Weapons Investing

Australia’s largest publicly traded wealth manager is ditching stock and debt investments in companies with ties to tobacco, cluster munitions and land mines, in the latest push for ethical investing in the nation.

AMP Capital Investors, the investment management arm of AMP Ltd., is dumping about A$440 million ($338 million) worth of investments in tobacco manufacturing-related companies and about A$130 million in land mine and cluster munition manufacturers. The moves come as AMP Capital rolls out a new decision- making framework across its A$165 billion investment portfolio, the wealth manager said in a March 16 statement.

“We are not prepared to deliver investment returns to customers at any cost to society,” AMP Capital Chief Executive Officer Adam Tindall said in the statement. “AMP Capital has a long-term focus on responsible investing supported by an integrated approach to considering ESG factors across all asset classes.”

Growing Demand

The money manager’s decision comes amid burgeoning demand for ethical investments in Australia’s A$2.2 trillion retirement savings pool. Assets at funds that screen out investments that don’t meet ethical investing criteria grew by 16 percent to A$24.7 billion in 2015-16, according to the Responsible Investment Association Australasia.

AMP, which also controls insurance and banking businesses Down Under, will implement a new framework that considers harm as well as “denial of humanity” when determining investment decisions. Tobacco manufacturers were culled under the framework because their products were addictive, while cluster munitions and biological weapons would “indiscriminately kill through normal use,” the company said.

The sales of the stakes will occur progressively throughout 2017, AMP said in the statement. The company engaged the help of consulting group, The Ethics Centre, to create its ethical investing framework, according to the statement.

“AMP Capital still firmly believes in company engagement in order to effect meaningful change,” Tindall said. “In the case of tobacco, cluster munitions, land mines, biological and chemical weapons manufacturers, however, no engagement can override the inherent dangers involved with their products.”

Can we trust Big Tobacco to promote public health?

There’s a new catchcry in public health: people working in tobacco control should join with Big Tobacco to promote “safer” tobacco products.

http://www.econotimes.com/Can-we-trust-Big-Tobacco-to-promote-public-health-588041

It runs like this: before starting work each morning, tobacco company employees sing with gusto the company song “Thank you, thank you, addictive nicotine”. But they really hate the small problem that smoking kills around two in three of its long-term users early. Just think of all the lost revenue from those collective millions of smokers who die an early death.

So for decades tobacco companies have been busy trying to get their chemists and engineers to develop “safer” (ie less dangerous) products, e-cigarettes being the latest kid on the block.

The public health community has always seen the tobacco industry as the largest vector for lung cancer and all the other diseases caused and exacerbated by smoking. This is why the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – now ratified by every country in the world except Cuba, Haiti, Argentina, Mozambique, Switzerland (headquarters to Philip Morris International) and the US – has a whole section (Article 5.3) detailing how governments should work to combat tobacco industry interference in tobacco control. I contributed a background document on the many ways the tobacco industry tries to gut tobacco control at every turn.

Shifting the focus

The new catchcry proposes Big Tobacco really, really wants to stop selling its deadly products and have all its smokers, in time, switch over to its we-are-not-yet-sure-how-much-but-probably-less-deadly products.

It emphasises the only real goal tobacco control should have is to reduce disease caused by using tobacco products. And guess what? This now turns out to be a shared goal: Big Tobacco and public health both want the same thing so they should forget all the mistrust and animosity of the past, welcome the industry to the table, invite them to conferences, share data and embrace them as partners.

Unfortunately, the catchcry is profoundly myopic. No, let’s not muck around. It displays weapons-grade naivety and ignorance in those promoting it, as this opinion piece shows.

Has Big Tobacco really changed?

Here is why the “they’ve changed” argument about Big Tobacco hits the rocks.

Can anyone name a single example of any Big Tobacco company taking its foot off the accelerator of aggressive opposition to any policy that promises to effectively reduce its core mission: selling more cigarettes?

Philip Morris tried and failed recently in a legal case to gut Uruguay’s tough, comprehensive tobacco control program. The company was doubtless attempting to bully a minnow nation into submission, to send a loud message to any other small nation silly enough to get ahead of itself with such policies.

