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Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging

24 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Jenny Hatchard, University of Bath

Tobacco companies want to sell you cigarettes – today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re at the tobacco counter or out with friends, glitzy cigarette packaging is a really important part of their sales pitch. Tobacco companies are aware of this. It’s why they are so opposed to their cigarettes being put in plain packaging.

But it isn’t just tobacco companies that are against plain packaging. In the UK, where plain packaging was introduced in 2016, business associations, think tanks and civil society groups publicly campaigned against the policy and academics, research consultants and public relations and law firms variously wrote lengthy reports and lobbied the government.

But why would these organisations lobby against plain packaging? On looking into these opposition groups, our recent research gives a clear answer. Opponents of plain packaging tend to have links to the tobacco industry. So much so that three-quarters of organisations identified in our study had financial links to tobacco companies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Decades of research into political activity by the tobacco industry has shown that “third parties” are used to campaign against tobacco-control policies. Health advocates are aware of this. In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control committed the countries that signed the convention to protect tobacco policy from interference by the tobacco industry and, crucially, groups linked to them. In response, in 2011, the UK government committed to publishing details of any policy meetings with tobacco companies and the Department of Health routinely requests disclosure of tobacco industry links. So far so good. In doing so, the UK sets a strong example.

Third party interference

But our research shows how “third party” opposition to tobacco control policies extends tobacco industry interference beyond this realm of government. In a three-year period which included the 2012 government consultation on plain packaging, 88% of research and 78% of public communications opposing plain packaging were carried out by organisations with financial links to tobacco companies (see figure 1). And public and retailer campaigns funded by tobacco companies to mobilise opposition to plain packaging generated 98% of the more than 420,000 negative postcard and petition submissions to the consultation.

Figure 1
Author provided

In this way, ideas and arguments that come from tobacco companies and their research spill into public spaces. Once there, they can influence the public and political mood on life-saving tobacco control policies and create a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. This is known in the world of political science as “conflict expansion”. And the potential effects are significant. When widespread, these “third party” activities can work to delay and even prevent policies: it took four years to get from consultation to implementation in the UK.

This wouldn’t be so serious if organisations and tobacco companies were open about their relationships. But, in many cases, links were not easy for the research team to detect. Of 150 examples of public communications, less than 20% explicitly acknowledged tobacco industry connections. And, while academics and research consultants tended to clearly report funding sources, “third parties” promoting their research in press releases, news stories and letters to government, frequently did not.

If they were open about their financial relationships with tobacco firms, business and civil society organisations would give the public, politicians and officials the opportunity to scrutinise their arguments and evidence in context. In the case of plain packaging, a lack of openness masked these links and lent credibility to claims that the policy lacked evidence and would increase the trade in illicit cigarettes – claims which have been shown to be unfounded by both peer-reviewed research and by the High Court in Britain. Now, as more countries move to introduce plain packaging, “third party” transparency remains an issue.

In order to help countries guard against tobacco industry interference, awareness can be raised of the effects of their activities on public and political debates. And steps could be taken to make their relationships with tobacco companies clearer. A compulsory register of tobacco companies’ memberships, political activities and associated spending would be a strong first move.

There is strong global commitment to addressing the problem of tobacco industry interference. Parties to the framework convention meet in India in November amid concerns about this issue, and the message to the tobacco industry from the WHO is clear: “The world understands who you are and what you do, and is determined to stamp out the global plague which you do so much to spread.”

The Conversation

Jenny Hatchard, Political Scientist, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Attacking the source of a 6 million deaths per year epidemic: tobacco industry divestment

20 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Dr. Bronwyn King

CEO, Tobacco Free Portfolios

I never would have imagined my work as a doctor would take me to corporate boardrooms across the globe, from Melbourne to London, Paris, New York and more. But then I never would have imagined I would be invested in the tobacco industry either.

In my early time as a doctor, I did a placement on the lung cancer ward of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Despite being able to offer the very best medicine available, the majority of my patients died, many of them in their 50’s and 60’s, some as young as 40. It was shocking to bear witness to the true impact of tobacco. Whilst the treatment and care of patients is paramount, we must deal with the source of the problem – tobacco and the companies that manufacturer it.

Once I discovered that through my compulsory pension fund, I was invested in and actually owned a part of a several tobacco companies, I couldn’t just do nothing – I had to take action.

