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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.”

Anti-smoking forces give big tobacco a fight in Indonesia

The densely packed houses along Yogyakarta’s Kali Code River went from drab to a riot of reds, blues, yellows and whites.

Residents did not know who had paid for the elaborate painting job last year. The Yogyakarta press speculated that an unknown company had painted the houses so they would resemble the colourful favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

It turns out the village’s benefactor was Philip Morris International and its “Show Your Colors” advertising campaign. On the side of the Gondolayu bridge that overlooks the settlements sits a giant picture frame, with tag lines hung above it reading, “Create your own story” and “Go ahead.”

The village had been transformed into a giant advertisement for a brand owned by the tobacco company.

The ads were another aggressive marketing attempt by an international tobacco company to gain market share in Indonesia. The country is the second-largest cigarette market in Asia after China, and had the highest male smoking rate in the world — 67 per cent, according to a 2011 survey — thanks in part to the popularity of
pungent clove cigarettes.

Over the last decade, it has become a last Eden for tobacco companies facing declining smoking rates at home. As late as 2004, international tobacco companies had a marginal presence in the Indonesian market.

Today, led by Philip Morris International, they control around 45 per cent.

Yet that push has been met by an increasingly potent coalition of mayors, health officials and anti-smoking groups that has scored some important victories.

In one prominent example, huge cigarette billboards that dominated the highways of Jakarta, the capital, were taken down in 2015, as part of a move to ban outdoor tobacco advertisements by mayors around the country.

Many of the lobbying efforts that led to local regulations, including in Jakarta, were substantially financed by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the US$600 million (S$806 million) fund founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Bloomberg Initiative has designated Indonesia one of its five priority countries, and has donated more than US$10 million since 2007. The initiative is largely focused on establishing local and regional tobacco control laws in a nation with a highly decentralised government structure.

“It’s a battle — like a war,” Dr Yayi Prabandari, a professor of public health at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said of the clash between tobacco companies and tobacco control organisations.

Before the Bloomberg Initiative became active in the country nearly 10 years ago, fewer than 10 cities had laws that restricted smoking in public areas, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which jointly administers the Bloomberg Initiative’s grant programmes in Indonesia. Since then, the group says, more than 170 cities have passed laws heavily restricting smoking in public spaces.

Yet tobacco growing has deep roots here. Indonesia is one of the few countries in Asia that has not signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which mandates strict limits on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

The Bloomberg Initiative has also created a backlash from smokers’ rights groups, who portray Bloomberg as a foreign oligarch determined to stamp out Indonesia’s proud tobacco tradition.

“People who smoke today are stigmatised — we’re discriminated against,” said Mr Alfa Gumilang, the chainsmoking secretary-general of Komunitas Kretek, a smokers’ rights group that accepts funds from the tobacco industry.

The Indonesian government relies on the tobacco industry for around 10 per cent of state tax revenue.

Although tobacco is not nationalised, the government issues growth targets; in 2015, the Industry Ministry released a “road map” for the industry calling for expanded cigarette production.

In October, President Joko Widodo visited the United States to promote US investment in Indonesia. While he was there, Philip Morris announced a US$1.9 billion expansion of its tobacco factories in the country — the second-largest investment that Mr Widodo secured from a US corporation during his visit.

Philip Morris’ success — it controls 35 per cent of Indonesia’s tobacco market through its local subsidiary, Sampoerna — ushered in a new age of foreign expansion. In 2009, British American Tobacco purchased Bentoel, a local tobacco company that is now Indonesia’s fourth largest, with around 7.5 per cent market share.

According to Health Ministry officials, Indonesia’s fragmented government ministries often work at cross purposes when tackling the issue.

Because of the difficulty of making sweeping changes to tobacco control laws nationally, Indonesia tobacco control advocates are increasingly pushing for changes at the local and regional levels, where money from the Bloomberg Initiative comes in handy.

