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Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance’_Alliance

Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance

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The Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance (TRA) is a tobacco industry funded campaign group, representing UK independent retailers selling tobacco. Until May 2008, it was known as the Tobacco Alliance (TA).

The TRA’s website says it is a “coalition of 26,000 independent shopkeepers who all sell tobacco products” and adds that it is “funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association which means we can offer a free membership to all independent retailers who sell tobacco. We campaign on issues of relevance to both their businesses and to the industry”.[1] In the financial year 2000/1 the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) budgeted to spend £180,000 on the group, but forecast that the actual spend would be £190,000.[2]

TRA has been represented by the public relations (PR) companies PR21 and its sister company Edelman.[3]


History: ‘How to set up a Tobacco Alliance’

In 1983, a TA employee, Tony St Aubyn, the then assistant director of the Public Relations subcommittee of the Tobacco Advisory Council, gave a presentation to a public relations workshop in Washington called ‘How to set up a Tobacco Alliance’. He explained that UK tobacco companies saw it as part of their “total communications package”, with the TA being ” born as a communications network for all those who work in the industry, for the industry or whose livelihoods depend upon it”. There was an emphasis on encouraging others to campaign for their ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’, and one of the TA’s aims was “to help put forward the case for individual freedom to counter any moves that might further restrict the right of individuals to enjoy smoking”.[4]

Furthermore, tobacco manufacturers wanted to present the Alliance as independent from cigarette companies:

Early on we decided that it would be preferable to keep the Alliance at arms length from TAC and the industry and with its own identity and address, to emphasize to supporters, as far as is practical, that it had a degree of independence. Thus while the industry determines policy and provides the funds, the day to day management is the responsibility of our PR agents Daniel J Edelman. (TAC is the Tobacco Advisory Council, the predecessor to the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association)

The TA presentation also highlighted “the concept of Alliance ‘supporters’ rather than ‘members’ which would have required their blanket agreement on policies and views. Such agreement would have been virtually impossible in view of the diversity of the various groups”.[4]

When the Tobacco Alliance (which later became the TRA) was established the industry stated that it “would encourage its supporters to act either as individuals or as representatives of their own organisations” in order to appear as a separate entity to the industry. It was also “stressed that the Alliance was needed because in order to be heard the entire tobacco family must speak with a unified voice and with confident command of the facts…”[4]

Current Policy Positions and Campaigning

Against a Tobacco Retail Display Ban in Shops

The TRA is opposed to a ban on retail displays of tobacco in shops. Its spokesman Ken Patel says: “This measure will placed [sic] a terrible burden on small businesses like mine, and there is no evidence to suggest it would have any positive impact on youth smoking rates.”[5]

>>Save Our Shops – Lobby Campaign Funded by the Industry

TRA launched ‘Save Our Shops’, an initiative where the Tobacco Retailers Alliance would provide shops with materials to run their own campaign in-store, and get customers to demonstrate their support. Custumors could sign postcards which retailers would send on to their local MP, demonstrating that the public was against a display ban.

The campaign was a succes. MPs got hundreds of postcards bearing the Save Our Shop campaign logo, urging them not to back the government’s proposals. The cards stated: ‘As my local MP, I hope you will protect our independent local shops by opposing this proposal.’ More than 100 MPs signed an early-day motion in Parliament agreeing with the proposal that any plan to sell cigarettes under the counter should be firmly ‘evidenced-based’, a key message pushed by the Save Our Shop campaign. In December 2008, however, the Guardian exposed ‘Save Our Shops’ as a dirty trick campaign. MPs expressed dismay that the campaign had been orchestrated and funded by the tobacco companies, the paper wrote[6]

[M]any MPs had been unaware the campaign was the brainchild of the Tobacco Retailers’ Association (TRA), an offshoot of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the interests of three tobacco companies: BAT, Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco.

The Save Our Shop campaign did little to make its links with the tobacco lobby apparent and its postcards bore no reference to the connection between it and the cigarette manufacturers. The TRA, which also spoke out against the proposals, did not publicise its links with the manufacturers’ body, although the latter’s website carries a small reference to the connection between the two organisations.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group Ash, accused the tobacco lobby of ‘hiding behind the cloak of retailer respectability.’

Against Plain Packaging

According to the TRA, “Traders are concerned that a ban on branding will make life tougher for shopkeepers who sell tobacco without doing anything to reduce smoking rates.”[5]

>> No To Plain Packs – Lobby Campaign Funded by the Industry

In May 2012 the TRA launched the ‘plain packaging postcard campaign’ in response to the UK Department of Health’s consultation on standardised packaging. The campaign’s objective was to distribute ‘no to plain packs’ postcards to retailers who are then encouraged to send them to the Department of Health. TRA spokesperson John Abbott said that “it’s really important that independent retailers air their views on plain packaging through this consultation”, arguing that[7]:

When we are serving customers, it will take much longer to find the product a customer wants if they are all in plain packs and look similar.

Customers may also focus more on price if plain packaging is introduced and this will affect the turnover of retailers.

