Allen W A Gallagher and Anna B Gilmore
On the 18th and 19th March 2019, respectively, the market research organisation Euromonitor International, which describes itself as “the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research”, became the recipient of funding from not one, but two initiatives solely-funded by Philip Morris International (PMI)- the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) and PMI IMPACT.
These organisations associating themselves with Euromonitor International a single day apart is surely no coincidence – they are two arms attached to the same body, PMI, whose hands now have a firm grip on Euromonitor. Given PMI’s long history of manipulating research, this should be a serious concern to both Euromonitor, whose credibility rests on its claims of independence, and those hoping to use its data.
It suggests close coordination between PMI and the FSFW and also suggests that “harm reduction” and illicit tobacco are both key to PMI’s attempts at overhauling its image as a tobacco company with a long history of involvement in tobacco smuggling.
The FSFW has contracted Euromonitor (and the think tank SustainAbility) to create a “Smoke-Free index” which will “annually evaluate 15 of the largest tobacco companies in the world” to “provide quantifiable evidence over time of what steps the companies are taking toward achieving a smoke-free world and any actions they take to undermine that progress”.
Established in September 2017 and solely funded through a 12-year commitment (totalling $1 billion) from PMI, the FSFW nevertheless describes itself as independent. It claims its ‘smoke-free index’ is the first part of an “Industry Transformation Initiative”, aimed at changing industry behaviour toward the supposed ultimate goal of creating a ‘smoke-free’ future.
Yet in reality, PMI has been criticised for having made no concessions to stop promoting combustible cigarettes, continuing to engage in activities which obstruct FCTC policy implementation. Leaked PMI documents from 2014 provide better explanations for the existence of the FSFW such as to establish PMI as a trusted partner and legitimate player in regulatory discussion, ultimately to be perceived as “part of the solution” rather than the problem.
PMI has been leading the charge to achieve this same goal in regard to illicit tobacco trade, too. Despite tobacco companies’ long history of fuelling tobacco smuggling, with growing evidence indicating that this behaviour continues, tobacco companies now present themselves as victims, rather than perpetrators, and argue that they are the solution to a problem which largely stems from their own failure to control their supply chains.
Prior to its launch of the FSFW, in 2016 PMI announced PMI IMPACT- a $100 million funding initiative for projects on illicit trade and related crimes (including funding for related conferences and events). PMI IMPACT’s project with Euromonitor will explore illicit trade in up to 80 countries and “assess the robustness and effectiveness of regulatory frameworks”. Euromonitor’s data on tobacco, including its estimates on illicit tobacco trade, have hitherto been widely used by the public health community, regularly contributing to independent research.
This practice continues despite Euromonitor’s data on illicit tobacco being criticised for exaggerating illicit trade in some countries when compared with independent estimates, partly due to its reliance on tobacco industry intelligence. In response to this criticism, Euromonitor’s Head of Tobacco Research argued that “there is no reliance on any one source” and re-iterated the claim that the company is an “independent provider”.
Now that Euromonitor receives funding from a tobacco company, that claim of independence no longer holds true.
PMI’s funding of Euromonitor International is particularly problematic given the overwhelming evidence that tobacco industry funded data on illicit tobacco trade routinely overestimates the scale of the issue. The funding will only serve to strengthen the industry’s stranglehold over data on illicit trade by further adding to the scarcity of independent data on tobacco smuggling amidst a wealth of unreliable, misleading and inflated industry-funded estimates which tobacco companies use to fuel their opposition to public health policies.
In the FSFW’s press release announcing its funding of Euromonitor, the President of the FSFW, Derek Yach, described the company as “among the most respected independent research firms in the world”. Ironically, that very press release signalled the newly-obtained falsity of such a claim.
Allen Gallagher is a PhD candidate and Anna Gilmore a Professor at the University of Bath, England and UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. The authors acknowledge the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products project funding (www.bloomberg.org).
Euromonitor International notes with disappointment a recent blog posting on the BMJ website which makes a series of false and damaging assertions regarding the company’s business:
“Euromonitor International now accepts tobacco industry funding: a win for PMI at the expense of research on the tobacco industry”, 8 April 2019
The blog is founded on a false assertion that Euromonitor is receiving funding from a tobacco company, namely PMI. The central theme then developed from that false assertion is that by reason of that funding from PMI, Euromonitor is no longer independent and cannot be trusted to produce reliable, independent research and data. It is even said that Euromonitor is now under PMI’s “firm grip”, implying control, and loss of autonomy.
The above is untrue. Euromonitor remains a privately owned and autonomous business which has merely entered into two quite separate and distinct project contracts with FSFW and PMI Impact to provide market research services to those bodies. While we understand the interest of the public health community is matters such as this, our commitment to independence and impartiality is unwavering and we will provide such services to these organisations in much the same way as we would with any member of our diverse and valued client base.
Euromonitor International is the world’s leading independent provider of global business intelligence and strategic market analysis. With more than 40 years of experience in market research, the company provides strategic intelligence on industries, companies, economies and consumers around the world to a client base of approximately 5,000 organisations across dozens of industries.
Euromonitor would never compromise the integrity of its data, research or independence in the manner being suggested. Such independence is at the heart of our longstanding relationships with our customers and is critical to the important work of our clients and their ability to rely on and trust in our impartial, objective data and research insights in the course of their own research activity.
This a responsibility which we take with the utmost seriousness.
Long, demonstrable record of independent, objective research on the tobacco industry
As a company, Euromonitor’s tobacco research is concerned solely with the objective observation of the tobacco industry as a legal FMCG segment. The Passport Tobacco database, published on an annual basis, is the product of a transparent, multi-sourced comprehensive research programme on the ground in 100 global tobacco markets. It is widely used and respected throughout the tobacco stakeholder universe by clients ranging from tobacco brand owners, supply chain organisations, retailers, governments, regulators, public health and tobacco control. Passport Tobacco is widely viewed as the most objective, valuable and complete source of market data on the tobacco and nicotine industries.
Any bespoke or custom work which the company undertakes separately with tobacco stakeholders (whether private or public entities) on a contractual basis is closely reviewed and is only undertaken when the company has ensured the absence of interference in the research work itself and is satisfied that the work cannot be used to support a specific industry-related narrative. Over the years, as a company, Euromonitor has declined to undertake several pieces of customised work, where we have had concerns that there was a danger these two criteria might not be met.
Our work in relation to the Smokefree Index (a flagship initiative of an independent non- governmental organisation with the explicit goal of eliminating the health effects and mortality of smoking) and PMI’s IMPACT initiative will be undertaken strictly on the basis of non-interference and lack of support for any industry narrative. Work on both these projects is firewalled from the wider Euromonitor International organisation and will have no bearing or impact on any aspect of the company’s Passport database.
We warmly invite any member of the public health or tobacco control community with concerns about our involvement in either the Smokefree Index or the IMPACT programme to contact us to have an open and transparent conversation about our roles in these distinct projects, our tobacco research more broadly and how we continue to ensure the utmost objectivity and accuracy of our data and research output.