Axel Gietz

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Axel Gietz is the Global Director of Corporate Affairs at Imperial Tobacco.[1] He has held this post since 2012.

Background

Gietz previously worked for other tobacco companies, including RJ Reynolds, Japan Tobacco International (JTI)[2] and British American Tobacco (BAT).[1] He has a history of putting forward controversial arguments towards tobacco and public health, examples of this are presented below.

Contesting the Public Health Evidence Base

Health Impacts of Secondhand Smoke

In 1992, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report on the health impacts of secondhand smoke, which prompted smokefree laws in the USA.[3] Later in the 1990s, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organization, worked on a report on secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer in Europe.[4]

The tobacco industry, spearheaded by Philip Morris, prepared a strategy to dispute the findings of the report prior to its publication.[5] The company developed “a high-level, multi-disciplinary task force, with representatives from legal, research and development, science and technology, and corporate services departments.”[5] Other companies represented in the task force included RJ Reynolds (USA), Rothmans (UK), Imperial Tobacco (UK), BAT, and Reemtsma (Germany).

According to Truth Tobacco Industry documents, Gietz was RJ Reynolds’ Member of the Co-ordination Support Team, which was responsible for implementing “all aspects of the [industry] response as directed by the Management Team on both a company and an industry basis, including co-ordinating the communications response in each of the countries which make up the European region.”[6]

Addictive Nature of Nicotine

Appearing before a Health Select Committee Hearing in the UK Parliament in 2000 which was conducting an inquiry into the tobacco industry and the health effects of smoking, Gietz who by now was Vice President of the Corporate Headquarters of JTI, joined BAT Chairman Martin Broughton, Chairman of Gallagher Group Peter Wilson, and Chief Executive of Imperial Tobacco Gareth Davis, as an expert witness for the tobacco industry.[7]

When questioned about a study which had shown that under experimental conditions subjects showed a preference for nicotine over cocaine or heroin, Gietz responded that to “equate heroin and cocaine to nicotine I think flies in the face of common sense.”[8] In putting forward such a position, Gietz contradicted independent evidence. The 1988 Surgeon General report, ‘The health consequences of smoking: Nicotine addiction stated that “the pharmacologic and behavioural[sic] processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.”[9]

Dismissing Tobacco Industry’s Role in Tobacco Smuggling

Following allegations against JTI of its complicity in cigarette smuggling in 2000, Gietz authored a press release, on behalf of the company, firmly rejecting the claims:[10]

“The improper sale of our products runs completely against our corporate policies and practices, and acts to the detriment of the Company...We do not benefit from these criminal activities. Every product sold as contraband hurts our legitimate customers, and therefore hurts us…But it would be much more effective and beneficial to work together within the existing framework of institutions in Europe…Let’s not forget that the root cause of the black market is excessive cigarette taxation.”

However, there have been other instances where it is alleged that JTI was complicit in cigarette smuggling. In November 2011, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) unveiled the results of a major investigation into the company’s complicity in cigarette smuggling.[11] see:

Four years later, in 2015, Gietz made the same argument, that his company (he now worked for Imperial Tobacco) was in no way involved in the illicit trade and that he would like to work together with the World Health Organization (WHO) not only on illicit tobacco but in regards to all tobacco-related issues:

“All the more are we disappointed at the WHO’s reiteration of the spurious accusation that Imperial Tobacco, a responsible manufacturer of a legal and highly regulated product consumed by 25% of adults worldwide, has anything to do with illicit trade. Perpetuating this myth does not make it any more plausible or true, and as an employer of choice for 35,000 decent, hard-working people worldwide we take exception with it. However, we seize this opportunity to renew our longstanding invitation to the WHO: Let us work together on this and all other issues related to the product we make, market and sell.”[12]

For information on historical allegations of smuggling see:

Against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a global public health treaty which came into effect in 2005. It is designed to tackle the causes of the tobacco epidemic, “including complex factors with cross-border effects, such as trade liberalization [sic] and direct foreign investment, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship beyond national borders, and illicit trade in tobacco products.”[13]

On 13 October 2000, Geitz, on behalf of JTI gave a statement, during the public hearings on the FCTC, saying that although smoking was harmful and that JTI supported reasonable regulations, he believed that:[14]

