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Archive for October, 2013

Shadowy lobbying against Tobacco Products Directive

11 Oct, 13 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

This post is republished with full permission from Tobacco Unpacked.

A guest blog by Andy Rowell, research fellow at the Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath, and editor of TobaccoTactics.org

  • Landmark TPD debated in Europe this week.
  • Multi-million-pound lobbying campaign inflicted on Brussels by tobacco industry.
  • This week is crunch time in Brussels for public health.

European Parliament MEPs will debate the landmark Tobacco Products Directive, seen by public health advocates as a crucial measure in reducing the harm from tobacco across the EU.

For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been monitoring the activities of the tobacco industry under a ground-breaking academic project at the University of Bath, which has been part funded by Cancer Research UK. Instead of just focusing our output on academic journals we have also developed a wiki, called TobaccoTactics.org, which has more timely access to our research findings.

SOPHISTICATED PR

Tobacco is unique. No other product kills one in two of its long-term users. If someone invented the cigarette today, it would never make it onto a supermarket shelf. It is now over 60 years since the link between cancer and smoking was first discovered, but millions of us remain addicted.

The reason for this, in part, is one of the most sophisticated and well-funded public relations campaigns ever undertaken by an industry. The tobacco companies set out to deny the scientific evidence of the harmfulness of their product and the addictiveness of nicotine. The object is always to try to sow confusion and doubt and delay action.

Such tactics have again been evident in the multi-million-pound lobbying campaign the industry has inflicted in recent months on Brussels. New leaked documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) reveal the extent of this campaign, which targeted the three pillars of Brussels decision-making: the European Parliament, the European Commission and European Council.

PUSH OR DELAY

The documents reveal that by mid-2012, the overall strategic objective of PMI’s lobbying campaign was to either “Push” (i.e. amend) or “Delay” the Directive and “block” the proposals coming from the relevant Directorate on health, DG Sanco, which was in charge of the proposals. To this end, PMI employed a two-fold technical and political strategy to ensure it received as many “negative opinions” from other Commission DGs as possible, as well as to try and ensure a political commitment from other business-friendly Commissioners to oppose what PMI was labelling as excessive legislation. PMI identified key messages to push in its lobbying campaign, especially in relation to the Inter-Service Consultation between the directorates, arguing there was a need to “break” into the “silo” of the European Commission. The main lobbying messages used by the company were that the TPD proposals lacked “legal basis”, “evidence”, “logic” and a “market analysis”.

“TRIGGER NEGATIVE OPINIONS”

Just as PMI had done fighting proposals on Point of Sale and Plain Packaging in the UK, the tobacco giant was keen to highlight the “illicit trade problem”, despite its historical involvement in smuggling. For more information on this see TobaccoTactics.org on smuggling. The company set out to “trigger negative opinions” amongst other Commissioners or their senior advisors, known as their cabinet, and set out to get other “high-level influencers” to directly engage with the Commissioners. The tobacco companies such as PMI have a history of using so-called third party techniques in their lobbying campaign, using other organisations or people to influence the debate on the industry’s behalf.

The reason is simple: the use of third parties removes the message from the interested messenger. Moreover, the tobacco industry is such a discredited voice that it has to look for someone else to be its ventriloquist dummy. The public or a politician may be sympathetic about a corner shop going out of business, but they would have less sympathy towards an industry which kills its long-term customers and whose profits stretch into billions.

LED BY THIRD PARTIES

The documents reveal that PMI’s anti-TPD lobbying campaign, via social and traditional media, would be “led by third parties”. The tobacco giant identified tobacco growers, small and medium-sized businesses, other trade organisations, unions, suppliers, intellectual property organisations, employers’ associations and even consumer associations to front its campaign for it.
And just as the industry used retailers against Point of Sale Display Ban and Plain Packaging in the UK, so they have been central to PMI’s lobbying campaign in Brussels. PMI outlined how the retailers would lobby other parts of the Commission and “promote events to gain visibility” for the campaign. As well as retailers based in Brussels, national retailers associations across the EU were also brought in to help, too.

Another key constituency to front the campaign were tobacco growers and processors. PMI organised meetings between tobacco growers’ unions, such as UNITAB, the European Association of Tobacco Growers and Fetratab, the European Federation of Tobacco Processors, with key officials at the Commission, including a meeting with the Cabinet of the European President Manuel Barroso.