Dr Theresia Sandra, a specialist in chronic lung disease at the Health Ministry, credits the Bloomberg Initiative with helping local governments counter the influence of big tobacco. The group “builds organisations to balance against the strength of industry and opens local governments to the necessity of protecting their communities”, Dr Sandra said.

In one national success, the Indonesian government, with help from the Bloomberg Initiative, passed a law in 2014 requiring manufacturers to put warning labels on
cigarette packaging.

The tobacco fight in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, even extends to the country’s most powerful Muslim organisations, and shows just how central the issue is for society and the economy.

Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, became the first major Muslim group in the country to issue an edict declaring that smoking is forbidden in all circumstances, citing smoking’s devastating consequences to public health.

The 2010 decision was significant: Muhammadiyah operates thousands of schools, universities and hospitals around the country. Almost overnight, those places became smoke-free zones.

But the Indonesian media quickly pounced on a funding detail. Posted on the Bloomberg Initiative’s website was a US$393,000 grant to Muhammadiyah in 2009.

According to Bloomberg’s website at the time, the grant sought “the issuance and dissemination of religious advice on the dangers of tobacco use among Muhammadiyah/Islamic institutions”.

Critics accused Muhammadiyah of seeking to unite Muslim opinion against tobacco in return for the grant money.

Dr Sudibyo Markus, who led Muhammadiyah’s health department at the time, said there had never been any quid pro quo.

Meanwhile, religious leaders affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah’s main rival, criticised Muhammadiyah for supposedly bowing to Bloomberg’s money. But NU, which does not view smoking as forbidden in most circumstances, receives funding from the foundation wing of Djarum, Indonesia’s third-largest tobacco company.

The group’s vice chairman, Mr Maksum Mahfudh, said there was “no relationship whatsoever” between the funding and its decision that it would not forbid smoking.

He added that moving “drastically” against tobacco would impoverish the farmers and sellers who are “grass-roots people of NU”.

For now, the two sides appear to have fought to a draw.

After steadily rising for a decade, the smoking rate has plateaued, according to the Indonesian Family Life Survey, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, that was released in April.

Still, Philip Morris International remains optimistic about Indonesia. In a February conference call with investors, Mr Andr Calantzopoulos, chief executive officer, said Indonesia remained a good bet.

“We remain optimistic about the profit growth opportunities in this key market thanks to its growing adult population and rising income levels,” he told them.

Foreign funders funding anti-tobacco lobby, says ITC’s Y.C. Deveshwar

ITC chairman Deveshwar says certain India-based NGOs are acting at behest of foreign funders based in the US

Guntur: ITC Ltd chairman Y.C. Deveshwar pointed a finger at US-based organizations, whom he accused of “funding” the Indian anti-tobacco lobby, which he said was harming farmers’ interests and indirectly aiding in cigarette smuggling.

Deveshwar did not take any names, but said certain India-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were acting at the behest of foreign funders based in the US.

When asked if he had any concrete evidence to back his claims, he said ITC had passed on “some information” to the government.

“This kind of money, where is it is coming from?” Deveshwar asked a group of journalists on Thursday, before answering it himself. “Behind this is vested interests… where money is given into the hands of so-called NGOs, who are being influenced to kill local brands knowing fully well that smuggled cigarettes of some other industry are going to be used here.”

Tobacco companies in the country have stopped cigarette production owing to a lack of clarity on the size of graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. ITC, the maker of brands such as Classic, Gold Flake and Wills Navy Cut, has shut production at all its five cigarette factories since 1 April.

The ministry of health and family welfare said in September that graphic warnings on consumption of cigarettes shall occupy 85% of packing from 1 April. However, in March, a parliamentary committee hearing the issue tabled a report recommending that new pictorial health warnings occupy 50% of front and back panels of a cigarette pack. Previous rules mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 40% of the front face of a cigarette pack.