All tobacco companies fight with all they have to stop tax rises. Just go to British American Tobacco (BAT) Australia’s twitter feed, where tweets about illicit tobacco feature heavily. Here’s an example:

Capture

But why is BAT so obsessed with illicit tobacco? The company is trying to get public brownie points by showing it’s concerned about tax lost to illicit trade. Its main agenda is it wants the government to stop raising tobacco tax. It knows that a tax-reduced lower prices will increase tobacco sales like nothing else, particularly to low income groups like the poor and kids. Tax is the single most effective policy in reducing use, which is why Big Tobacco gives such priority in its lobbying to trying to defeat tax rises.

All the main transnationals poured millions into trying (and failing) to stop Australia’s pioneering plain packaging legislation. Go figure why they tried that.

And as recently as December 2016, BAT wrote this appalling letter to the Hong Kong administration trying to stop graphic health warnings going ahead. This was from a company which, published in its 2016 financial results statement a call to “champion informed consumer choice”.

Informed, yes, but please we don’t want smokers to see pictures of what smoking does to you and be THAT informed.

Big Tobacco would love its new generation products to sell well. But down the corridor from its harm reduction division are its cigarettes, financial and executive divisions that know which side the corporate butter is spread thickest. The only possible conclusion is Big Tobacco’s goal with reduced risk products is not to cannibalise its own core product, but to try and promote dual use (cigarettes and e-cigarettes): “smoke when you can, and vape when you can’t”.

Cigarettes still core business

Three of the world’s biggest tobacco transnational companies have very recently affirmed that cigarettes will remain their “core” business.

Philip Morris says:

…cigarettes, our core product.

Imperial says:

Our core business is built around a tobacco portfolio…

BAT says:

Tobacco will be a core part of our business for many years.

BAT chief executive officer, Nicandro Durante said recently the company expects to continue to boost sales of traditional cigarettes in several key markets, pointing to (paywall) the fastest growing areas:

Places like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia — there are many opportunities out there.

He added that BAT derives more than half of its total revenues from emerging markets.

No firewall between ‘good’ and ‘bad’

The Royal College of Physicians of London wrote recently (p188):

There is no firewall between a “good” tobacco industry that is marketing harm-reduction products in the UK and a “bad” one that promotes smoking, or undermines tobacco control activities, in low- and middle-income countries.

It’s report continued:

Tobacco companies make their money by selling tobacco, and the industry’s recent programme of investment and acquisitions in e-cigarettes perhaps indicates recognition that these products represent a disruptive technology that should be harnessed to protect the core business of selling tobacco, exploited to expand tobacco markets or developed as an opportunity to make nicotine products attractive to non-smokers. There is little likelihood that the industry sees e-cigarettes as a route out of the tobacco business, but it is highly likely that e-cigarettes will be exploited to enhance claims of corporate social responsibility, and to undermine implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Those who believe the tobacco companies are born-again public health angels with the advent of e-cigarettes have little to say about Big Tobacco’s business as usual with cigarettes. It’s a bit like arguing that we should pat a mafia boss on the back for donating a few hundred thousand dollars to a drug rehabilitation clinic while it’s business as usual during the rest of his week.

MPs investing in cigarette companies, oil giants and ‘tax avoiders’ through their pension scheme

Exclusive: The Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund also invests in several US tech giants accused by MPs themselves of avoiding tax

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/mps-pension-scheme-investment-tobacco-cigarette-bat-fossil-fuels-tax-avoidance-a7607901.html

Pensions paid to British MPs are funded by the profits of cigarette companies, international oil giants and companies who MPs themselves have accused of avoiding tax, The Independent can reveal.

The Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund (PCPF), whose investments have never been made public before, ploughed more money into British American Tobacco (BAT) and oil giant BP and than any other two companies over the past year. Millions of pounds were also put into oil company Shell and controversial mining firm Rio Tinto, the list of investments shows.

The figures show BAT and BP received roughly £5.59m in investment each from MPs in 2016.