DIRECT LOBBYING

The leaked documents also outline in detail PMI’s strategy in the European Parliament. This time, the tobacco giant undertook direct lobbying as well as indirect. By mid-2012, nearly a third of MEPs had been lobbied by PMI, some 233 MEPs in total. Some MEPs by then had met the tobacco giant four to five times, with meetings happening on a regular basis. Almost half of the European People’s Party and European centre-right groups met with PMI’s lobbyists, the documents show.

At the parliament, the company also focused its lobbying efforts on two influential committees, ENVI and IMCO. The ENVI committee – Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – was tasked with overseeing the TPD through the Parliament. PMI set out to “Break ENVI’s full control on the dossier.” Heads of national delegations were lobbied, as were the “political heavyweights” from each political party. The company sought to “secure political agreement though top level contacts”.

EXCLUDING MENTHOL FLAVOUR

PMI also set out to lobby the Council, in order to create a “blocking majority” against any public health measures it deemed “extreme”. One of these measures is the banning of certain flavours including menthol. PMI’s objective was “exclude” menthol from the TPD. It wanted to get different member states with “significant menthol segments to oppose a menthol ban in TPD at the Council”.

In order to do this it wanted to “neutralise” lead countries in the menthol debate, such as Germany. The use of language such as this is indicative. Here we have a transnational company effectively planning to politically nullify the most powerful EU country. This multi-million-euro lobbying campaign raises all kinds of issues, two of which are deeply important for public health and the political process. The fact that PMI has had such extensive access to the Commission and hundreds of MEPs is clearly a breach of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 5.3 of the Convention requires signatories to protect their health policies “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”. This clearly has not happened in this case.

VIOLATION OF TOBACCO CONTROL CONVENTION

Last week, 11 public health and transparency NGOs wrote to President of the European Parliament to argue these meetings constitute “a serious violation” of the Convention.

“We are deeply concerned about the astounding level of access to MEPs by tobacco lobbyists which has been exposed in the leaked Philip Morris International documents,” they wrote.

PMI has also voluntarily signed up to the EU’s Transparency Initiative and is meant to accurately record how many lobbyists and how much money it is spending lobbying in Brussels. The documents reveal that PMI has been using a significant number of lobbyists and consultants. One spread-sheet outlines that 161 employees and consultants were engaged in lobbying concerning the TPD. By mid-2012, the documents also reveal, PMI had spent €1.25 million on consultancy and expenses fighting the proposals.

TPD MAY BE PUT BACK YEARS

In contrast, PMI only declares nine lobbyists in its entry to the EU Transparency Register. For the whole of 2012, the company estimated that its lobbying spend had been €1 million–€1.25 million. Behind the scenes we know the lobbying will continue right up to any vote. Via the documents we only have a small snapshot of how widespread and pervasive PMI’s lobbying campaign has been. PMI’s key aims are to reduce the size of health warnings and ensure menthol cigarettes are not banned. If the industry can delay the vote at the Parliament and also at the council again, the whole Directive may be put back years. So, just as it has done many times before, the industry will have delayed action, whilst the profits keep rolling in

Waiting out the legal challenges to plain packaging – playing into the tobacco industry’s hands?

4 Oct, 13 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

 

Editor’s note: This article was first published by the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer (Australia). It is republished here with permission. The original article can be accessed here. The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer is a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria and the Union for International Cancer Control. Its mission is to contribute to the effective use of the law for cancer prevention, treatment, supportive care and research. Read more about the Centre here.

Jonathan Liberman, Director of the McCabe Centre

Nearly two years after the passage of Australia’s plain packaging legislation, and ten months after it came fully into effect, the international legal challenges continue. Slowly. And the tobacco industry, which is directly pursuing one of the challenges and providing support to the others, is telling governments considering stronger tobacco control measures to wait until the challenges are resolved.

The last few weeks have seen three developments in the World Trade Organization challenges to Australia’s plain packaging legislation. The legislation was passed in November 2011 and has been in full operation since December 2012.

Indonesia becomes the fifth country to initiate proceedings against Australia. Dominican Republic and Cuba have also done so, requesting consultations with Australia on 18 July 2012 and 3 May 2013 respectively.

The WTO dispute settlement process has several stages, from a request for consultations through to a WTO Panel (and Appellate Body) hearing. WTO dispute settlement is supposed to be ‘fast’. According to the WTO, ‘prompt settlement is essential if the WTO is to function effectively’. But things haven’t been moving so promptly so far. Many observers wonder whether it was more than a coincidence that Indonesia took the very first step around the same time as Ukraine and Honduras took steps that appeared to move the process forward. They wonder whether Indonesia will be given time to catch up to those that have gone before them, and whether another country might be waiting to be the next cab off the rank.