In my quest to disentangle the Australian pension sector from tobacco I’ve become well informed about tobacco and the extent of the ‘tobacco epidemic’, as it is referred to by the World Health Organisation. The numbers astound me. Six million deaths per year are attributed to tobacco and we are on track for one billion tobacco related deaths this century.

Many, including investors (both individual mums and dads as well as big financial institutions), aren’t actually aware of the extent of their tobacco exposure. Tobacco stocks are generally picked up in standard products. Often, tobacco companies have not been selected specifically for investment, but they are wrapped up within default investment products, so they still find a way into your portfolio.

I founded Tobacco Free Portfolios to collaboratively engage with leaders of the finance sector to encourage tobacco free investment. Finance executives have been alarmed also, at the scale of the tobacco problem and have deeply considered the role they can play in addressing this pressing global issue. One by one, they have acted and are now proud to lead organisations that are tobacco free. There are now 35 tobacco free pension funds in Australia – just over 40% of all funds. Each tobacco free announcement is met with resounding public support.

Tobacco Free Portfolios recently took a global step and we were delighted to work with the global insurance giant AXA who announced a tobacco free decision in May 2016, divesting $1.8B Euro of tobacco assets. More organisations are soon to follow suit. That is the way of the future. Affiliations with the tobacco industry are no longer wanted. There are very few individuals or organisations that actively seek to be a part of the tobacco industry. The associations are often so deep and longstanding that it can seem overwhelming – but they must be addressed and they must be undone.

Momentum for tobacco-free investment continues to grow steadily and I can confidently say that the conversation in Australian has largely moved from ‘should we go tobacco-free?’ to ‘how can we go tobacco-free?’ This is a pleasing development and a terrific case study, however, there is still much to do to accelerate action across the globe. The good news is that conversations I have in Paris, Singapore, London and New York are received with exactly the same concern as the conversations I have in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. The devastating impact of tobacco is felt everywhere on Earth. Tobacco is everyone’s problem, not just the doctors that provide the care and treatment. We should all feel obliged to do something about it and all those with investments, including those through compulsory pension schemes have a role to play.

It’s up to us to keep tobacco control on the agenda and in public dialogue. A tobacco free future that will allow our children and the generations to come to enjoy long and healthy lives should be our shared hope.

Further details available at

This article will also be published as part of the conference materials for the 17th World Conference on Lung Cancer, to be held in Vienna, 4-7 December 2016. 

Southeast Asia: Indonesia lags in curbing tobacco industry interference in policy making

11 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Indonesia has once again emerged as a clear laggard in curbing tobacco industry interference in policy-making, according to a report ranking countries in the Southeast Asia region based on their level of implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is the third annual report on tobacco industry interference prepared by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

Indonesia is the only country whose score increased in both the 2015 and 2016 reports among the seven surveyed in all three years (Brunei, Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Indonesia). Its 2014 score of 78 (the first year of the survey) reflected a very high level of interference, and exceeds the scores of all other countries in any year of the survey. Indonesia’s score has continued to worsen, and stands at 84 in the 2016 report. The maximum possible score is 100; a higher score reflects a greater level of interference.


Ranking of countries in the Southeast Asia region by tobacco industry interference, as calculated by SEATCA. Source: 2015 ASEAN report on implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3.











The dismal result is a stark illustration of why Indonesia, one of only a handful of countries that has not signed the FCTC, is a tobacco control ‘rogue state’. The country achieved worldwide infamy in 2010 when a video of a smoking toddler went viral. The video prompted increased media coverage of the striking absence of effective tobacco control policies and regulation in Indonesia, a situation which tobacco companies have taken full advantage of to saturate the country in cigarette advertising.

The Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS) of 15 low and middle income countries with high tobacco use published in 2012 found that Indonesia was among the countries with the highest adult male smoking prevalence at 67%. The lax regulations extend to failure to protect Indonesians from secondhand smoke; the GATS also found that 85% of people who visited restaurants were exposed to tobacco smoked and 82% reported seeing cigarette advertising within the last month – exposure far higher than any other country surveyed. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s (male) youth smoking prevalence is among the highest in the world; according to the 2014 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 35% of boys aged 13-15 are current smokers.

