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Tobacco Lobby

Tobacco lobby holding back smoking ban

On Wednesday, Shanghai becomes the latest municipality in China, following Beijing and Shenzhen, to launch a 100 percent smoke-free policy in public places and work spaces. Some 60 million people-more than the population of many countries-living in these cities can now enjoy smoke-free public places.

While we congratulate Shanghai on joining Beijing and Shenzhen as global leaders in tobacco control, we must also ask: How is it that only three cities in China have adopted comprehensive smoke-free policies? What is standing in the way of the rest of the 1.3 billion citizens having the right to smoke-free indoor air in their workplaces and factories, and in restaurants and shopping areas?

President Xi Jinping has announced his vision for China’s future. First, he announced the Chinese Dream; then he called for the Chinese economy to reinvent itself, led by industrial innovation; and last summer, he announced his Health China 2030 initiative, a bold declaration that made public health a precondition for all future economic and social development.

As evidenced in this remarkable series of policy announcements, Xi’s vision for China is one in which economic growth enhances, rather than sacrifices, individual well-being.

Unfortunately, there remains a glaring obstacle to realizing the Chinese Dream and Healthy China 2030 vision-an obstacle which has resisted the considerable efforts of China’s public health authorities, advocates and citizens: the tobacco economy.

Tobacco represents an economy of the past. China’s tobacco companies do not fit the vision of an economy driven by innovative, value-added manufacturing and a strong service sector. Its very reliance on Chinese smokers undermines efforts to build a healthy China by 2030.

We celebrate the smoke-free laws in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. But they are among the wealthiest cities in China, which raises the question of inequality. Smoke-free indoor air should not be a luxury for the wealthy, rather an entitlement for all Chinese citizens who are working hard to realize the Chinese Dream.

Why is this not happening? The reason is largely because of the short-sighted economic interests that are not aligned with the President’s vision.

The small but successful tobacco tax adopted in 2015, which reduced smoking and increased government revenues, should be drastically increased so that the tobacco companies pay more tax and farmers start growing alternative crops.

Instead, there is continued resistance to further tobacco taxes and stronger advertising restrictions. Most concerning is that progress has all but stopped on a national smoke-free law.

To those who doubt whether rural governments are capable of implementing a comprehensive smoke-free law, I would point to the hundreds of millions of people China pulled out of poverty in three decades-a much tougher implementation challenge, achieved through strong government leadership and coordinated action at all levels.

Xi’s vision for China’s future is clear. The country’s leadership should pass comprehensive legislation against tobacco to ensure all Chinese citizens, not just those in the wealthiest cities, can breathe smoke-free air indoors.

Local leaders like those in Shanghai are taking bold decisions to ensure the health of citizens. And even in the absence of national legislation, they are breathing new life into the Chinese Dream to make Xi’s Healthy China 2030 vision a reality and relegate the tobacco economy to a place it deserves-in the past

Do the right thing: Tax tobacco!

Both my grandfathers smoked when they were young. My father’s father was a shopkeeper who smoked a pipe and my mother’s father was a smallholder who smoked cigarettes. Both died of heart failure and left my grandmothers as widows. My father grew up as a little boy in an atmosphere of pipe smoke and sometimes I wonder whether this contributed to his asthma and his own heart problems. My mother became a doctor, a cancer specialist, and she always used to tell my brother and me that we should never smoke, because she saw every day what smoking had done to her patients.

In Moldova, 87 percent of deaths are attributable to diseases associated with tobacco. I am not saying that tobacco caused them all, but these deaths are caused by diseases to which tobacco contributes. Also, in Moldova 43 percent of men smoke, while for women it is 5 percent. The worry is that nowadays a lot of the growth in smoking is among women.

It’s interesting that very many Moldovans begin to smoke when they are children. 30 percent of kids in class 8 or class 9 have already smoked a cigarette. And this is possible because smoking is so easy. It’s so cheap. It’s cheaper than buying a bottle of Coke or a chocolate bar. So obviously smoking is very attractive to young people in Moldova. We can discourage young people from beginning this dangerous and addictive habit by making cigarettes more expensive.

Smoking eats up 5 to 10 percent of the public health budget. That’s our estimate of the cost of treating diseases caused by smoking. The World Bank has looked at many scenarios of how raising tobacco taxes would increase Government revenues. Without going into details, it’s quite possible to raise at least an extra 1 percent of GDP.

So raising tobacco taxes could protect the lives of our children and grandchildren, save on health spending and raise revenues.

If somebody votes against increasing tobacco taxes, it could be for three reasons. Two of them are wrong. Only the third one is solid.

The first one is a fear that there might be political resistance to an increase in taxes. But anybody who opposes tobacco taxation for fear of the political resistance has to answer this question: “Can you find another way to improve the budget by at least one percent of GDP which would create less political resistance?” One could raise VAT or income tax, but that would be politically even more difficult than increasing tax on tobacco.

The second reason for opposition to an increase in tobacco taxes would be for fear of smuggling. We know about smuggling. We know how cigarettes enter Moldova through Transnistria. Maybe two or three years ago this argument would have been convincing. But now, Moldova and Ukraine have made significant progress in border cooperation and have monitoring systems which make this business much more difficult – if there is political will.

There is only one strong reason for opposing an increase in tobacco taxation. And that is because one is influenced by the tobacco lobby. The only real source of resistance to an increase in tobacco taxation is the tobacco industry. I therefore think that it is the obligation of anyone who blocks an increase in tobacco taxation to explain to the population why they are so opposed to it.

