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Archive for June, 2016

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”.

Obituary: Yul Francisco Dorado, a visionary tobacco control leader in Latin America

6 Jun, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Latin America, and the global tobacco control community, lost a champion of public health on 1 May 2016. Yul Francisco Dorado was born in Popayán, in southwest Colombia, where he completed his studies in Law and Political Science. At a young age he became interested in the right to health and environment. He became a key leader in the fight against tobacco in Latin America.

With a postgraduate degree in Public Law, he moved to Chile and worked for Consumers International. In 2003, he returned to his native Columbia, where he later established the Latin America regional office of Corporate Accountability International.

Over the last 13 years, he devoted himself to contributing to the creation of national and international networks for tobacco control, as well as the protection of the right to water and healthy environment. His dedicated work as an advocate led him to find a way not only among international organisations, but also among health authorities, the media and general public opinion, for Latin America to trigger alarms on the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death.

He was a key figure in the movement within Latin America to implement the standards and laws provided by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. He worked energetically on high impact campaigns to prevent tobacco consumption, especially among minors. Every year, on May 31, Yul Francisco addressed the media to promote a message during the celebration of the World No Tobacco Day.

Governmental entities understood Yul Francisco’s fight, not only in Colombia, but at an international level. Before he joined Corporate Accountability International in 2005 as Director for Latin America, he worked for Consumers International, supervising and supporting the ratification and implementation processes of the FCTC in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

He travelled all around the world, bringing a message of solidarity and friendship to all meetings, winning the affection and recognition of several international organizations.

Yul Francisco Dorado was a determined leader, teacher and relentless health advocate. His work will live on through his many friends and colleagues who have learned from, and been inspired by him.

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the FCTC Convention Secretariat, paid tribute to his legacy:

“Yul’s impact on the tobacco control movement has, and will undoubtedly continue to save millions of lives. His work has ensured that people are valued above the profits of the tobacco industry and that this industry will no longer be allowed to have a voice in public health policy. Yul will be sorely missed and our COP meetings will never be the same as they will miss his kind and strong presence. Nevertheless, his legacy will live on for its support to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”.

Yul’s colleage at Corporate Accountability International Patti Lynn, expressed the personal sadness of many of his friends and colleagues:

“Yul Francisco Dorado, our beloved Latin America Director and dear friend, died on 1 May after a life that touched and inspired so many of us. Yul was recently diagnosed with cancer, and was in Bogota with his family. He was surrounded by love and left in peace. Yul loved life. He loved his family – they were his heart and strength and joy. His colleagues became dear friends and there are so many of us around the world that have learned from and loved Yul. Today is a sad sad day and our hearts are breaking. All of our hearts and prayers are with Yul’s family now. And even through our tears we see Yul’s smile.

We think of how he believed we could accomplish what seemed impossible. And we are deeply grateful for the spirit and determination that he brought to the corporate accountability and tobacco control movements. The FCTC and its implementation are so much stronger for Yul’s work and vision. And we who worked alongside, knew and love Yul are stronger too. We will continue to believe in and accomplish what seems impossible is his spirit. And we will be here for each other now, with care and warmth as he would, to support all who love him through this incredibly sad time.”

Yul Francisco Dorado is survived by his wife and three sons.

More:

  • Click here to read a celebration of his life by Corporate Accountability International Executive Director Patti Lynn
  • Video interview with Yul at the 2012 World Conference on Tobacco or Health, speaking about an award for Coporate Accountability International’s work:

Yul Franciso Dorado

Figure 6 Obituary Yul Francisco Dorado

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