At the other end of the scale, the standout countries in the 2016 report were Brunei and the Philippines. Brunei was ranked first for the third year in a row with a score of 29, unchanged from 2014 and 2015. The Philippines has seen a dramatic improvement from a score of 71 in 2014 down to 38 in 2016. Cambodia and Malaysia have also shown consistent improvement from their 2014 scores to be ranked equal fourth at a score of 49 in 2016.

The SEATCA report can be accessed by clicking here. 

The world of predatory publishing: what is it, and what might it mean for tobacco control?

23 Sep, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor


Raymond Boyle

ClearWay Minnesota

If your email inbox is anything like mine, you receive a near constant stream of requests to send a manuscript to the next new journal. Most researchers are familiar with this type of academic spam: the journal name might sound familiar, but these requests usually appear as a generic template.

While such requests are straightforward to detect and delete without response, a colleague recently received a request that sounded interesting. It was an email thread from an editor expressing strong interest in an update of his research from six years ago. How flattering it would be for an editor to not only pay such attention to the work, but also consider it worthy of an update! Except…this marketing ploy had been identified in a recent blog devoted to the misbehavior of predatory open access publishers. The blog, posted at Scholarly Open Access was written by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian and associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

Jeffrey has been a critic of the practices employed by predatory open access publishers since he started tracking the industry in 2009. I asked Jeffrey if he would be willing to help us understand this variant of open access publishing.

Jeffrey, many thanks for agreeing to share your knowledge. My first question:  What is going on – why are so many people asking in email if I’m having a good day, and would I send them my next manuscript, or join their editorial board?

They want your money. These people are representatives of open-access publishers and standalone journals using the gold (author-pays) open-access scholarly publishing model. While some open-access publishers are honest and ethical, many are not, and these have come to be called predatory publishers. Now, becoming a scholarly publisher is quite easy — all one has to do is get a website, name a few journals, and he or she is in business. This low barrier to entry has enabled the creation of hundreds of unethical publishers seeking to profit from researchers. Because there are now so many, the competition among them is intense, so they spam incessantly, hoping to be the one that grabs your interest and your manuscript submission.

Next is a multi-part question: I have been casually following the changes in publishing for a few years, but you have devoted some significant effort to the topic. Can you talk about your motivation, the creation of Beall’s list, and your top 5 markers that a publisher is a predatory publisher?

My initial interest was as a researcher myself. I was on tenure track and was always alert to new publishing opportunities. At the same time, the gold open-access model began to become popular and some of these open-access publishers began spamming. I initially created lists of such publishers merely as a curiosity. Now the mission of my lists is to help researchers avoid submitting their work to these exploitative publishers, to help protect them from the predators.

In the broadest terms, predatory publishers are not honest, not transparent, and do not follow scholarly publishing industry standards. They use deceptive spam emails to attract article submissions, and many of them give false information about their journals’ metrics, specifically claiming that they have impact factors when they really don’t. These publishers do a fake peer review, or they don’t do it at all. Peer review, as you know often ends with papers being rejected, but this is contrary to the mission of predatory publishers, who hope to accept as many papers as possible so they can earn the revenue from the authors.

In recent years your efforts as a critic have been met with resistance from a few academics and the publishers you are shining a light on.  The term “predatory” appears to bother some of your detractors.  Are we living in a post predatory publishing time?  Is predatory still accurate?

The terminology isn’t as crucial or worrisome as the threats to researchers and the threats to science that the predatory publishers pose. I coined this term over six years ago, so it’s natural that the usage might not fit as well now as it did when the concept was new. I’ve also learned that the term doesn’t translate well into some other languages. I am not arguing that we keep the term, just that we continue to alert researchers to the perils of these unethical, low-quality, and parasitic publishers.

For those of us conducting research in the field of tobacco control, should we be concerned about the proliferation of open access publishing?  What are your concerns for the future of OA publishing?

You should be concerned about the proliferation of predatory open-access publishing, in my opinion, and about the negative influences it is having on the scholarly publishing industry as a whole. Standards are being lowered across the board and peer review is being devalued. Moreover, scholarly indexes are including predatory journals among those they cover, meaning much junk science, activist science, and conspiracy theory science is being mingled in the indexes with legitimate research. Science is cumulative, with novel research built on the foundation of science as recorded in the scholarly record. But this record is slowly filling with unvetted research, threatening the future of science itself.