The ambiguity on the portion of a cigarette pack that should depict graphic warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco consumption has forced cigarette makers to temporarily halt production till unambivalent rules emerge.

“You do not have to terrorize the consumer by covering the whole pack with warning,” Deveshwar said in Guntur, a hub of tobacco sourcing for ITC, the country’s biggest cigarette maker.

Andhra Pradesh, where Guntur is located, accounts for two-thirds of the tobacco sourced by ITC, with Karnataka accounting for the rest.

Deveshwar said the company will invest Rs . 345 crore in Guntur and make it the headquarters of ITC’s agribusiness division, which has a turnover of Rs . 8,000 crore.

ITC will invest Rs . 200 crore in s 0.5 million sq. ft facility that will provide employment to 500 people.

The facility will also house a research division for agri commodities, he said.

Deveshwar said ITC will source chillies, pepper and millets from Andhra Pradesh.

Guntur’s food-safe chillies, or chillies without pesticides and chemicals, have export potential to Europe and the US, Deveshwar said.

The company will also build Guntur’s first five-star hotel by 2019 with an investment of Rs . 145 crore.

The 144-room My Fortune hotel will come up on a 1.44-acre property that earlier was the site of an ITC guest house. “We are taking a leap of faith in anticipation of growth in this region,” Deveshwar said at the media conference.

Health Commissioner vows to lobby Commission on tobacco transparency

The event discussing tobacco lobbying.

Commission health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis wants the European Commission to be more transparent when it comes to tobacco lobbying and warned that EU institutions faced losing citizen’s trust if no action was taken.

While Andriukaitis’ DG Sante was proactive in releasing details of meetings with the tobacco industry when the EU’s new Tobacco Products Directive was negotiated, other DGs failed to disclose such meetings.

According to some, this lack of transparency breaches Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The convention says that parties are obliged to protect public health policies from commercial or other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies, organised an event in Brussels on Wednesday (27 April) to push for the other Commission DGs as well as other EU institutions to follow Andriukaitis’ lead.

Andriukaitis acknowledged that the Commission could be more transparent, but said that he sees “good attitudes” among his colleagues.

“DG Sante is very active in explaining rules and procedures at different inter-sectoral levels, to raise questions and in encouraging colleagues to follow these procedures,” he said.

“From my point of view, we must show absolutely show our engagement and our fight against tobacco lobbying. Or else citizens won’t believe in the EU institutions,” the Commissioner added.

Roberto Bertollini, the chief scientist and WHO representative to the EU stated that the European Commission had nothing to discuss with the tobacco industry.

“We have an industry which kills half of its users. Their products have no added value. We would like to see this tobacco lobbying finished,” he said.

Tobacco lobbying has played an important part of the transparency discussion related to the Commission over the past years.

In October 2012, the European Union’s top health official, John Dalli, resigned after an anti-fraud investigation connected him to an attempt to influence EU tobacco legislation.

A report from OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office, claimed that a Maltese lobbyist had approached the tobacco producer Swedish Match and proposed making use of his contacts with Dalli to fix the EU export ban on powder tobacco.

The report claimed that, while Dalli was not involved, he knew what was going on. Dalli rejected OLAF’s findings, denying that he was in any way aware of any of these events.

The new Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker has taken steps to improve transparency, O’Reilly said.

But she was puzzled why meetings with tobacco lobbyists and other DGs were not disclosed, as publishing them online would not have added an extra layer of bureaucracy or burden for the administration.

Tobacco industry objections

The event caused controversy before it was held. Tobacco lobbyists complained they were excluded from being part of the panel.

Instead, the lobbyists showed up in great numbers in the audience, according to the list of participants.

Ronan Barry, of the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, argued that by not inviting the industry to be on the panel, the Ombudsman was excluding the industry from the public health debate.

“I’m aware that the tobacco industry is unhappy about not being represented on the panel today,” O’Reilly said.