According to Reuters’ Tom Miles:

Many governments may decide whether to press ahead with their own measures to discourage tobacco use only after seeing the outcome of the WTO case.

If Miles is right, one can speculate on who might and might not want the challenges to be resolved promptly (or at all); who benefits from the cases remaining in the system as long as possible (or indefinitely).

We were never sure whether the tobacco industry would follow through on its threat to bring a constitutional challenge to Australia’s law. The industry was always going to lose that challenge, and losing a case that you have long claimed you will win isn’t a great look. In hindsight, it seems obvious that the industry had to challenge. It had to send a message to other countries that it would make good on its threat rather than roll over, even in the face of legal reality, lest its threats lose their credibility. Presumably it calculated that, looking at the bigger picture, it could afford a loss in the High Court of Australia. But a loss in the WTO would be something different altogether. The global implications would be profound.

On this note, it has been reported that the tobacco industry has been providing support to countries that are challenging Australia’s laws. According to Bloomberg, British American Tobacco is contributing to Ukraine’s and Honduras’ legal costs, and Philip Morris to those of the Dominican Republic. The two companies told the Financial Times back in April 2012 that they were providing such support. So, while in the WTO it is states that bring legal proceedings rather than corporations, the tobacco industry is intimately involved in what is happening.

Australia is not only facing complaints in the WTO, but also a challenge by Philip Morris Asia (PMA) under a bilateral investment treaty. The next stage in that case is a hearing in Singapore in February 2014 on the question whether the proceedings should be bifurcated, i.e. whether Australia’s jurisdictional objections should be heard prior to or together with consideration of the merits of PMA’s claim.

PMA filed its notice of claim on 27 June 2011 and its notice of arbitration on 21 December 2011. In October 2013, we are still four months from a hearing about how the case should proceed. It will probably then take some months for the tribunal to issue its decision on that question. Then a few months for the parties to make their submissions on the next stage (whatever that ends up being). Then there’ll be a hearing. Then some months for the tribunal to issue its decision. And so on. And we are quickly into 2015 and beyond.

We are among the many who believe that Australia is on solid legal ground in both the WTO and investment proceedings. We believe that Australia’s law is a sound exercise of its sovereign power to regulate; that it is non-discriminatory, based on evidence, and well-drafted, and has behind it the legal and political force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, its Article 11 and Article 13 guidelines, other decisions of its Conference of the Parties, and other international instruments including the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.

In the work we do, we are increasingly seeing the tobacco industry discouraging governments from implementing tobacco control measures on the ground that Australia’s plain packaging law is under challenge, and it would be prudent for governments to wait for these challenges to be resolved.

In our view, it is perfectly sensible for governments to keep an eye on what is happening in the challenges to Australia’s law. But we don’t believe that waiting them out is a tenable position. Governments could find themselves waiting for years – or forever. If they do this, they are playing into the tobacco industry’s hands, and abdicating their duties to protect the health of their people.

Eurovegas and the challenge to Spain’s smoke-free law: neoliberalism vs public health

3 Oct, 13 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

 

Aser García Rada, Madrid

The Spanish law banning smoking in all public premises since January 2010 has become one of the greatest national public health achievements in decades. It modified a previous law from 2006 that banned smoking in enclosed working environments but allowed it in certain bars and restaurants. The tobacco lobby fought strongly against this change as they were interested in exporting what was known as “the Spanish model”: allowing smoking in places of entertainment maintained the social acceptance of a drug that kills 700,000 Europeans annually. To Big Tobacco´s dismay, the 2010 model soon spread to other countries.

According to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics, smoking prevalence has decreased from 26.2% in 2006 to 23.95% in 2012, the lowest rate in 25 years. Heart attacks have dropped by 11% after the 2006 legislation was established, so further drops are expected from 2010 on. The EU Commission has stated that Spain has experienced the largest decrease in passive smoking of the EU over the last years: 70% less, well above the EU average of 46%. In addition, 82% of the population –including many smokers- agree with current legislation, says a poll by the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (SEMFYC). In fact, social acceptance is increasing, according to the last health barometer of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality.

