Tobacco Retailers' Alliance
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". 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.
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."
Save Our Shops - Lobby Campaign Funded by the Industry
In 2008, 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
- [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."
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:
- 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.
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.
Against Tobacco Smuggling
The TRA is convinced the illegal trade will profit most from plain packaging:
- 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 - 2013
In 2013, the TRA paid the Liberal Democrats thousands of pounds for an exhibition stall expressing "relief" that the government dropped plans for plain packaging and arguing against the proposed Tobacco Products Directive. One leaflet on the TRA stall said "It was a great relief … that the government has decided to wait on making any decision on plain tobacco packaging until evidence on the effects it has had in Australia is available. However, now is no time to sit back!" 
Direct Lobbying Activities - 2011
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.
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”.
- ↑ Tobacco Retailers Alliance website, About the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, undated, accessed 23 January 2012
- ↑ Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, Statement to Accompany Account Submitted to TMA Board of Directors, 20 February 2001, accessed 23 January 2012
- ↑ TMA Campaign Group, Minutes of meeting, 11 January 2001, accessed 23 January 2012
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 TRA, Retailers’ disappointment at Lansley’s back-track on display ban, undated, accessed 31 January 2012
- ↑ Jame Doward, MPs fall foul of 'dirty' tricks by tobacco giants, the Guardian, 14 Dec 2008, accessed May 2013
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance, Retailer Plain Packaging Postcard Campaign Launched, 11 May 2012, accessed 31 May 2012
- ↑ See both TobaccoRetailersAlliance.org.uk and TRA.org.uk, which are almost identical today, also under the tab 'plain packaging', accessed May 2013
- ↑ Tobacco Retailer’s Alliance, 30,000 shop staff against plain packaging, 2012, accessed August 2012
- ↑ Simon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
- ↑ Rowena Mason, Lobby group holds stall at Liberal Democrats conference, The Guardian, 17 September 2013, accessed September 2013
- ↑ Tobacco Retailers Alliance, Newsletter, November 2011, accessed June 2013
- ↑ Coreena Ford, 'MP David Clelland blasted over "smokescreen"', Sunday Sun, 21 June 2009, accessed 31 January 2012