“I can of course invite whoever I wish to take part in a seminar that I organise. But I did make a decision not to invite tobacco industry representatives.

“That is how I interpret my obligation under the convention. This is, however, a public event and I did not exclude any interest group from taking part,” she said.


The first tobacco control legislation in the EU was introduced in the 1980s. Since then, EU legislation and policy has been further developed in the areas of product regulation, advertising and protecting people from second-hand smoke, as well as prevention.

The new Tobacco Product Directive seeks to regulate products that look and taste like tobacco with the aim of discouraging young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

The compromise stipulates that e-cigarettes will be considered like regular tobacco products if they contain nicotine in a concentration of more than 20 mg/ml.

However, individual member states can regulate e-cigarettes as medicines, if they are presented as having curative or preventive properties.

Refillable e-cigarettes will not be banned, but member states can ban specific types of cartridges for e-cigarettes, if they can justify the ban by safety concerns.

Tobacco lobbyists demand say in EU debate on … tobacco lobbying

When European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly announced she would host a public conference on how to improve transparency in tobacco lobbying, her office quickly found itself grappling with an ethical predicament: Should tobacco lobbyists be let in?

It may sound counter-intuitive to prevent the industry that this Wednesday’s conference will discuss from having an official role in it. Yet the organizers of a similar event in the European Parliament earlier this month did just that, arguing that they were required to keep tobacco lobbyists out by an international treaty.

In the past, the ombudsman has expressed concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding tobacco lobbying, causing some anti-tobacco campaigners to expect a strong statement from her which would set a standard for other EU institutions. But tobacco lobbyists were equally worried that they would be shut out altogether from a debate directly involving them.

“What could be more transparent than a public debate?” — Tobacco lobbyist

The issue is how the EU chooses to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a United Nations deal signed by EU institutions that seeks to keep the tobacco industry out of the health policy process. The language in the treaty is open to interpretation, but lobbyists insist it should not be used to ban them from public events.

“Keeping the industry off the panel while they talk about our business doesn’t make any sense and has nothing to do with FCTC,” one tobacco lobbyist said. “For an event supposedly about transparency, what could be more transparent than a public debate?”

The ombudsman ultimately chose a compromise likely to please nobody: Tobacco lobbyists can attend as audience members, but will not be invited to join the panel discussion. Anti-tobacco and transparency campaigners will be unhappy about policymakers and lobbyists sharing a venue; lobbyists argue they are being denied their right to free expression.

In any case, the upshot is that when European Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis arrives at the event in Brussels, he will be surrounded by tobacco lobbyists — although not all of them will be immediately recognizable as such.

According to a preliminary list of participants, some lobbyists who plan to attend have not signed up to the EU Transparency Register and, therefore, should be barred from having any interaction with the commissioner and his staff.

The controversy is forcing EU health bureaucrats to figure out how to implement provisions regarding industry lobbyists, and to decide whether a hard-line stance will expose them to the accusation they are stifling debate on the future of a legal product.

No blanket ban

The dispute focuses on an article in the convention which states that when “setting and implementing” public health policies, officials should “protect these policies from commercial … interests of the tobacco industry.”

The industry argues that the ombudsman’s conference, which has nothing to do with formulating health policy, does not fall under the remit of the article. What’s more, it says the thrust of the convention is to bring about transparency in tobacco lobbying — something most industry representatives accept.

This argument gets some unlikely support from the framework convention itself: Officials at the FCTC Secretariat point to the accompanying guidelines as the key to understanding how governments should handle day-to-day interaction with lobbyists.

“The Convention calls [on] parties to limit their interactions with the tobacco companies and their interests as much as possible, but does not mandate a blanket ban,” said Tibor Szilágyi at the secretariat in Geneva. “However, the [FCTC] calls for transparency of interactions that still occur.”

The largest tobacco industry association, the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, is relieved to be let in but is still angry at being excluded from a panel including Giovanni La Via, who chairs the European Parliament’s public health, food safety and environment committee.