Finally, has anyone used the automatic acceptance offered by predatory journals to publish ‘research’ showing that smoking is harmless?

No, but some have used predatory journals to make many unscientific claims about health issues, so a research finding that tobacco is safe for humans cannot be far behind.

Finally, some truth in advertising from the tobacco industry

21 Sep, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Stan Shatenstein

Editor & Publisher, STAN Bulletin

JTI-Macdonald is one of Canada’s big three tobacco firms. On Saturday 17 September, it ran an ad in several of Canada’s leading newspapers to argue against tobacco plain packaging legislation, which the Canadian government is currently considering. The ad is shown here:

Advertisement by JTI-Macdonald against tobacco plain packaging in Canada

Advertisement by JTI-Macdonald against tobacco plain packaging in Canada












The ad may have been intended to argue against plain packaging, but by loading a cigarette pack with 20 bullets, the company has inadvertently reminded Canadians that the product it sells is actually a deadly weapon – a smoking gun, by an unconscionable industry’s own unconscious admission.


New Zealand: no more ‘silent salesman’ – cigarette plain packaging passed

9 Sep, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

On 8 September, New Zealand joined a growing international move to outlaw the tobacco industry’s ‘silent salesman’ when it became the latest country to introduce cigarette plain packaging.

The legislation – the Smoke-Free Environments (Tobacco Standardised Packaging) Amendment Bill was passed on its third and final reading in the New Zealand parliament with 108 votes in favour, 13 against.

The move has been welcomed by health experts as a an important measure towards achieving the goal of Smokefree 2025. Professor Janet Hoek, co-director of  research group Aspire 2025 said: “Standardised packaging is a pivotal measure in the road to Smokefree 2025. It transforms tobacco packaging from a highly effective marketing tool, particularly for youth and young adults, to a plain and unattractive object.  For decades, tobacco companies have used skilfully designed packaging to help attract the next generation of smokers and the government has rightly ended this practice.”

Professor Hoek has led several studies on cigarette plain packaging, as well as an innovative study on the potential for dissuasive cigarette sticks.

Australia, the United Kingdom and France have already introduced plain packaging, while several other countries have either legislated or are preparing to legislate for them, in line with guidelines for implementation of Articles 11 and 13 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Uruguay: five key messages from Philip Morris’ failed challenge to packaging laws

31 Aug, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Hot on the heels of the tobacco industry’s failed legal challenge to the UK’s tobacco plain packaging laws in May 2016, Philip Morris suffered a new defeat in July, this time in its long-running case against Uruguay’s health warning labels.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer has prepared a paper outlining key aspects of the judgement which are relevant for other governments planning to implement similar legislation to meet their obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The key points explored in detail in the analysis are:

  1. Uruguay’s measures did not substantially deprive Philip Morris of its investments or frustrate any expectations related to those investments
  2. States have a right to regulate in the public interest, including for public health
  3. It is not the role of investment tribunals to second-guess policy decisions, particularly where the evidence is complex or contested
  4. The WHO FCTC and its Guidelines add legal and evidentiary weight in support of states’ tobacco control measures
  5. Public health is an important normative value in investment law adjudication

Full details, including the paper can be found here:

More analysis:

Australia: progress on Tasmania’s tobacco free generation legislation

15 Jul, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Kathryn Barnsley, University of Tasmania

In 2012 and 2014 we reported that the Australian state of Tasmania was developing mechanisms for implementing the tobacco free generation (TFG).

Tasmania has been paradoxically both a leader in legislative reform and a laggard in allocating resources to tobacco control.

The Public Health Amendment (Tobaccofree Generation) Bill 2014 was tabled in the Tasmanian Parliament in November 2014 by an Independent MP Hon. Ivan Dean. The Bill proposes to phase out the sale of tobacco products to any person born after the year 2000. The Bill is a measure to curtail supply; smoking would not be criminalised and there would be no penalties for using or possessing tobacco. The Bill was referred to a Parliamentary Committee in March 2015. It has been debated and scrutinised for well over a year. The committee was asked to look at the workability and practicality of the Bill.