From a speech by Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Moldova, at Moldova’s parliament on 6 December 2016.

Parliament adopts Standardised packaging to save lives and prevent suffering

Members of Parliament voted in favour of standardised packaging of tobacco products despite intense lobbying by the tobacco industry to sway politicians against the measure.

The snowball that was set in motion in Australia in 2012 rolled through Norway today. An overwhelming majority of Parliament endorsed recommendations formulated on 1 December 2016 by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Care Services. The measure will be introduced at the same time as the EU Tobacco Products Directive measures on packaging and labelling.

Tobacco advertising is deadly. It seeks to addict people to a product that kills almost half of its long-term users. Today, Norway becomes one of the first countries in the world to introduce standardised cigarette packs and the first country to standardise smokeless tobacco boxes. Smokeless tobacco use increased dramatically among young people in Norway during the last decade. The new measure will contribute to ensure that children and young people never start with tobacco and thus avoid tobacco-related suffering and death.

Anne Lise Ryel, Secretary General of the Norwegian Cancer Society said: “Norwegian politicians have taken a historic step forward to reduce the consequences of tobacco advertising. Advertising works, especially with children. Norway was the first country in the world to introduce bans on all traditional forms of advertising of tobacco products. Ever since, cigarette packs have become mini billboards for tobacco industry marketing. With this morning’s event, the tobacco industry loses its last vehicle to lure children into addiction, disease and possibly death. This is truly a ground-breaking public health reform, and a landmark day for the cancer cause”.

The Norwegian Cancer Society congratulated Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie for his leadership in support of the measure in the face of persistent pressure and campaigning from the tobacco industry.

Secret report shows Big Tobacco targeted city politicians in Sudbury and Sault

Algoma municipalities are being asked to stub out all motions proposed by tobacco companies or front groups that slip demands for a freeze on excise taxes into campaigns against contraband tobacco.

Leaked map shows 10 Ontario 'strategic municipalities' whose local politicians were targeted in 2012 by Imperial Tobacco Canada. Reasons for selecting these targets included their 'proximity to illicit tobacco' and 'likelihood of buy-in.'

Leaked map shows 10 Ontario ‘strategic municipalities’ whose local politicians were targeted in 2012 by Imperial Tobacco Canada. Reasons for selecting these targets included their ‘proximity to illicit tobacco’ and ‘likelihood of buy-in.’

Greater Sudbury has the dubious distinction of being named in a secret Big Tobacco document aimed, ostensibly, at fighting contraband smokes, but at the same time quietly lobbying to freeze the excise tax on legitimate tobacco products.

Algoma Board of Health, the governing body of Algoma Public Health, is warning area politicians about new evidence linking Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. to lobbying campaigns against contraband tobacco.

The health board voted this week to ask Algoma municipalities to reject all motions received from tobacco companies or front groups that spike campaigns against illicit smokes with demands for a tobacco excise tax freeze or limits on regulation of tobacco products.

Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco Plc., one of the world’s five biggest tobacco companies with 55,000 employees in 44 factories in 41 countries.

In a recently leaked internal report prepared for its London-based parent, Imperial Tobacco Canada reveals that it’s been quietly involved for years in lobbying campaigns by convenience-store and anti-contraband groups.

The secret report describes Project M&M, a 2012 campaign intended to “mobilize local governments to pressure for big government action” against illicit tobacco, with demands for an excise tax freeze piggybacked on the main message.

Listed as partners in Project M&M are the Canadian Convenience Store Association, the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Fédération des Chambres de Commerce du Québec and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The leaked 32-page document includes a map identifying 10 “strategic municipalities” to be targeted in Ontario: Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Windsor, Brantford, London, Mississauga, Niagara Falls, Whitby, Cornwall and Toronto.

These municipalities were selected, the report says, because of their:

  • proximity to illicit tobacco
  • seizure activity
  • internal sales data
  • political weight
  • likelihood of buy-in

The document also identifies 10 targeted municipalities in Quebec: Montreal, Gatineau, Chateauguay, Laval, St. Georges, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Drummondville, Trois Rivieres and Saguenay.

An article published one month ago by the National Post pointed to other close ties between convenience-store organizations and the tobacco industry.

“In fact, there is other evidence of their close links to the industry, including at least three former tobacco-company executives who are now leaders in the Ontario, Quebec and national convenience-store associations,” the Post’s Tom Blackwell reported.

The leaked Imperial Tobacco report suggests that the “2012 lobbying campaign was no grassroots movement, and that the retail and contraband organizations have for years been used as surrogates by the cigarette giant to promote its own interests,” Blackwell wrote.

Sales of illicit cigarettes are considered a major problem in Ontario, where a bag of 200 illegal “rollies” sells for as little as $10 to $15, compared to more than $80 for legally taxed smokes bought at a corner store.

A 2013 study of collected cigarette butts conducted by NIRIC Group for the Ontario Convenience Store Association found that 17.7 per cent of butts picked up in Sault Ste. Marie were contraband, compared to 30.1 per cent in Kitchener, 28.5 per cent in Barrie, 24.5 per cent in Sudbury, 20.9 percent in Thunder Bay, 18.7 per cent in Toronto, 18.1 per cent in Guelph and 11 per cent in North Bay.

Groups demand tobacco lobbyist stops claiming links

Nestlé and the World Bank are among a number of organisations to demand that a controversial lobby group for tobacco companies stops claiming links to them.

