Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Campaigners raise alarm over tobacco giants’ lobbying against plain packaging

Campaigners raise alarm over tobacco giants’ lobbying against plain packaging

Tobacco industry hires two of the world’s most powerful PR firms in attempt to stop other countries following Australia’s lead

Lynton Crosby

The Tories’ new election mastermind Lynton Crosby, whose PR firm lobbied against plain packaging for cigarettes in Australia. Photograph: Andy Hall

Anti-smoking campaigners have expressed alarm that “big tobacco” has been employing two of the world’s most powerful lobbying companies in a bid to stymie the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes.

Crosby Textor, which has been hired by the Conservative party to provide “strategic direction” at the next election, has played a powerful behind-the-scenes role in mobilising opposition to the Australian government’s plans for plain packaging, which became law on Saturday.

Tobacco giants fear that the landmark law, which they tried to thwart by funnelling millions of pounds into an array of front groups purportedly representing small shopkeepers, will be copied around the world. The UK government has concluded a consultation on the issue and will report next year. Many other countries are studying Australia’s decision closely.

News that Lynton Crosby, described as the “master of the dark political arts” and “Australia’s Karl Rove”, is to become the Tories’ election mastermind triggered concerns from campaigners. “It’s very alarming that Mr Crosby now has the ear of the prime minister while the government is still trying to make its mind up whether to bring in such a law,” said Deborah Arnott, head of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

While Crosby was federal director of the Liberals in Australia, the party accepted substantial donations from the tobacco lobby. Crosby Textor’s co-founder, Mark Textor, has been an adviser to the tobacco industry in Australia, fighting plain packaging.

His clients have included Philip Morris, the owner of the Marlboro brand. His company, which has opened an office in London, Crosby Textor Fullbrook (CTF), has been on retainer for tobacco firms since the 1980s.

CTF has also represented British American Tobacco. Mark Fullbrook, CTF’s co-founder, was also head of campaigning for the Tories.

It has emerged that Luther Pendragon, a major UK lobbying and PR firm whose clients include McDonald’s and Exxon Mobil, has been quietly lobbying against plain packaging on behalf of Philip Morris. The firm has been contacting trading standards officers around the country, warning them that plain packaging “will lead to a significant increase in counterfeiting and so will harm the sales of legitimate retailers”. An email from a Luther Pendragon lobbyist to trading standards teams, obtained by the Observer, says: “We aren’t against their objective, but don’t think this will achieve their aims.”

A related briefing document produced by Philip Morris makes a series of unsubstantiated claims about plain packaging, warning that the “government risks creating the perfect storm for black market expansion”, that jobs will be lost and “that there is no evidence that the move will reduce youth smoking. In fact, it might actually make the situation worse”.

Ash said it was writing to a number of health organisations that have used Luther Pendragon, including St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and NHS Skills for Health, suggesting that they may want to think again before using a firm that promotes the interest of cigarette companies.

“Any of the many health organisations that have used Luther Pendragon in the past should think carefully about whether to do so in the future,” Arnott said. “Do they really want the services of a company that is happy to profit from protecting cigarette sales and fighting efforts to cut the toll of death and disease caused by smoking?”

The lobbying firms’ claims about counterfeiting have been roundly rejected by the Trading Standards Institute, which claims that tobacco products are already easy to counterfeit and that it is not convinced by arguments that suggest the introduction of plain packaging will lead to an increase in counterfeiting.

It also claims that covert safety markings will be used in standardised packaging that will help authorities to distinguish them from counterfeits.

Luther Pendragon’s Brussels office has also been working for the European Retailers and Tobacconists Association. In an email sent to dozens of Brussels-based EU affairs journalists, it promoted a day of action by tobacco retailers in several EU countries, offering to arrange interviews for journalists and providing pictures to illustrate their articles.

“The tobacco industry has poured millions into the campaign to try to stop plain, standardised packaging, first in Australia, where they failed, and now here in the UK,” Arnott said. “That’s because the industry is terrified that standardised packaging will hit their sales.”

Luther Pendragon did not return requests for comment. CTF declined to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>