The Committee, brought down its report in July 2016, making the following key findings:

  1. There does not appear to be any significant legal impediment to the operation of the Bill in delivering the policy intent.
  2. The Parliament should take a measured and cautious approach in considering a Bill which could limit or ‘extinguish’ fundamental rights relating to age, equality and liberty.
  3. The Bill raises some practical legal issues in relation to online sales and the impact of the Bill on tourism/tourists. The proposer of the Bill may wish to give consideration to amendment of the Bill to avoid negative impacts on tourism.
  4. Should the Bill be supported, appropriate education programs would be required to effectively implement the Bill. This would incur a cost and would be a matter for the Government of the day.”

A number of submissions were made including one from Lois Ireland, a retailer, who said:

“I made a conscious decision to stop gaining a profit from sales of a product that I knew to be highly addictive and that was causing long term health issues with those who I knew personally as members of my community. I knew they would go elsewhere to purchase their cigarettes but I did not wish to be further implicated in their poor health choices.

As a result, I fully endorse any moves that make it more difficult for young people to take up/continue smoking, despite any effects such measures may have on businesses. To be honest I’d be happy to see a ban on all sales – think how much lower our hospital costs would be!”

Other submissions were made by the tobacco industry and their front organisations including the Alliance of Australian retailers (AAR) which was set up to lobby against plain packaging – but seems to have extended its reach. The UK University of Bath website has exposed AAR as a tobacco industry front organisation.

The Cancer Council of Tasmania (CCT) carried out two surveys of public opinion on smoking matters including questions on TFG. The CCT survey shows that 75% of Tasmanians support the idea of a tobacco free generation, an increase on previous surveys.

The Bill: 

  • WILL prevent the sale of tobacco products to persons born since the year 2000, that is, members of the tobacco-free generation.
  • NOT prevent members of the tobacco-free generation from smoking, or attempting to purchase tobacco products. Members of the tobacco-free generation would not incur any penalties for smoking.

The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has written to the Parliament to advise that the Bill does not constitute unlawful discrimination.

A number of lawyers and an international human rights expert also provided reports and advice to the Committee. Dr. Gogarty from the University of Tasmania said there was no legal impediment to the Bill, but expressed concerns about age discrimination and liberty. A comprehensive response and rebuttal to Dr. Gogarty’s advice was provided by Barrister Neil Francey, who says that Dr. Gogarty abandons a strict legal approach and adopts an “extreme libertarian” approach.

Ethicist Dr van der Eijk added, relating to the absence of a right to smoke. “It is highly unlikely that, given the toxic and addictive nature of smoking, it can be defended as liberty right……and children’s rights.” Also, “Smoking can also not be defended as a privacy right.”

Eminent international Professor of Law, and Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs in Boston USA, Professor W. Parmet also commented,

“Critically there is no fundamental right to exercise all of one’s choices without any, even indirect, legal hurdles. If that were the case, cigarette taxes, which also make It harder for some people to exercise their choice to smoke by raising the cost of cigarettes would also violate individual’s fundamental rights. Indeed, all public health laws would violate someone’s fundamental right, as all impose some road blocks on individual choice. ….In debating the wisdom of any particular public health law, it is important not to confuse the question of whether the benefits conferred by the law outweigh the inconveniences and hurdles It imposes, with the question of whether it violates recognized fundamental rights, such as the right to bodily integrity or free speech.”

The current conservative Liberal Tasmanian government has said that it might raise the “smoking age” to 21 or 25 years instead of proceeding with the TFG. This proposal has been met with a deluge of criticism in Tasmania, as all major local health groups support the TFG proposal and there is immense community support. Professor Simon Chapman criticised the raising of smoking age to 21 proposal as a “symbolic political gesture”.

The TFG Bill may be debated in the Legislative Council in August 2016. However, the conservative Liberal government remain opposed to the TFG, and have implemented no new initiatives on tobacco control since being elected over two years ago.