The International Tax and Investment Center, which describes itself as a “non-profit research and educational organisation” that gives clients “a seat at the policymaking table”, has claimed on its website to “work closely” with the World Bank. It also listed Nestlé, law firm Pinsent Masons and the UK Department for International Development as its sponsors.

However, when Tax Justice Network wrote to sponsors and affiliated bodies asking if they were aware of the claims, all four organisations said they had no ongoing relationship with the lobby group.

ITIC works with organisations in a range of industries. But, in 2014, it was publicly denounced by the World Health Organisation for promoting “false” information on behalf of the tobacco industry. “ITIC has published extensively in favour of the tobacco industry’s false positions on excise taxation, investment and illicit trade in tobacco products,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, a director at the WHO.

Around this time, some organisations ended their dealings with ITIC. The World Bank withdrew from an ITIC-organised event in 2015, and told Tax Justice Network: “The World Bank Group does not have a formal partnership with ITIC.” Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said: “We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage.”

Nestlé, which ITIC listed as a sponsor until earlier this year, said it had ceased contributing to ITIC in 2014. It said it had “taken action” over use of its logo on ITIC’s website.

Law firm Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor as recently as 2016, but ceased contributions to ITIC in 2013.

ITIC said it had agreed to comply with the World Bank’s request to remove its name, but “inadvertently missed” a reference when updating its site. It said Nestlé’s name had remained on the ITIC website for 24 months after its last payment to comply with ITIC’s policy of being “transparent”.

When asked why Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor more than 24 months after ending its relationship with the group, Daniel Witt, ITIC’s president, said it “certainly was not a conscious decision to leave them on the list”. ITIC has since removed references to all of the organisations from its website.

Critics have accused ITIC of publicising links with high-profile bodies to boost its image when lobbying governments. “Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that they work closely with leading international organisations,” said Alex Cobham at the Tax Justice Network. ITIC denies this.

The UK Department for International Development was listed as a sponsor, despite having never given ITIC any money. In 2013, then secretary of state, Justine Greening, said she would demand that ITIC take down the website listing.

ITIC says it received funding from DfID’s “predecessor”, the UK Know-How Fund. DfID acknowledges that this fund made payments to ITIC, but says DfID itself had never sponsored ITIC.



Today, an unprecedented joint movement of leading international development and public health organisations including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Christian Aid and Save the Children, declared a major success in their campaign against the tobacco lobby.

For more than two decades, big tobacco companies have used the neutral-sounding ‘International Tax and Investment Center’ (ITIC) to promote their agenda around the world. Since tax policies are the single most powerful measure to reduce tobacco consumption, and the inevitable deaths that follow, the influence of ITIC on public officials and finance ministers has the potential to be – quite literally – a killer. ITIC has targeted developing countries as the major growth markets for tobacco; it is in these countries where the death toll will be greatest, if the tobacco lobby succeeds.

Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that it works closely with leading international organisations, multinationals and global professional services firms. The campaign to expose ITIC as a front for tobacco interests, coordinated by the Tax Justice Network, ASH (UK) and the FCA contacted all the groups named by ITIC, described the ITIC’s role as a lobbyist for tobacco and asked the groups to disassociate themselves from ITIC. The letter that was sent can be viewed here.

The organisations that responded overwhelmingly expressed support for the the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, and in many cases outlined their dismay at the claims made by ITIC.


Previously, ITIC regularly claimed – including on the very front of their website – that “ITIC works closely with ministries of finance, customs services and tax authorities in 85 countries, as well as international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Customs Organization, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”[1]


Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said:

“I am writing to confirm that the World Bank Group (WBG) does not have a formal partnership with ITIC. We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC (on November 29 and December 1, 2015), requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage, and also remove the World Bank Group’s logo from several other pages and PDFs on their website. I am pleased to note that this request has been complied with by the ITIC… I appreciate all of your strong advocacy for better global public health policy on tobacco, which has been extremely important to ensure better regulation of tobacco and to save lives. We look forward to working together towards the same goals.”

The International Monetary Fund stopped short of full disassociation, but wrote: “We understand your concerns with the work of the ITIC on tobacco… [W]e have asked them to clarify the nature of our interactions with them on their website.”

This involved, again, the removal of nearly all references and above all the claim on the site’s front page of ‘working closely together’. The World Customs Organisation wrote that “ITIC is not a partner”, and references have also since been deleted from the ITIC website (except a quote from 2011).

Perhaps most damning of all was the response from the African Tax Administrators’ Forum (ATAF), a key regional body, whose executive secretary Logan Wort said:

“Allow me to state categorically that ATAF does not partner, cooperate nor collaborate with the ITIC in any way, and has no intention of doing so. Officials of the ATAF Secretariat had attended two of its meetings a few years ago in order to establish its motives and how the organisation functioned, however we soon distanced ourselves from the ITIC, with the ATAF Council also directing the Secretariat to inform all ATAF members of this decision, and warning them against associating with the organisation…

“We are thus well aware of the activities of the organisation and find its objectives and modus operandi to be in direct conflict with everything that ATAF stands for. In recent discussions with officials of the World Health Organisation, we were also in full agreement that higher taxes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco use among vulnerable populations.

“We had also requested the ITIC to remove the ATAF logo from its website and all of its publications. Should we find that the ITIC has continued to abuse our logo or (mis)informed stakeholders of any association or partnership between our respective organisations, we will demand, in the strongest of terms, that they desist with this practice. Rest assured of our full support for this campaign.”