The current law has only been weakened once. It was done by the previous social democrat Government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero following pressure from the largest Spanish department Store El Corte Inglés to allow the sale of smoking products in convenience stores such as their Opencor chain. Now Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands casino chairman, 12th on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans and one of the most important magnates of the gambling industry, has announced the construction of the largest casino resort in Europe in the autonomous community of Madrid, a project popularly known as Eurovegas. Adelson, whose company is under criminal investigation for possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and has just agreed to pay $47 million to the U.S. to settle a money-laundering case, has requested that Spain’s smokefree law be weakened to allow  smoking in the casino’s premises. He promises that the casino project will create 200,000 jobs and bring prosperity to the region.

Thus, the regional and national governments are salivating. Amendments to labor and urban planning laws and tax breaks have already been negotiated. The repeated requests from the president of the autonomous community of Madrid, Ignacio González, from the conservative People´s Party (PP), that the central government amends the law seem to be having their effect. Recently the minister of health, social services and equality, Ana Mato, also from the PP, said that the Government is “looking for ways” to “reconcile the protection of health with the creation of jobs”. In fact, according to the newspaper El Mundo, the change has already been decided: smoking will be allowed in certain areas on all current 41 casinos throughout the country and on those to be built in Eurovegas. The daily La Razón states that the law will be amended before November.

The EU Commission considers that the economic impact of banning smoking across the EU has been limited, neutral and even positive in bars and restaurants industry except for maybe on gambling premises, a probably correct estimate according to the available scientific literature. However, the comorbidity between tobacco smoking and gambling seems clear. Tobacco might have neurochemical effects that enhance gambling behaviour (1) and problem gambling severity and amount of money spent, have been related to smoking (2). Must we create further death and disease to have jobs?

Health professionals are fighting the change and the global community is watching. An umbrella platform of different tobacco control organizations (porquenosotrosno.org) has launched the campaign Don´t touch the law to request international support to prevent the weakening of these public health protections. But the tobacco lobby´s tentacles remain long. The presidents of five autonomous communities in which tobacco is cultivated –Extremadura, Andalusia, La Rioja, the Canary Islands and Cantabria-  recently signed a document opposing the new stronger Directive on tobacco control under discussion at the EU during a joint meeting celebrated in the headquarters of the tobacco company Altadis. Meanwhile, according to members of the Directorate General for Health & Consumers of the European Commission, there is a growing concern that former health commissioner John Dalli’s resignation may have been related to Big Tobacco’s strategies.

Health workers and other citizens must be aware of these manoeuvres and press health authorities at all levels that no concessions must be given to tobacco companies or others whose interests in profit threaten public health.

References:

1.- Mcgrath, DS and Barret, SP (2009), The comorbidity of tobacco smoking and gambling: A review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28: 676–681. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00097.x

2.- McGrath DS, Barrett SP, Stewart SH, and McGrath PR. A Comparison of Gambling Behavior, Problem Gambling Indices, and Reasons for Gambling Among Smokers and Nonsmokers Who Gamble: Evidence from a Provincial Gambling Prevalence Study Nicotine Tob Res (2012) 14 (7): 833-839

E-cigarettes and the marketing push that surprised everyone

2 Oct, 13 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

The e-cigarette debate rages on over at the BMJ…

E-Cigarette-Ad

E-cig ads like these potentially undermine effective quitting messages. Photo source: http://www.trinketsandtrash.org/

Martin McKee writes  how ” the more attention policy makers give to the aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes in their own countries, the more they conclude that the downsides far exceed any benefits.”

Naturally, for such a hot topic, opposing views are quick to materialise. Clive Bates argues that the:

“advertising of e-cigarettes is not something to worry about or ban, rather it should be embraced. It is how smokers will find their way to these new products and it is how new brands will push the cigarette brands aside. The normal controls on truth and fairness in advertising, supplemented by restrictions of the type applied to alcohol, should be sufficient to balance public health opportunities and fears that something might go wrong.”

Or, is it actually the case that e-cigarettes are, as Mike Daube states:

” a weapon of mass distraction – distracting advocates, researchers, and decisions makers from time and resources that could otherwise be devoted to measures we know to be effective, and the community from messages about quitting. “

But it remains the case, as Simon Chapman points out, that e-cigarettes have yet to deliver on lofty promises of:

“rapid and spectacular migration from incontestably far more dangerous cigarettes, driven by an unprecedented consumer acceptable nicotine delivery system; negligible harm to others from the exhaled vapour; children who would have taken up cigarettes, taking up ecigs instead; few children “currently” adopting ecigs who would have never started smoking; no ex-smokers nostalgically returning to nicotine via ecigs; and horrible tobacco caused diseases eventually declining far more than now.”

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