The group wrote to O’Reilly on April 19 to protest, according to a redacted version of the correspondence released by the ombudsman’s office. An uncensored version of the letter, seen by POLITICO, was signed by Ronan Barry, a British American Tobacco executive and president of the industry body.

Tobacco manufacturers were “disappointed” by O’Reilly’s decision not to invite them, Barry said, urging her to “reconsider our request to allow a representative [to] participate fully in the event as a speaker” or at least to ensure that the industry be “provided with adequate time to present our position and address any queries” raised in the debate.

The response from ombudsman spokesperson Gundi Gadesmann made it clear officials were taking a strict interpretation of the tobacco control treaty, meaning they could not involve the industry in the official discussion.
“It would be harmful if they started taking the floor all the time and hijacked the discussion” — Florence Berteletti, director of Smoke-Free Partnership, an anti-tobacco NGO

In line with the convention, they did not invite in industry representative, she wrote, adding that the event “is not about the tobacco industry. It is about how the EU institutions comply with their transparency obligations as regards their dealings with representatives from the industry.”

That left the tobacco industry fuming. One tobacco lobbyist said the letter proves how indefensible the ombudsman’s position is, because it conceded the conference was not about the formulation or implementation of health policy.

Yet Article 5.3 of the tobacco convention, which Gadesmann invoked in her justification to exclude industry panelists, refers specifically to the “setting and implementing” of public health policies.


Industry sources said Barry planned to try to speak from the audience to confront the ombudsman about her decision to exclude tobacco manufacturers from the panel.

“It would be harmful if they started taking the floor all the time and hijacked the discussion,” said Florence Berteletti, director of Smoke-Free Partnership, an anti-tobacco NGO. “I would hope they would intervene just once and that the discussion would then move on.”

Tobacco lobbyists are dismayed but not surprised. In February, O’Reilly took aim at the European Commission for not making its dealings with the tobacco industry “more transparent” and for lacking “proactivity” in implementing the convention

However, the ombudsman’s decision to let lobbyists attend the conference gives the industry an opportunity to make its presence felt. The preliminary list of attendees, obtained by POLITICO, suggests at least 17 industry representatives have already signed up.

The list highlights the challenge of enforcing the requirement that signatories to the convention “ensure that all operations and activities of the tobacco industry are transparent.” Under EU transparency rules, it’s possible for some lobbyists to avoid disclosing their activities.

For example, Brussels lawyer Kathryn Davies, from the firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, will be in the audience, according to the list. When contacted, Davies declined to reveal whether her firm was working for tobacco companies.

Lawyers are not required to sign up to the European Parliament and Commission Joint Transparency Register, even if they are working as lobbyists. As a result, the names of their clients often remain secret, protected by attorney-client confidentiality.

Some lobbyists who will be in the audience are also not signed up to the Register, which means that under EU rules they will not be allowed to interact in any way with Andriukaitis or members of his cabinet.

Lobbyist Finn Meunier, who works for German firm Concilius AG, would not disclose whether he would attend on behalf of a tobacco company. Another German lobby firm called 365 Sherpas did not respond to requests for information.

Among the lobbyists who are listed on the Register and will therefore be able to speak to the commissioner and his staff are those from Bernstein Public Policy and Red Flag, representing British American Tobacco; lobby firm Pantarhei Advisors Europe, for Philip Morris; and Kreab, representing Swedish Match. Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco will also be represented by in-house lobbyists.

Quentin Ariès contributed reporting to this article.

James Panichi

Pressure grows for Commission President Juncker to end tobacco lobbying secrecy

Splits occur within European Commission, as European Parliament, Ombudsman and NGOs increase the pressure for implementing UN rules for contacts with tobacco industry lobbyists.