Before the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, ITIC listed around a hundred multinationals, global professional services firms and national authorities on its roster of sponsors. While some have told the campaign they will continue with their support, such has been the response that ITIC has now removed the list entirely from their website – so it is no longer possible to see which supporters remain.

Nestlé said that it had ceased to make any contribution to ITIC in 2014, but that the letter had drawn their attention to the fact Nestlé’s logo was still displayed on ITIC’s website, so “we have taken action on this.” Similarly, the law firm Pinsent Masons said there was “no on-going relationship with ITIC, having last engaged with the organisation in 2013.” The Qatar Financial Center thanked the campaign for highlighting the claims on the ITIC website, and said: “we will write to ITIC formally to request the immediate removal of our name from their list of sponsors and any promotional materials or publications; we will also consult with Qatar’s Ministry of Finance on any further action that needs to be taken.”

However, Carlsberg told campaigners: “we do not plan to participate in the activities mentioned in your letter. We have our policy of Responsible Drinking and other projects are beyond our plans.” IBM said: “The policy issues discussed in your letter fall outside the scope of, and do not directly impact, IBM’s business.”


ITIC’s approach has often involved working with or funding existing think tanks or research centres, in order both to draw on their credibility and in some cases to generate new findings that support the case against strong tobacco tax measures – notably, by suggesting that high tobacco taxes will simply lead to growth in illicit trade. Most prominent amongst these has been Oxford Economics, whose chair Adrian Cooper told campaigners in May: “I can assure you that we consider all such representations very seriously and we will table your letter for a discussion with our Board.” Subsequent requests for an update or Board response have not been replied to.


Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH UK), said: “This is a fantastic victory. For years, this tobacco industry-funded tax think tank has bolstered its credibility by claiming the support of major global organisations – and now those claims have been revealed as completely hollow. We should no longer be surprised at the tobacco companies being liberal with the truth, but the willingness to misrepresent relationships is still striking. Nobody should take this outfit or its claims seriously – least of all, public officials.”

Dereje Alemayehu, chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ), said: “For developing country policymakers, the claim of working closely with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank carry a great deal of weight. Now these organisations have demanded that ITIC stop making these misleading statements, people can see the true picture – that this is just one more lobby group, pretending to offer technical analysis but really just pushing an agenda. And a particularly poisonous agenda at that.”

Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said: “We need to expose how the tobacco industry funds third parties to do its lobbying. Every lobbying success of Big Tobacco causes a delay in life-saving measures in developing countries. This wave of public disassociations should send a clear message to the ITIC that being a spokesperson for the tobacco industry runs counter to global movement to reduce tobacco use.”

Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network said: “If current trends persist, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide annually by the year 2030, with 80 percent of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries. If ITIC’s loss of credibility undermines their ability to influence for Big Tobacco, in a way that reduces that by just 5%, it would save 400,000 lives a year.”


[1] Quotation from ITIC website as at 18 November 2015, currently available in archive from:

[2] Quotations from ITIC website as accessed at 8 July 2016.


The organisations involved in the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts are: Action on Smoking and Health, (UK); Action on Smoking & Health, USA; Action on Smoking and Health, Scotland; African Tobacco Control Alliance; Association of Directors of Public Health, UK; British Heart Foundation; British Lung Foundation; CAFOD; Cancer Research UK; Christian Aid; Faculty of Public Health, UK; Framework Convention Alliance; FRESH; Global Alliance for Tax Justice; Health Poverty Action; InterAmerican Heart Foundation; International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; Latindadd; Save the Children; Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA); Tax Justice Europe; Tax Justice Network; Tax Justice Network – Africa; and Vital Strategies.
This press release and the original letter sent to companies and organisations can be accessed at

Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network: +44 7982 236863 and

Deborah Arnott, ASH (UK): +44 7976 935 987 and

Leaked Big Tobacco document suggests it used convenience-store, anti-contraband groups as lobbyists

Across Ontario and Quebec, city and town councils passed a wave of similar resolutions, urging provincial governments to crack down on the scourge of contraband tobacco.

It was no coincidence: the municipalities had all been lobbied by convenience-store and anti-contraband associations.

The same, seemingly independent groups have also called for a freeze on legal tobacco taxes, opposed bans on menthol cigarettes and, today, are fighting the federal government’s plan to require plain packaging for smoking products.

But a leaked Imperial Tobacco document suggests that 2012 lobbying campaign was no grassroots movement, and that the retail and contraband organizations have for years been used as surrogates by the cigarette giant to promote its own interests.

The internal PowerPoint presentation describes deploying the convenience-store groups and the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco — both at least partly funded by the tobacco industry — to promote fears about contraband, push for action against it and keep taxes down on legal ones.

The document focuses at length on what it calls Project M&M: “Mobilizing municipalities to pressure for Big Government action.”

It then refers to cases where the convenience-store associations or anti-contraband group garnered media coverage and convinced dozens of local councils to pass those resolutions.

One slide in the August 2012 presentation suggests Imperial’s tactics worked, noting there had been no increases in tobacco taxes since 2008.

“Our campaigns have delivered some success.”

The document — a presentation made to parent company British American Tobacco — was leaked to a public-health researcher by a company “whistleblower,” said Melodie Tilson of the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association.

“This presentation makes it really clear,” she said. “They are orchestrating various organizations and using them basically as their puppets to ensure governments don’t enact effective tobacco-control measures.”

Groups like the convenience stores mislead the public and elected officials when they fail to make clear their close ties to Big Tobacco — whose products are one of the biggest sources of chronic disease and death in Canada, said Tilson.