UK plain packs court decision: interests at stake ‘collide in the most irreconcilable of ways’

4 Jul, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

The decision on 19 May 2016 by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales to dismiss the legal challenges brought by the four multinational tobacco companies against the UK’s tobacco plain packaging legislation was a major blow to the industry. The 386 page ruling addresses a wide range of legal claims and evidence; together with lessons learned from the industry’s failed attempts to overturn Australia’s 2012 plain packaging legislation, it provides an important resource for countries planning to introduce similar laws.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria and the Union for International Cancer Control, has prepared a paper on the UK decision which draws out eight key aspects likely to be of widest relevance to litigation and policy development in other jurisidictions. Included in the aspects of the ruling which are explored and analysed are: the intent and limits of the laws, the conflicting interests of the tobacco industry and public health, the complementary nature of comprehensive tobacco control measures, and the relevance of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Some notheworthy points in the analysis:

  • “…the Court points out that tobacco companies overstate the restrictive effects and implications of standardised packaging legislation” (page 4)
  • “The Court noted that the interests at stake ‘collide in the most irreconcilable of ways” (page 4)
  • “The Court notes that not all rights and interests are of equal value or worth. The protection of public health is one of the highest of all public interests. Health is a fundamental right” (page 5)
  • “…the Court notes that effective tobacco control requires the implementation of a number of complementary, mutually reinforcing measures, and that it can be difficult (if not impossible) to evaluate the contribution of individual measures in isolation to the reduction of tobacco use” (page 6)
  • “…the Court recognises that tobacco control does not and cannot stand still if it is to be effective (page 7)
  • “…the Court recognises the fundamental reality of intellectual property rights – they are created and protected to serve public purposes and interests, and are not absolute. Their exercise can be limited or restricted to serve other public purposes and interests. Public health is universally recognised as a public purpose and interest which justifies limitations and restrictions on the exercise of intellectual property rights” (pages 10 and 11)
  • “…the Court explains why, even if standardized packaging laws did constitute an expropriation of property, standardized packaging would fall within the category of ‘exceptional’ circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to require the payment of compensation” (page 13)

The full paper can be accessed by clicking here.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Knowledge Hub provides a public resource on legal issues relevant to tobacco control. Click here to link to the Hub.


Industry-funded International Tax and Investment Center responds to criticism by attempting to muddy the waters

24 Jun, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Karen A Evans-Reeves, Anna B Gilmore and Andy Rowell

Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath,

The tobacco industry is under attack. In just two weeks, in May 2016, its tactic of challenging any law that threatens its profits, took a big hit. The arbitration panel, that tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) had hoped would overturn standardised packaging legislation in Australia, published its full ruling that the company’s self-serving claims were inadmissible. Just days later, all four major tobacco companies lost their challenges against both the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive and standardised packaging legislation in the UK.

The UK, France and Ireland, which have already enacted standardised packaging legislation, will now go ahead with this brand removal. Further afield Canada, New Zealand, Hungary and Norway are due to follow suit and other countries which have expressed an interest will be buoyed by the way the industry’s legal and trade challenges to plain packs are being soundly rejected. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) slogan for World No Tobacco Day 2016 was “Get Ready for Plain Packaging” recognising that the removal of branded tobacco packaging is “going global.”

Each jurisdiction to consider standardised packaging legislation has received sustained attacks from tobacco companies, using both their own voices and those of third parties which they fund. By commissioning and publicising research reports and opinions from seemingly independent experts, tobacco companies have created not only the impression of a large network of opposition but of an illusory body of evidence, particularly in relation to the industry argument that standardised packaging will increase the illicit tobacco trade.

PMI private documents, leaked to Action on Smoking and Health (UK), revealed that “broad third-party media engagement” and “high profile opinion pieces” would be used to raise awareness of such arguments among “decision makers and the general public” as part of its attempt to prevent standardised packaging in the UK. These documents also revealed that PMI intended to use the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC) as one of its key “media messengers”. Since 2012, PMI has paid ITIC (in collaboration with global advisory firm, Oxford Economics) to produce annual reports on the illicit trade in Asia. These claimed that illicit trade is increasing in the region but have been accused of being methodologically flawed. When publicly available routine data was used in an attempt to replicate ITIC’s findings in Hong Kong, illicit levels were found to be under half of what ITIC had estimated.

Key to the industry’s use of third parties is its attempt to shift the paradigm by presenting third parties as ‘independent experts’ and their research as ‘trustworthy and rigorous’ while simultaneously positioning public health academics as ‘advocates’ and ‘zealots’ and their research as ‘advocacy’. This presentation of corporate pawns as informed moderates producing quality work and public health researchers as misguided fundamentalists producing poor quality work is a public relations tactic employed for decades by corporations in relation to environmental and health issues.