In February, European Commission President Juncker took many by surprise by flatly rejecting a European Ombudsman’s ruling recommending full transparency around tobacco industry lobbying. The previous autumn (after an investigation sparked by a complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory), Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly had slammed the Commission’s failure to comply with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as ‘maladministration’. The ruling urged the Commission to publish details of all meetings with tobacco lobbyists online. Four months later Juncker responded by claiming that the Commission “complies in full” with the UN rules, repeating the unconvincing argument that its general rules in the field of transparency and ethics are sufficient.

In her speech “Combating tobacco industry tactics: State of play and a way forward” in the European Parliament a few weeks later, O’Reilly expressed strong regret “that the Commission declined to accept my recommendation to extend proactive tobacco lobbying transparency across all DGs and across all levels of the service.” “And, given the stated commitment of the EU to the Convention”, the Ombudsman added, “I confess to being puzzled as to why that is.” In the conclusions of her speech, O’Reilly offered at least a partial explanation, stating that “the sophistication of the tobacco industry’s global lobbying efforts is still seriously underestimated”.

The Ombudsman, fortunately, has far from given up. Within a few weeks, she will publish a final ruling on the case. O’Reilly is also organising an official hearing in the European Parliament on “Improving transparency in tobacco lobbying”. Among the speakers will be Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health. Andriukaitis has recently voiced strong disagreement with Juncker’s rejection of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Last month, Andriukaitis revealed at a conference in the European Parliament that Juncker’s response to the Ombudsman had not been discussed in the College for Commissioners. He reported that it was drafted by the Commission’s Legal Services, signed by Juncker and sent to the Ombudsman without consulting other commissioners.

In a resolution approved in a plenary vote last month, the European Parliament added to the pressure on the Commission, stating its concerns about the Ombudsman’s finding that the Commission was “not fully implementing UN WHO rules and guidelines governing transparency and tobacco lobbying”, adding that the Parliament “is of the opinion […] that the Commission’s credibility and seriousness have been endangered”. The Parliament’s resolution “urges all the relevant EU institutions to implement Article 5(3) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in accordance with the recommendations contained in the guidelines thereto”.

In his response to the Ombudsman, Juncker argued that tobacco lobbying transparency is not needed because the number of meetings between top officials and tobacco lobbyists has decreased since decision-making on the Tobacco Products Directive came to an end in 2014. This is a clear example of the European Commission seriously underestimating the lobbying efforts of the tobacco industry. Tobacco lobbyists are now targeting other issues, such as EU trade policy (TTIP and other trade negotiations), the renewal of the controversial agreements with four tobacco giants on combating illicit trade in tobacco, and the battle around the choice of technology for high-tech digital watermarks in tobacco packaging to prevent counterfeiting. New documents uncovered by CEO – see box below – show the tobacco industry is also making full use of the Commission’s flagship “Better Regulation” initiative in attempts to weaken tobacco control measures such as health warnings on cigarette packs. This has included attempts to bypass the health commissioner by lobbying the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans, who is responsible for ’Better Regulation’.

The European Parliament, the health commissioner and public health NGOs are calling on the Commission to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations. So what is Juncker waiting for?

Tobacco industry lobbyists using the Commission’s “Better Regulation” agenda

After attending a BusinessEurope meeting with the Commission on the Commission’s “Better Regulation” package, Japan International Tobacco (JTI) requested a meeting with the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans to “discuss a number of specific areas”. When the meeting happened (November 25 2015), the JTI lobbyists only raised “a very specific issue” concerning “the placing of health warning on cigarette packs with bevelled sides”. JTI attempted to use the “Better Regulation” agenda in its lobbying on this issue and went to Timmermans’ cabinet to bypass the Commission’s health department. The cabinet member promised to contact the cabinet of the health commissioner “to hear their side of the story”, but the notes of the meeting also stress that “no further commitments were undertaken”. This meeting was disclosed because it involved a top Commission official, but how many more meetings like this are happening at lower levels?