She and other anti-smoking advocates agree that contraband cigarettes — whose cheap prices may be encouraging more smoking — are an important issue.

But they note the groups have not only called for enforcement action against the illicit trade, but opposed tax increases, bans on flavoured cigarettes and even the move to hide tobacco “power walls” in stores.

In fact, there is other evidence of their close links to the industry, including at least three former tobacco-company executives who are now leaders in the Ontario, Quebec and national convenience-store associations.

It’s a bit peculiar that some are hanging their hats on this particular PowerPoint presentation, in that it addresses contraband … which I think all of us should be concerned about
The CEO of the Ontario group, David Bryans, for instance, worked at what is now JTI-MacDonald until 2002, at one time as director of domestic sales. He has led either the Ontario or Canadian convenience-store trade groups since 2003.

But the current president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, Satinder Chera, denied his group acts at the behest of the tobacco industry.

Cigarette companies are among 60 national firms who are part of the association, representing the stores’ major suppliers from soft-drink makers to oil companies, he said.

The association lobbies on a “slew” of issues, and makes no apologies for opposing contraband, said Chera.

“It’s a bit peculiar that some are hanging their hats on this particular PowerPoint presentation, in that it addresses contraband … which I think all of us should be concerned about.”

Still — like colleagues from his and the other groups at various legislative committee hearings — he refused to disclose what proportion of the association’s funding comes from the tobacco industry.

Jeffrey Guiler, an Imperial Tobacco spokesman, said in a statement that the company works with a variety of groups on a “multitude of issues,” including contraband.

“This criminal activity harms honest small-business owners. They care about their business and we work with their umbrella groups to advocate for their best interests.”

The National Coalition did not respond directly to the suggestion it is part of Imperial’s lobbying campaigns, but noted in a statement that its 18 member organizations have convinced governments to act against “this growing (contraband) threat.”

The Imperial Tobacco presentation lists the company, the convenience-store groups and contraband coalition side by side as conducting various campaigns for years to oppose illegal cigarettes and to “freeze taxes.”

Then it asks “how to keep the pressure on” and answers by describing the 2012 Project M&M campaign involving the same players, but leaning on Quebec politicians during an election year and on municipalities in two provinces.

Through such “front groups,” the tobacco company essentially co-opted politicians and other “innocents,” charged Cynthia Callard of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

“If I was a councillor in any of those municipalities that had passed a resolution in good faith,” she said, “I would feel used.”

Public health researchers fighting back against lobbyists

Boyd Swinburn (left) and two other health researchers are pursuing a defamation case against Cameron Slater (right) and Carrick Graham.

Boyd Swinburn (left) and two other health researchers are pursuing a defamation case against Cameron Slater (right) and Carrick Graham.

Public health researchers worldwide have long been under attack from lobbyists for the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries. Now some are fighting back. Adam Dudding reports.

When Professor Robert Beaglehole was at medical school in the 1960s, everywhere you looked people were having heart attacks. “They were dropping dead in the street.”

Back then, says the cardiologist and veteran public health researcher, there weren’t yet many good treatments available for heart disease, so it seemed obvious to him that he should look at prevention instead: helping people quit smoking; reducing saturated fats in the average diet.

Professor Doug Sellman is an Otago university professor and director of the National Addiction Centre.

Professor Doug Sellman is an Otago university professor and director of the National Addiction Centre.

To do that required changes in public understanding and government policy, so he built a career as a public health scientist, founding Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in 1982 and later taking big jobs with the World Health Organisation.

Scientific evidence led inevitably to public activism. It also led him into the firing line. The spokespeople from the tobacco industry called him and his colleagues ‘health nazis’, ‘do-gooders’, ‘nanny-staters’. He shrugged it off.

Professor Boyd Swinburn is an Auckland University professor and director of a WHO anti-obesity centre at Melbourne's Deakin University.

Professor Boyd Swinburn is an Auckland University professor and director of a WHO anti-obesity centre at Melbourne’s Deakin University.

A few decades on, the insults are as likely to appear on an attack blog as in a press release, but the name-calling continues.

But last week, a few of the targets decided to fight back.

On Monday, Boyd Swinburn, Doug Sellman and Shane Bradbrook announced they were suing blogger Cameron Slater and PR consultant Carrick Graham, over material posted on Slater’s blog WhaleOil. This, almost two years after the earthquake triggered by Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics is a late, and surprising, aftershock.

Shane Bradbrook is a veteran campaigner to reduce smoking among Maori

Shane Bradbrook is a veteran campaigner to reduce smoking among Maori

The trio – Swinburn is aN Auckland University professor and director of a WHO anti-obesity centre at Melbourne’s Deakin University; Sellman is an Otago university professor and director of the National Addiction Centre; and Bradbrook is a veteran campaigner to reduce smoking among Maori – issued a press release on Monday announcing the court action. They’re not yet talking publicly about it but it’s not hard to see what might be bothering them.

For years the Whaleoil blog has described public health advocates as “troughers”, “wowsers” and “bludgers”, and ascribed their opinions to insanity, greed or delusion.

Early on, some scientists were mystified as to why they were targets of Slater’s abusive criticism. It became less mysterious after the publication of Hager’s book, which used the contents of emails hacked from Slater’s computer to show the links between blogger Slater, lobbyist Graham, and industry.

Sellman is a thorn in the side of alcohol manufacturers because of his public comments about the social harm of excessive drinking.