Pension funds, which channel billions of pounds to all corners of the economy, have come under pressure from campaigners to stop profiting from industries that contribute towards environmental disaster, ill health and conflict.

The £621m MP pension fund’s top 20 holdings also includes three US tech companies – Amazon, Google and Apple – that have been accused by MPs themselves of avoiding tax. Another top 20 investment is WPP, the advertising giant at the centre of a 2012 shareholder revolt on the £12.93m pay packet for its CEO Martin Sorrell.

Green MP and party co-leader Caroline Lucas, who has been pressuring the fund to reveal what it invests in for years, said the investment strategy was “deeply questionable” and that that in the case of tobacco investments there was “no excuse” for profiting from “one of the greatest public health crises of our time”.

“After years of resistance, the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund has finally come clean and made public their top 20 holdings. This is a good first step but, as expected, the fund has a deeply questionable investment strategy investing in dirty energy and tobacco,” she told The Independent.

“The long-term financial risks associated with oil, coal and gas assets are well known, yet the trustees of the PCPF are refusing to even meet with fund members to discuss this issue.

“If we are to prevent the worst of climate change, then we must rapidly transition away from an economy run on fossil fuels by investing in the renewable energy that we have in abundance. It’s right that the MPs should lead the way on this transition.

“It is well within the scope of the fiduciary duty of pension fund trustees to account for non-financial factors – there is therefore no excuse for profiting from tobacco, an industry that is responsible for one of the greatest public health crises of our time.”

In 2014, former MP Brian Donohoe, chair of the fund’s trustee board, said tobacco investments would be “amoral” but that he did not think the fund should withdraw from investments in fossil fuels.

Health charity Ash told The Independent the revelations about tobacco investments were disturbing because they were fuelling “so much preventable illness and misery”.

“A large majority of MPs and peers understand the terrible damage that smoking does and support strong action to cut smoking rates,” said Deborah Arnott, the charity’s chief executive.

“I think they will be disturbed to see that the parliamentary pension fund is investing in an industry whose products still kill more than 100,000 people across the UK every year.

“I understand that fund trustees have a duty to get a good return from their investments, but this can be achieved without supporting an industry that causes so much preventable illness and misery.”

A number of local councils, which manage more than £230bn in pension fund investments, have led the way in divesting from fossil fuels and in imposing ethical investment policies. Authorities including Oxford City Council, Waltham Forest, and South Yorkshire have been among the first to move to divest from fossil fuels. The PCPF’s trustees, however, say it would not be lawful for them to make sweeping judgments about whether certain investments were ethical or not.

The Church of England has previously come under fire for investing in Google and said it would limit investments in fossil fuel producers.

The MP fund’s top investments as of March 2016 were £55m in UK government bonds; £5.9m in British American Tobacco; £5.9m in BP; and £4.9m apiece in Diageo, Vodafone, HSBC, Royal Dutch Shell and Reckitt Benckiser.

It also invests £3.7m in pharmaceutical company GSK; £3.1m apiece in US Treasury bonds, Lloyds Bank, and Nestle; and £2.5m in BT, JP Morgan Chase, and Google. Rio Tinto, Apple, Amazon, Hartford Financial Services and WPP net around £1.9m each from the fund. The remaining 80 per cent of the fund is invested in other smaller holdings.

ShareAction, which campaigns for responsible investments, told The Independent that the new information showed MPs like Ms Lucas were “fully justified” in their campaign to challenge the fund.

“It’s positive to see greater disclosure from the PCPF following a year of vigorous efforts by MPs to demand a more transparent approach from their scheme,” said Catherine Howarth, the group’s chief executive.

“Many MPs will be dispirited to learn that the scheme’s largest holdings are tobacco giant, BAT, and troubled oil giant, BP. In the week NEST revealed plans for a low-carbon global equities strategy, having outperformed the PCPF’s investment returns in the year gone, it would seem MPs are fully justified in challenging their trustees for answers on carbon and climate risk.”

It is understood that a group of MPs opposed to such investments are considering legal action against the pension fund if policies are not changed.