The TRA offered members arguments against plain packaging and also advise on how to respond to the consultation at its websites, and included the organisation’s own submission to the website.[8]

Throughout the duration of the consultation, retail magazines such as the Grocer and Retail Newsagent consistently featured opposition messages to plain packaging and advertised the TRA plain packaging postcard campaign.

In July 2012, the TRA reported that 30,000 retailers had so far signed postcards, demonstrating how public consultations on tobacco control measures can be flooded with industry influenced opinion.[9]

In 2013, BAT acknowledged it had granted funding support for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance postcard campaign via the TMA.[10]

Against Tobacco Smuggling

The TRA is convinced the illegal trade will profit most from plain packaging[7]:

When around one in every six cigarettes in this country is already illicit, the criminals operating out of tab houses and street markets, undercutting proper shops and not caring who they sell to, will be rubbing their hands in glee.

The TRA supports enforcement acting by Trading Standars to identify, fine and ban from selling tobacco those shops and retailers who do not take proper precaution against selling to minors.

The November 201 TRA Newsletter included a call to report instances of tobacco smuggling. To inform your MP, the Alliance offers a free 0800 number for help to find their adress. For those who want to make an anonymous call, the Newsletter refers to the Customs Hotline or contact the RTA.

Direct Lobbying Activities

The political party conference season is one of the busiest times in the Tobacco Retailers Alliance calendar. In 2011, The TRA team went to the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservative conferences, and also to the SNP conference. The report on the tour in the TRA Newsletter reads as an overview of those MPs and party-members responsive to direct lobbying.[11]

Liberal Democrats

Those who stopped by the stand at the LibDem conference included Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (and MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch); Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (and Strathspey and Twickenham MP) and Stephen Gilbert, the MP for St Austell and Newquay. Ed Davey, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (and Kingston and Surbiton MP) also visited and his discussion focused on the business side of retailing. Another visitor was the Deputy Chief Whip, Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland.


Solly Khonat raised the issue of the display ban with the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, himself!” The team also met with Camberwell and Peckam MP, Harriet Harman and with the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and “rising Labour star”, Chuka Umunna (MP for Streatham) and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Other “leading lights of the party” that stopped by the stall were the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls (MP for Morley & Outwood), Stephen Timms, the Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (East Ham MP) and Shaun Woodward, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (MP for St Helens South and Whiston) The focus of the converstations was on the the effect of tobacco smuggling on local communities.


The TRA stand was “pride of place in the exhibition area and attracted numerous visitors over the four days” and Iain Duncan Smith the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Chingford and Woodford Green MP) stopped by.

Scottish National Party

Geoff Barrett, the Scottish TRA Spokesman (left) took part in a panel discussion held by CitizenCard, the UK’s leading proof-of-age scheme. The event was entitled: “No ID No Sale; “Guess their age and face a £10,000 fine”. Also on the panel were: Edinburgh Councillor Tom Buchanan; David McNeill of Young Scot; Gordon Robb from Highland Trading Standards; Janet Hood from the British Institute of Innkeeping; and Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

MP: Conflict of Interests?

In June 2009, then Labour MP for Tyne Bridge, David Clelland, was criticised by public health advocates for campaigning against Government plans to ban the display of cigarette packets in shops and newsagents without declaring a family link to a senior TRA lobbyist. The Sun newspaper reported that Clelland is the stepfather of Katherine Graham, who was the TRA’s campaign manager. The MP told the newspaper that the family link had no impact on his views, and that he did not declare this link “because he didn’t want to give the impression he was raising issues in Parliament because his stepdaughter worked for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance”.[12]

Public Relations Strategies in 2000

Until 2000 public relations (PR) firm Edelman was contracted to represent the TA, but in late 2000 the TMA re-tendered the contract. [13] At the time, strong evidence was emerging that tobacco manufacturers were heavily involved in tobacco smuggling (see the pages on Imperial and Gallaher Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling and BAT Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling). There was mounting concern among the public and politicians about the amount of money being lost to the public purse as a result of the companies’ complicity. This was a central issue that the successful applicant would have to address.

An internal tobacco industry document, including a ‘summary of agency pitches’, reveals that four PR companies were invited to present their proposals.[14] All information and quotations in this section are from this document unless an alternative source is cited.

Below is an overview of how each agency pitched their proposal to the TMA.

‘Reposition TA as an originator of research’

Corporate Responsibility Consulting (CRC) – a firm that works for British American Tobacco and has run the TMA-funded Atmosphere Improves Results Initiative since 1997[15][16] – put in a joint bid with public affairs company BFi. The team for the presentation included Oliver Griffiths and Charles Baldwin for CRC, and Dee Fernandez and David Armstrong for BFi.

Their main proposal was to “emphasise damage to retailers”, “broaden the ally base”, “reposition TA as originator of research studies” and “talk up community dimension” including a possible campaigning called ‘Community Action on Tobacco Smuggling’. Their budget was £197,000.