Dirty Politics showed how Graham emailed Slater a post describing Sellman as “mad”, which Slater then posted under his own name. At the time Graham was paying Slater substantial fees. The clear inference drawn by Hager is that liquor industry money was, by indirect means, funding a blog that would attack not just the arguments of a scientist who spoke up against the them, but was willing to attack that scientist’s personal standing.

Beaglehole had seen it all before, here and abroad.

“There is a long history,” he says, “of interference by vested interests in the formulation, execution and implementation of public health policies designed to promote the health of populations.

“The classic example is the tobacco industry, which has lied and distorted the evidence, attacked independent scientists, and paid for tame scientists and front groups to peddle their distortions of the evidence.”

The tobacco industry has the playbook, says Beaglehole, but the food and beverage industries have learnt from them. They’re more powerful because of their size, and they’re more sophisticated.

Auckland clinical endocrinologist and anti-obesity campaigner Robyn Toomath has much in common with Swinburn and Sellman: she’s an expert in her field; she’s called for regulatory solutions to a major health problem and has been attacked by Whaleoil for her pains. A typical post by Slater from April begins, “Robyn Toomath is a health trougher and a socialist. She hasn’t yet met a tax that she doesn’t like.”

Toomath never reads the blog. She’s not suing. But just because she’s not heading for court doesn’t means she think this stuff is harmless.

“It’s a deliberate tactic. It’s not just him being bad-tempered and naughty. It’s a conscious way to undermine you and your credentials. It derails the scientific discourse.”

It seems obnoxious to even ask the question, but is Toomath a “trougher” – Slater’s charming porcine metaphor term for just about anyone who receives public funding for anything?

Well no, says Toomath. And nor are her public health colleagues. When they campaign it’s “in a public-spirited capacity. Doug’s ceaseless campaigning for better alcohol control isn’t something his university is paying him for.”

Toomath’s charity Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE) received some funding under the Labour government, but it was for education and data-gathering – “there even a clause that they were not funding us for the purposes of lobbying”.

“The government is not paying us to be advocates, so squandering money doesn’t hold water as a reason to attack us.”

Peter Griffin, manager of the Science Media Centre (SMC), says personal attacks on scientists are harmful even when they fall short of defamation.

The SMC coaxes scientists into explaining and interpreting the evidence behind a news story.

At the best of times “it’s really hard to get scientists to come out of their shell and talk about controversial issues, so having that kind of vicious attacking and smearing going on is a real disincentive”.

Some experts that we should be hearing from “don’t even speak, because they don’t want to be a target”.

This defamation case, successful or not, will “crystallise” the frustration that a lot of academics felt in the wake of Dirty Politics, when they realised that tactics that made the tobacco and alcohol industries abroad notorious were also happening, albeit on a mini scale, in New Zealand.

Not all scientists like to speak out, but in fact it’s in the job description. According to the 1989 Education Act to be a university academic is to accept the role of “critic and conscience of society”.

In public health especially, it’s a short step from recognising possible interventions, to testing them out, to wanting to see them implemented on a grander scale.

Currently the noisiest public health conversation is around whether we should tax sugar or sugary drinks to fight obesity and tooth decay, but many older arguments are still playing out, decades after they began: plain packaging of cigarettes, marketing of junk-food to children, taxation of alcohol and cigarettes, labelling of supermarket food, sponsorship of kids’ weekend sport by burger companies. And that’s just in New Zealand. Similar issues, and similar attacks on scientists, are going on all over the world.

Since May, UK researchers who receive government grants have been banned from using the results of their work to lobby for changes in laws or regulations. According to the Observer, though the aim of the new law was to prevent NGOs lobbying ministers and ministries with the government’s own money, but senior scientists have said the effect will be to muzzle scientists speaking out on important issues.

Cameron Slater is bullish about his chances against his accusers. He’s been fighting a defamation case against businessman Matthew Blomfield since 2012. In early 2017, he’s due in court to defend himself against a defamation action by politician Colin Craig. In a blog posted on the day the suit was filed, he wrote that he had “become quite comfortable” with being taken to court.

Last week Slater said that of the 31 causes of action made in the claim against him by the health researchers, 14 are too old to be actionable, and the remainder are mostly “hurty-feelings stuff – they’re upset about being called wowsers or bludgers or troughers”.

He says the idea that his blogs have diminished the trio’s public standing are problematic, seeing they’re still regularly called by media for comment on health stories, “and they continue to publish peer-reviewed articles, so their peers obviously don’t think they’re diminished”.

What this is really about, says Slater, is people in positions of power using court processes “to bully and silence critics”.

He says the situation resembles the case in the US of Mark Steyn, a conservative National Review blogger who was sued in 2012 for defamation, after alleging that climate data analysis by esteemed climatologist Michael Mann temperatures was “fraudulent”. The Steyn-Mann case is still dragging on, and Slater says his case, like Steyn’s, embodies important principles.

“It’s part of an ongoing campaign by people who receive public monies and speak publicly about policy and politics and taxes. They want the freedoms to say what they want to say but they want critics or people who challenge them to be silenced.”

Hearing Slater’s characterisation of the clash can be like looking down the wrong end of the telescope, as he inverts the claims of his opponents.

They are the bullies, not him. They are the ones who wish to suppress argument, not him. Health researchers say industry-backed lobbyists are suppressing honest debate, but the way Slater sees it, “I believe in giving people a voice because they are intimidated by these people who come out and attack them. Look at the attacks that Swinburn and Sellman have made against companies like Coca-cola, against Frucor. They think nothing of attaching them in public.” (Some context: Coca Cola Holdings’ New Zealand revenue in the year to December 2015 was $531m.)