When approached for comment, the pension fund’s secretariat referred The Independent to the House of Commons media office. The media office provided a copy of the fund’s policy statement on ethical investing, which has been signed off by the board of trustees.

It says that “trustees [of the fund] are legally unable to exclude certain investments on ethical grounds” because “the rage of views” among its members means it would be “almost impossible for the trustees to conclude that scheme members would share a moral viewpoint on any one ethical issue”.

“This means that the trustees could not lawfully take a decision to exclude a certain type of investment from the PCPF’s investment portfolio on ethical grounds,” the policy statement continues.

“However, it is important to mention that the trustees do believe that environmental, social and corporate governance issues can have a material impact on the long-term performance of its investments.

“As such the fund is a signatory to the Financial Reporting Council’s Stewardship Code and as such expects its investment managers to take account of ESG considerations as part of their investment analysis and decision making process. Furthermore, the Trustees, and all of the Fund’s managers are also signatories to the FRC Stewardship Code.”

Forthcoming European Conference on Fighting Organised Crime and Terrorism 2017 Letter

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EvilBane gives back to the people

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Donald Trump’s inauguration fueled by tobacco, oil and drug company money

Other big-spending sponsors include insurers, auto makers, tech giants

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2017/01/31/20651/donald-trumps-inauguration-fueled-tobacco-oil-and-drug-company-money

Big corporations with money riding on President Donald Trump’s policies helped pick up the tab for Trump’s inaugural festivities earlier this month, new disclosures show.

The companies’ five-to-seven-figure contributions earned company representatives prime perks, including access to events featuring the newly inaugurated president, Vice President Mike Pence, the Trump and Pence families and prospective Cabinet members and administration officials.

Pfizer Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. both disclosed making $1 million contributions to Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.

Microsoft Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Amgen Inc. and Altria Client Services LLC reported giving $500,000 each, a contribution that would have earned tickets to a similar list of events.

According to Microsoft’s report, half its contribution was in cash and half in “in-kind contribution, products and services.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. reported making its contribution on Dec. 19, the week after Trump announced he would nominate Rex Tillerson, the company’s chairman and CEO, as secretary of state. Tillerson’s nomination is still pending.

General Motors Co. reported giving $200,000. Six companies reported $100,000 contributions: Verizon Communications Inc., Valero Energy Corp., MetLife Group Inc., Clean Energy Fuels Corp., Anthem, Inc., and Aetna Inc.

Aflac, Inc. reported giving $50,000 and Monsanto Co., Florida East Coast Industries, CVS Health and Brown Rudnick LLP reported giving $25,000.

According to inauguration donor packages previously obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, donors in the “$1,000,000+” tier were to receive four tickets to a “leadership luncheon” billed as “an exclusive event with select Cabinet appointees and House and Senate leadership to honor our most generous inaugural supporters.”

Donors in the $500,000 tiers also got access to a dinner with Pence and his wife, a candlelight dinner with Trump and Pence, and other festivities. Donors in lower tiers received more limited ticket packages to inaugural events.

The inauguration committee doesn’t have to file detailed reports listing contributors until 90 days after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

But companies that lobby the federal government are legally required to file so-called “lobbying contribution” reports twice a year, and contributions to inaugural committees must be disclosed. The reports only cover the second half of 2016, so any 2017 contributions companies made to the inaugural committee aren’t included.

Trump’s inaugural committee raised more than $100 million, according to a report in the New York Times earlier this month, far more than previous inaugural committees. Tens of millions of dollars in inaugural contributions have yet to be disclosed.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

This article was co-published by the Buffalo News.

Doctors Lobby Group Would Welcome Arthur Sinodinos as Health Minister

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The Irish State has just sold its shares in big tobacco companies

It had been claimed that the investments made a ‘mockery’ of the State’s aim of a tobacco-free Ireland.

http://www.thejournal.ie/tobacco-investments-irish-government-2-3154386-Dec2016/

THE IRISH STATE’S sovereign wealth fund has just sold all of its shares in tobacco companies in a move to offload some of its ‘legacy investments’.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan announced today that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (Isif) “has completed the sale of its remaining investments in tobacco manufacturing”.