Over the last few weeks this tactic has been adopted by the tobacco industry third party, ITIC, in a series of letters sent to Non-Governmental Organisations (South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), ASH (UK), EU SmokeFree Partnership), the University of Bath in the UK, and the Editors of Tobacco Control, all of whom had criticised ITIC’s activities, some in letters, reports and webpages. ITIC’s letters made three inter-related claims, each of which we explore in the paragraphs below.

First, that public health research should be seen as advocacy while, by contrast, ITIC’s research (none of which appears to be peer-reviewed) should be seen as high quality. For example, in his letter to the University of Bath the President of ITIC, Daniel Witt, claimed:

We have become increasingly concerned about how the integrity of reputable institutions and individuals is maligned by overzealous advocacy ….. and ….by what passes for academic research when it is clearly constructed to fulfil an advocacy agenda”.

This denigration of public health research has been strongly criticised by independent experts. In her 2006 verdict in an extortion case against the tobacco industry in the United States Judge Gladys Kessler noted:

Much of the Defendants’ [i.e. the tobacco industry’s] criticisms of Government witnesses focused on the fact that these witnesses had been long-time, devoted members of “the public health community.” To suggest that they were presenting inaccurate, untruthful, or unreliable testimony because they had spent their professional lives trying to improve the public health of this country is patently absurd”.

The recent high court ruling on the challenges made by British American Tobacco, PMI, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco to UK standardised packaging legislation made a similar point, citing Sir Cyril Chantler’s 2015 review of the evidence:

Chantler … rejected the criticism made by the tobacco companies that those that advised the Government were biased against the industry. Conversely, he articulated scepticism about the methodological efficacy of research results generated by the tobacco companies. He also criticised the tobacco companies for adopting unrealistic criticisms of the output of existing researchers…

This ruling drew upon two peer-reviewed papers, one confirming the poor quality of industry evidence in comparison to public health evidence on standardised packaging and the other paper showing how BAT and JTI  went about distorting and misrepresenting public health evidence.

ITIC’s second claim is that it is not a lobby group. Yet based on widely accepted definitions of lobbying, ITIC’s own descriptions of its activities, and the global health communities’ observations of its behaviour, ITIC clearly acts as a lobbying organisation. Indeed, it has persistently boasted of its lobbying success. in 1995, ITIC produced a document which outlined how “ITIC has developed trusted, advisory relationships with key, senior-level policy makers…..[which]…provide channels for private sector expertise to reach the Government before, during and after the official policy-making process. This combination…… provides ITIC and its sponsors a ‘seat at the policy-making table’”. And in 2004, Daniel Witt, ITIC’s President noted: “ITIC is a public policy organization actively working to change public policy in a pro-investment direction.” Although ITIC claims to be an “independent, non-profit research and educational organization” it receives tobacco company funding and has industry representatives on its Board of Directors.  Outputs such as the Asia-11 and Asia-14 illicit trade indicator studies, commissioned by PMI and published by ITIC along with global advisory firm Oxford Economics, have been critiqued by Dr Hana Ross (on behalf of SEATCA) for opaque methodology and “unverifiable” results that were “inconsistent with results from other studies” in the region (for more on this issue, read here). In 2014, ITIC attempted to destabilise the proposed guidelines on tobacco tax and price policy by convening a meeting with Parties and Observers to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) immediately prior to the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6). The Convention’s Secretariat blasted ITIC for this move.

Finally, in each letter, ITIC’s President, Daniel Witt argues that public health organisations ought to engage with ITIC given its tax expertise. This position displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the FCTC’s Article 5.3 which aims to protect policy making from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. It also displays a fundamental lack of understanding of public attitudes to ITIC. For example, the World Bank withdrew from an ITIC event in India, following a letter from the Institute of Public Health in the country,  similarly, following a letter from ASH (UK), the UK Department for International Development (DfiD) asked ITIC to remove its name, from its list of sponsors on ITIC’s website as DfiD has never been a sponsor, and the FCTC Secretariat has urged all governments not to engage with ITIC.

SEATCA and the University of Bath have respectively published and sent to ITIC detailed rebuttals of ITIC’s letters to them. These rebuttals and the aforementioned high court rulings are unlikely to deter ITIC from trying to influence tobacco control policies such as standardised packaging across the globe and undermining Article 5.3 of the FCTC. But the more people who reject engagement with ITIC, the harder it will be for ITIC to boast that it can get its tobacco industry clients a “seat at the policy making table”.

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