Slater is unapologetic about the abusive tone of his blog. “That’s my method … my device is to use humour, to use satire”. People might say he should lift the level of debate and engage with the issues rather than make personal attacks, but that means setting standards” for where the debate should be.

“And once you’re setting standards, that’s where freedom of speech and freedom of opinion are being curtained according to the whims of whoever sets the standards. That’s censorship.”

Much of the news coverage that followed the publication of Dirty Politics focused its revelations about the National government’s willingness to use people like Slater to promote its views and attack its enemies. The chapter about Slater’s attacks on scientists like Doug Sellman received rather less attention.

Last week, Nicky Hager said that when he exposed the links between industry lobbyists and Slater in 2014 he thought “they would look so bad that they would more or less be forced to stop on the spot, but some of the key actors, and notably Carrick Graham, have been publicly unrepentant, and seem to have continued full steam ahead.”

It’s almost two years since the book was released. This lawsuit against Slater and Graham seems unlikely to reach court before next year. Hager might be disappointed that his book didn’t have the impact he expected at the time, but the reverberations aren’t over yet.

Sometimes, says Robert Beaglehole, things take longer than you expect. The anti-tobacco group ASH was set up in 1982. Tobacco’s fallen out of favour in New Zealand, sure, “but who would have thought it would take so long?”

When the science of public health comes under attack, “you have to stick to the evidence”, but you also need to do a bit more than that, even when it gets difficult.

“We have a duty, and that’s to promote and discuss and disseminate the policy implications. Sitting in the lab and not putting your head above the parapet is irresponsible.”

– Sunday Star Times

Who Does the Biggest Lobbying Force in the US Represent? Not Its Members

‘Member companies become de facto promoters of tobacco and adversaries of climate action’

Who does the biggest lobbying force in the United States represent? Not its members.

That’s according to a new investigation (pdf) by a group of U.S. senators, which found that on the issues of tobacco use and climate change, there’s a profound disparity between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s positions and those of the companies it supposedly speaks for.

The investigation, which comes on the heels of leaked polling results showing how the group attempts to suppress the “empathy” of its members on pro-worker positions, is based on research and correspondence with 108 private sector members of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

Led by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), it was triggered by a series of 2015 New York Times articles exposing how the group was working to thwart global anti-smoking efforts and fight President Barack Obama’s plan to limit power plant emissions of greenhouse gases.

The findings, the report states, “[call] into question the Chamber’s allegedly transparent decision-making process, and [suggest] that the Chamber does not accurately represent the positions of its member companies.” As noted in the report:

Approximately half of the companies on the Chamber’s Board of Directors have adopted anti-tobacco and pro-climate positions that contrast sharply with the Chamber’s activities.

Not a single Board member explicitly supported the Chamber’s lobbying efforts.

Despite the Chamber’s description of the Board as its “principal governing and policy-making body,” not one Chamber Board member explicitly indicated that they were fully aware of and able to provide their input and views to the Chamber regarding its actions on tobacco and climate.

In fact, “We found a corporate America far more concerned about public health and the environment than the Chamber’s efforts would suggest. We identified dozens of companies investing heavily to get their employees to stop smoking because they realize a healthy workforce is a productive one. We identified companies from all corners of the economy working to reduce their carbon footprints and affirmatively supporting the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and its international efforts at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris,” the senators write in their cover letter to Chamber Board members accompanying the report.

Yet these members “undermine their own efforts by affiliating with an organization that actively and aggressively undermines efforts to reduce tobacco use and tries to prevent action to address climate change,” the letter continues. “By lending tacit support to an organization that has spearheaded a decades-long effort against policies to address both problems, member companies become de facto promoters of tobacco and adversaries of climate action.”

The letter goes on to urge the members to reflect upon “the effects in Congress of your continued affiliation with the Chamber on these issues.”

Expounding on the influence the Chamber wields, Dan Dudis, director of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch Program, writes in an op-ed at The Hill this week:

While the Chamber is well known in Washington as a big-spending mouthpiece for Big Business, even seasoned observers of the D.C. political scene might be surprised at just how far and wide the Chamber has spread its tentacles.

Dudis also writes that it has a “central role […] in corrupting our political system through more than $1 billion in lobbying and more than $100 million in election spending.”

And that speaks to the campaign spending issues that followed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. As Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote last year:

If its own board members aren’t standing with the Chamber on climate change, who is? Who is supporting the Chamber’s anti-science position on climate and other issues? And who is funding its work to undercut efforts to promote clean energy and reduce our emissions? We need greater transparency in our political system to hold accountable those blocking efforts to address climate change.

WHO’s strategy to put Big Tobacco ‘out of business’

Industry fights public health agency’s veteran chief Margaret Chan on taxes, labeling and trade.

GENEVA — The embattled tobacco industry is struggling to fight off one of its fiercest and possibly most dangerous foes to date: the World Health Organization.

The Hong Kong native who has run the U.N. body for the past decade, Margaret Chan, takes evident pride in being called Big Tobacco’s public enemy No. 1, saying that her goal is to “make sure that the tobacco industry goes out of business.”

In the past year alone, the WHO has called for a 75 percent tax on tobacco products. It’s urging countries to set up their own “track and trace” technology to fight cigarette smuggling, ignoring pleas from tobacco companies to use their own technology. The WHO is actively lobbying European countries to keep Big Tobacco out of discussions about how to implement the EU’s 2014 directive on tobacco products ahead of a May 20 deadline. The EU directive will, among other things, put in place new package labeling rules and ban flavored cigarettes.