Isif said its decision to sell off its legacy investments in tobacco manufacturing companies “is part of a wider review of the exclusion of categories of investment from the fund as a whole, which is due to be completed in early 2017″.

Isif recently told TheJournal.ie that, as of 30 September 2016, it had equity holdings in three tobacco companies with a value of €1.5 million. A spokesman for the NTMA said that the company also held €16.7 million in tobacco-related corporate bonds.

This is relatively small relative to Isif’s total investments. The organisation, which was established with remaining funds from the National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF), has a total fund of €7.9 billion and expects to have about €3 billion of that by the end of 2016.

The NTMA’s investments in the companies are made through fund managers, rather than the organisation actively selecting the firms or industries.

Ethical investment

Isif’s ethical investment policy for armaments is mainly influenced by its commitment to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, but this policy does not stop its funds going into the sector altogether.

Under the UN guidelines, Isif is required to carry out investments on an ‘active-ownership basis’, which means it does not have to rule out any companies as long as it works to improve their environmental, social and governance policies.

A law that would have banned Isif from investing in tobacco companies was recently floated in the Seanad by Fianna Fáil Seanad health spokesperson Dr Keith Swanick, who said that the state’s investments in tobacco companies “makes a complete mockery of the stated objectives of a tobacco free Ireland by 2025″.

The Department of Finance said that all of Isif’s investments since its establishment in December 2014, “comply with the fund’s sustainability and responsible investment policy, which sets out key principles for responsible investment”.

Tobacco control

Minister Noonan welcomed Isif’s decision, saying: “Ireland has earned a significant reputation as a leader in tobacco control and, as we know, tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death in Ireland and throughout the world.

The legislation that established the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, provides that the fund’s investment strategy will be carried out in accordance with government policy. Today’s decision reinforces the government’s policy on tobacco.

He added: “Public policy is not fixed and can evolve, and the ongoing reviews by the Isif are opportunities to fine tune its investment approach in the light of relevant developments both nationally and internationally.”

This story was updated to include more information on the value of ISIF’s tobacco holding

Written by Paul O’Donoghue and posted on Fora.ie

CalPERS extends ban on tobacco to external asset managers

http://moderninvestor.com/news/calpers-extends-ban-on-tobacco-to-external-asset-managers/a980197

The Investment Committee for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has voted to broaden the tobacco investment restrictions to externally managed portfolios of public assets.

The €270 billion pension scheme also decided to remain divested from tobacco-related securities in internally managed public equity and debt portfolios.

Commenting on the decision, chair of the Investment Committee, Henry Jones, said: ‘There is no doubt that divestment as an investment strategy presents challenges.

However, after careful consideration of all the benefits and risks, the Committee has decided not only to maintain our current policy regarding tobacco divestment, but to extend the restrictions.’

The CalPERS tobacco restrictions date back to 2000, when concerns over ongoing litigation and regulatory risks facing the tobacco industry prompted it to take action.

Analysis performed in 2015 by Wilshire Associates, CalPERS board’s investment consultant, indicated that the pension fund’s restrictions on tobacco reduced portfolio returns by approximately $3 billion between 2001 and 2014. The committee decided in April 2016 to request a review of the current tobacco restrictions.

CalPERS chief investment officer, Ted Eliopoulos, said that he appreciated the committee’s willingness to review the sensitive topic of investment in tobacco. ‘We understand their concerns and will maintain the current tobacco exclusions while working to extend the tobacco divestment to our external portfolios.’

As part of the action, CalPERS staff will now study the appropriate timing and implementation.

Think tanks with ties to tobacco arguing against plain packaging

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/think-tanks-with-ties-to-tobacco-arguing-against-plain-packaging/article32884552/

A tobacco company speaking out against a public-health measure doesn’t have the same credibility as a respected think tank or advocacy group. So those companies often work with or donate funds to organizations that publicly criticize tobacco taxes and other new regulatory measures.

