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April 28th, 2013:

Plain packaging lobbyists under fire over links to tobacco company | Business | The Observer

Tobacco industry

Plain packaging lobbyists under fire over links to tobacco company

Former police officers who gave evidence to Lords on upcoming legislation worked for Common Sense Alliance, funded by BAT

Jamie Doward

The Observer, Sunday 28 April 2013

A government decision on plain packaging for tobacco is expected imminently. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

A tobacco giant is under fire for financing a campaign group run by two former senior police officers who lobbied parliament against plain packaging for cigarettes without declaring their links to the company.

Peter Sheridan, who was assistant chief constable in Northern Ireland, and Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander, warned in a letter that plain packs would encourage tobacco smuggling and play into the hands of terrorists. Neither man acknowledged that he was involved in campaigning group the Common Sense Alliance. The alliance, which claims to represent “a growing community of like-minded people who question seemingly irrational and poorly evidenced regulation”, has been called an “astroturf” organisation – a lobbying vehicle created and funded by business interests including British American Tobacco (BAT), a brewery, a pork scratchings manufacturer and a live event company.

The influential letter from Sheridan and Ramm was quoted by peers and has played a key role in the debate around plain packaging. A government decision on the issue is expected imminently.

Parliamentary officials wrote to Sheridan and Ramm seeking clarification about their links to the tobacco industry after they submitted their evidence. Transparency guidelines stipulate that tobacco firms have to be clear about their involvement in tobacco lobbying.

Sheridan and Ramm insist the letter was written in a personal capacity, but it has emerged that it was sent via Goddard Global, a multinational lobbying firm that provides the secretariat for the alliance. A BAT spokesman confirmed it employed the lobbying firm.

“It beggars belief that Peter Sheridan and Roy Ramm can try to claim they were acting in a personal capacity when one is a director and the other a founder member of an organisation funded by BAT,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health. “This is a serious conflict of interest. The government has legal obligations to protect public health policy from commercial interests and it can only do this if the tobacco industry is transparent about its lobbying activities.”

Cigarette makers fear a UK ban will be copied in other countries, stripping them of their last marketing weapon. Now big tobacco’s extensive role in creating the alliance is under scrutiny. According to the campaign group, Tobacco Tactics, the CSA’s website domain was registered by a man called Basil Dutchak, a tobacco industry veteran, who runs a business that specialises in supporting cigarette brands.

The alliance is backed by the Live Management Group, which works with MAMA Brand Partnerships, which has promoted Rizla cigarette paper, an Imperial Tobacco brand.

A prominent supporter is Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of The Ogilvy advertising and PR group that lists BAT as one of its largest clients.

Sheridan said neither he nor Ramm was paid by the tobacco industry and that his experience had taught him the need to consider how terrorists could exploit changes in the law. Their letter warns: “Any standardisation of pack appearance may make it more difficult to spot and track smuggled tobacco because the lack of distinguishing features make it more difficult to identify.”

Sheridan and Ramm explain that “groups such as the PKK, Islamic Jihad, Al‑Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are widely known to finance their terrorist operations through selling counterfeit or non‑duty‑ paid tobacco.”

Their views about plain packaging increasing counterfeiting are not shared by serving police officers. In a letter to Sheridan, Terry Sweeney, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said: “All the evidence is that the current highly-branded packs are already extremely easy to copy and can be turned round very quickly.”

A BAT spokesman declined to say how much it was paying the alliance. He said: “We are happy to support those who believe the things we do and we have always been very clear that we support the Common Sense Alliance.”