Behind the scenes, WHO lawyers are helping governments across the world design anti-smoking policies. In a rare move for the agency, it is taking sides in legal disputes between countries over tobacco, all the way up to the World Trade Organization.

This aggressive approach has prompted howls from the industry. To them, the organization and its boss are straying beyond the WHO’s public health mandate by seeking to regulate — and as Chan openly said, kill — the industry. The tobacco industry says they want to be treated just like any other business.

Smoking and related habits cause six million deaths each year, WHO says.

“We are being ostracized,” said Alan Hardacre, head of corporate affairs strategy at Imperial Tobacco. “One wonders who’s next: alcohol, sugar, salt? Who else is going to be arbitrarily excluded from discussions about their own business, simply because it’s decided their product is not a good one?”

Chan and the WHO are unmoved. Smoking and related habits cause six million deaths each year, the agency says, so its mission is to reduce smoking by any fair means at its disposal. “They simply have to be defeated,” Roberto Bertollini, the WHO’s representative to the EU, told a conference organized by the EU ombudsman on tobacco in late April.

Chan, the WHO director-general, declined requests for an interview.

Undue influence, or free speech?

The Geneva-based agency gained power over tobacco with adoption of the first global public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO, the so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Signed in 2003 and ratified in 2005, the FCTC has become one of the most swiftly embraced treaties in the United Nations’ history, with 180 parties to date. Its implementation is supported by a Geneva-based secretariat housed at the WHO headquarters.

The body promotes higher tobacco taxes to cut consumption, although it only has its moral authority to do that. Since the treaty came into force, the price of tobacco products has increased on average by 150 percent, according to estimates provided by the FCTC secretariat.

“We still have a lot to cover, and our targets are modest,” Vinayak Prasad, head of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, told POLITICO. Industry fights taxation “tooth and nail” because it’s the most powerful tool to fight smoking, he added. According to Prasad, only one in 10 countries is following through on promises to raise taxes and too few are banning advertising and slapping health warnings on packs.

For the champions of the WHO’s hard line on cigarettes, one of the problems is the undue influence of the tobacco lobby. The FCTC secretariat invoked a provision in the treaty that governs ties between the industry and governments to restrict Big Tobacco’s access to meetings on how to implement the accord.

Not fair, say tobacco representatives, who accuse Chan of stifling debate. At a recent gathering in Moscow on the FCTC, industry representatives, members of the public and journalists were reportedly thrown out of the room. Attendees are now screened ahead of the meetings.

“The process has been increasingly exclusionary and lacking integrity, balanced decision-making and transparency,” said Ben Townsend, a lobbyist for Japan Tobacco International.

Industry representatives have managed to sneak into the meetings, in some cases swapping badges with other delegates, said Katharina Kummer Peiry, a senior legal adviser at the FCTC secretariat. “It’s really quite a dirty fight sometimes,” she told POLITICO.

The fox and the cigarette

Separately, the WHO and the FCTC secretariat are urging the EU to keep its distance from industry as Brussels looks at ways to fight the illicit trade in cigarettes under a recent addition to the FCTC.

The WHO push comes as the EU is mulling whether to renew anti-fraud settlements struck with tobacco companies to compel them to take responsibility for when their products are smuggled across borders, avoiding taxes. EU anti-fraud officials are also considering a tracing technology developed by the world’s four largest tobacco companies, known as Codentify.

European cigarette manufacturers contend they simply have practical know-how that could help identify “solutions and realistic ways forward.”

WHO officials have been outspoken on this point. They argue this would run against the FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which was signed in 2012 but still needs to be ratified by around two dozen parties, including by the EU, to become legally binding. The protocol states that obligations to clamp down on smuggling “shall not be performed by or delegated to the tobacco industry.”

“Imagine that you are approached by a fox who offers help, including a hi-tech tracking system so that you can trace the chickens and find out who is stealing them,” the head of the FCTC secretariat, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, said in a February op-ed in the EU Observer. “Is it wise to put a fox in charge of a hen house?”

The WHO’s Prasad says that the EU should be able to do this job itself, noting that Kenya and Turkey, with much smaller economies than Europe’s, have set up independent track and trace systems in just three years. “Why can’t the EU? Why do they want kids’ gloves?” Prasad asked.

European cigarette manufacturers contend they simply have practical know-how that could help identify “solutions and realistic ways forward.”

“This is an incredibly technical area and it’s very difficult to imagine finding some solution without including us in the discussion,” Imperial Tobacco’s Hardacre said. “This is core to what we do. These are our factories. This is going to impact us, and we have a lot of technical expertise.”

‘Clouded by zealousness’

Peter van der Mark, secretary-general of the European Smoking Tobacco Association, called the WHO “clouded by emotion and zealousness” in its bid to eradicate smoking.

“A smoke-free Europe is very difficult to achieve, because you’re bending the habits of people who in many countries regard it as a free choice,” he said.

Even as they battle, both sides admit smoking is a habit that’s tough to change.

Large no-smoking signs greet visitors at WHO’s leafy Geneva headquarters, and for eight years now, the organization has had a policy of not hiring smokers, or at least those who don’t want to quit.

But within the entirely “healthy, smoke-free” campus, on one wing of the building, a smaller laminated note is pinned onto a pillar.

“Do not throw butts on the ground,” it read. “Use your own ashtray. Thanks, the gardeners.”