Those financial relationships create the possibility for bias. Yet most of the organizations on the receiving end of tobacco donations do not clearly disclose that information when speaking about related issues.

The latest example is the current debate over plain packaging.

The federal government wants to pass new regulations that would strip brand colours and logos from tobacco products and instead require them to carry a standard plain colour and font in addition to the graphic health warnings that are currently used. The government hopes the move can stop some of the nearly 90,000 Canadians who pick up the deadly habit each year. Across the country, nearly 40,000 people die annually from tobacco-related illnesses

Not surprisingly, the three biggest tobacco companies in Canada, Imperial Tobacco Canada; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges; and JTI-Macdonald, are all opposed to the measure.

But they aren’t the only ones against the proposal. Some think tanks and advocacy groups with tobacco funding are also speaking out against plain packaging. And yet, these groups typically don’t mention their financial ties when speaking about policy.

For example, the Montreal Economic Institute published a report in September saying plain packaging “attacks the value of brands.” It included a disclaimer saying the report was “in no way” financed by tobacco. In September 2015, institute president Michel Kelly-Gagnon authored a Huffington Post article saying plain packaging drove consumption higher in Australia, where it was adopted in 2012. The article didn’t mention an industry connection.

But in an e-mail, Kelly-Gagnon said the institute has “proudly received” tobacco funding since 1998 in amounts between 2 and 4 per cent of its budget. He said in an interview that the organization recently decided to stop accepting donations from the industry because health groups use that information to criticize its work.

Then there’s the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, which issued a press release in September warning about the prevalence of illegal cigarettes and how the problem will worsen with plain packaging. A letter to the editor from the coalition and published in The Globe and Mail in September also stated that plain packaging will increase the contraband market. In its official comments to the federal government on plain packaging, the coalition said there is “no doubt” the new measure “will increase the availability of the illegal product.” The document doesn’t mention financial ties to tobacco.

Online, the coalition lists its members, which include the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Toronto Crime Stoppers and the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council.

But according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, the coalition works closely with the country’s three major tobacco companies to shape its public statements and reports. The coalition declined an interview request and did not respond directly to questions about its ties to tobacco.

Another example dates back to May, when the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), a Halifax think tank, hosted a talk by Sinclair Davidson, an Australian professor and vocal plain-packaging critic. According to articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Institute of Public Affairs, where Davidson is a fellow, has received tobacco funding and some experts have criticized Davidson’s work as flawed.

In an e-mail, Davidson defended his work and said he was invited to speak in Canada by the Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA). But according to the AIMS Facebook page, Davidson’s Halifax visit was organized by the institute in partnership with Crestview Strategy, a public-affairs firm. According to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, Crestview currently lobbies on behalf of Rothmans, Benson & Hedges. (Crestview and Rothmans did not respond to questions about the visit.)

The CCSA said it does receive funding from the tobacco industry but declined to state an amount or respond to questions about Davidson’s visit.

Imperial Tobacco Canada; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges; and JTI-Macdonald declined requests to name the groups they fund, but said they work with groups that share their views.

Julia Smith, a postdoctoral research fellow at Simon Fraser University who studies tobacco control, said she is concerned organizations with financial ties to tobacco will help derail plain packaging and other health measures, in part because many believe their views are independent and unbiased. “We’ve seen the tobacco industry use these tactics in the past,” she said, noting that “in some cases, they have been successful.”

Beyond engaging vocal sources, the tobacco industry has also commissioned several reports that say plain packaging is ineffective. But independent research tells a different story.

An Australian government survey found the number of daily smokers fell from 2.7 million in 2010 to 2.5 million in 2013. The average age young people reported smoking their first full cigarette rose from 15.4 years in 2010 to 15.9 years in 2013. And a 2013 study published in the journal Tobacco Control found only a small number of retail stores sold illicit cigarettes. Before plain packaging, researchers found about 2 per cent of cigarette packages to be illicit, compared to 0.6 per cent in the months after implementation.

Think tanks and advocacy groups regularly seek to influence public policy. But policy-makers and the public deserve to know when those organizations may be representing the interests of others.