The TMA’s verdict was that CRC had a “good global overview based on current knowledge but plans overambitious within constraints of current budget. ‘Mix and match’ with BFi potentially a difficulty”.[14]

‘Change TA’s name’

Brook Wilkinson (BW) put in a bid with a company called Media Strategy “to augment [its] political and media expertise”. BW was already working for the TMA.[17] The presenting team included *Rosemary Brook and Trudi Smith for BW, and Charles Lewington and Karen Alcock for Media Strategy.

BW wanted to “redefine TA objective to limiting tobacco tax rises to level of inflation”, “act fast to take advantage of ‘election fever’”, “widen TA’s partner base”, “change TA name in order to remove ‘tobacco’ – Shopkeepers Opposed to Smuggling suggested” and “encourage greater dialogue/feedback with retailers”. Their budget was £150,000 plus “extra disbursements” including “party conference stands”.

The TMA’s verdict? “Realistic approach based on existing knowledge of TA achievements to date. Involvement of Media Strategy will add value but at a cost. Paul Mason [spokesperson for TA] not keen on new name for TA.”[14]

‘Gather intelligence and have instant rebuttal’

The third agency that was invited to present was PR21, who’s presentation team included Jonathan Hopkins, who was responsible for planning, Joe Brice client management and Nick Tennant for media relations.

The TMA noted that PR 21 provided an “in-house Labour/Conservative mix. Hopkins ex Labour Party/Trades Union campaign adviser. Brice former adviser to Sebastian Coe”.

PR21 proposed to emphasise “relationship building programmes”, “play up community angle and personalise the argument – eg, your shopkeeper, your town, etc”, “work on key decision makers and the circles of influence around them, especially in regions”, “gather competitor intelligence and have instant rebuttal response”, “use website to capture and manage information” and “set up ‘Working to Stop Smuggling’ round table forum in August. They would charge £169,900.

The TMA thought PR21 had a “sharp edged ‘New Labour’ approach to the brief” and would provide a “smooth adoption and harmonization of the Edelman pedigree”. They would offer a “no frills programme which could achieve least disruptive transition”.[14]

‘Rebut manufacturers’ complicity

The fourth agency to present was PPS, including Mark Pendlington, Richard Mollet, Dr Steve John, andPhilippa White


PPS offered a core team based in London “but supplemented by PPS regional network in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton, Cambridge and Leeds”. It suggested promoting “greater public awareness through advertising campaign and regionalized campaigning”, “personalising the cost – criminality, counterfeit, cost per voter/household”, “changing of TA name to ‘Anti-Smuggling Alliance’ to achieve common cause with other sectors”, “rebuttal of ‘manufacturers’ complicity’, ‘doesn’t affect me’, ‘can’t stop smugglers’” and better use of technology “to keep retailers informed and motivated”. Their charge was £114,000 “plus flexible disbursements on projects”.

The TMA thought PPS had a “well researched and presented pitch, manifest commitment to the project and advantage of ‘fresh blood’ approach. Strong intellectual rigour with likely, but untested, ‘hands on’ application. Regional network a bonus.”[14]

It is interesting to note that the PPS proposal emphasised defending tobacco manufacturers against allegations of complicity in smuggling, even though the proposal was to represent retailers who were being undercut by the illegal trade.

The TMA decided to award the contract to PR21 in December 2000. The company started the work on 15 January 2001.[18]


  1. Tobacco Retailers Alliance website, About the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, undated, accessed 23 January 2012
  2. Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, Statement to Accompany Account Submitted to TMA Board of Directors, 20 February 2001, accessed 23 January 2012
  3. TMA Campaign Group, Minutes of meeting, 11 January 2001, accessed 23 January 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Tony St Aubyn, How to set up a Tobacco Alliance, Tobacco Alliance, 20 September 1983, accessed 31 January 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 TRA, Retailers’ disappointment at Lansley’s back-track on display ban, undated, accessed 31 January 2012
  6. Jame Doward, MPs fall foul of ‘dirty’ tricks by tobacco giants, the Guardian, 14 Dec 2008, accessed May 2013
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance, Retailer Plain Packaging Postcard Campaign Launched, 11 May 2012, accessed 31 May 2012
  8. See both and, which are almost identical today, also under the tab ‘plain packaging’, accessed May 2013
  9. Tobacco Retailer’s Alliance, 30,000 shop staff against plain packaging, 2012, accessed August 2012
  10. Simon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
  11. Tobacco Retailers Alliance, Newsletter, November 2011, accessed June 2013
  12. Coreena Ford, ‘MP David Clelland blasted over “smokescreen”‘, Sunday Sun, 21 June 2009, accessed 31 January 2012
  13. TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account, 19 December 2000, accessed 30 January 2012
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account Summary of Agency Pitches, undated, accessed 30 January 2012
  15. CRC website, Our work, undated, accessed 24 January 2012
  16. Air Initiative website, Air Initiative homepage, undated, accessed 24 January 2012
  17. Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, Campaign Group Meeting, 10 December 1998, accessed 23 January 2012
  18. TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account, 19 December 2000, accessed 30 January 2012

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