  • “Unreasonably high tobacco taxes lead to a black market and to losses in fiscal revenue.”
  • “Advertising bans do nothing about smoking incidence, including minors, as solid empirical evidence shows.”
  • “…abolishing descriptors such as light and mild while seeking to improve consumer information does not make sense. Let’s just tell smokers that light and mild and descriptors denote differences in taste, no more, no less.”
  • “National governments are best positioned to know what measures will work in their countries. A one size fits all solution for the planet is inherently flawed and national governments have the democratic legitimacy to pass laws within their borders.”
  • “…the biggest flaw underlying all tobacco control activities is the demonization of big tobacco. What would the world look like where people still wanted to smoke but we would no longer be there to meet the demand? No control over what is in the product, no information on the product, no tax revenue, and a huge criminal infrastructure and a vast increase in underage smoking. Is this what you want? The notion that putting us out of business will benefit public health is a concept born in the ivory tower.”

He also stated that tobacco companies and governments and public health authorities needed to work together to:

  • Combat smuggling and counterfeiting;
  • Tackle underage smoking;
  • Protect public health
For the full statement, see Alex Gietz’s testimony at the World Health Organization, Geneva during the public hearings on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As of November 2008, Article 5.3 of the FCTC warned against working together with the tobacco industry because of the inherent vested interests of tobacco companies that are not aligned with public health.[15]

Against Plain Packaging

As Head of Corporate Affairs for Imperial Tobacco in 2015, Gietz published a statement in NewEurope about the illicit trade in tobacco and its relationship with plain packaging legislation.[12] Gietz argued that:

“Disproportionate and ill-conceived regulation is not only ineffective, it often has unintended consequences that play into the hands of the criminals. We’ve seen this happen in Australia, where research has shown a 25% increase in illicit tobacco use since the introduction of plain packaging in December 2012. The proportion of young smokers between 12 and 17 years has grown by 30%. No coincidence.”

Independent evidence does not support Gietz’s statement. In 2014, BAT disseminated data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), insisting that it showed the rate of smoking in 12-17 year-olds had increased by 32% from 2.5% in 2010 to 3.4% in 2013.[16] However, the head of AIHW’s tobacco and other drugs unit declared that it was made clear in the report that the sample size was too small and therefore the results were “not statistically significant”. Furthermore, peer-reviewed research has found no increase in the illicit tobacco trade.[17][18] Nevertheless, in New Zealand in June 2016, Gietz, recycling the aforementioned arguments, spoke out against the country’s decision to proceed with plain packaging for tobacco products.

“What we have seen however, is a growth in underage smoking, by 30 per cent in Australia, since December 2012… there’s a causal link here: we’ve also seen an increase in illicit trade in tobacco products.”[19] In 2016, in the post-implementation review of tobacco plain packaging, the Australian Department of Health linked the introduction of tobacco plain packaging with a reduction in daily smoking prevalence overall:

“The 2013 NDSHS collected data from nearly 24,000 people across Australia from 31 July to 1 December 2013, (notably, after the introduction of the tobacco plain packaging measure and mostly before the first of a series of four 12.5% tobacco excise increases on 1 December 2013). The results of the 2013 NDSHS show that daily smoking prevalence among Australians aged 14 years and over has fallen significantly from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013, a drop of 15%. This included declines in all Australian states and territories (except Tasmania).”[20]

TobaccoTactics Resources

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 A. Gietz, LinkedIn profile, accessed 27 June 2016
  2. Backgrounder, Dr. Axel Gietz, date unknown, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, British American Tobacco, Bates No: 325094229, accessed June 2016
  3. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Respiratory health effects of passive smoking: Lung cancer and other disorders, Office of Health and Environmental Assessment Office of Research and Development, December 1992
  4. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Passive smoking and lung cancer in Europe. 1998, Lyon: IARC
  5. 5.0 5.1 E. K. Ong, S. A. Glantz, Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study, The Lancet, 2000;335:1253-59
  6. Burson Marstellar, IARC response plan and materials Europe, 8 April 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Philip Morris, Bates no: 3990054318-3990054381, accessed June 2016
  7. House of Commons, Health – Minutes of Evidence: Examination of Witnesses, Health Committee Publications, Session 1999-2000, Hansard, accessed June 2016
  8. House of Commons, Health – Minutes of Evidence: Examination of Witnesses, Questions 580-599, Health Committee Publications, Session 1999-2000, Hansard, accessed June 2016
  9. US Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 1988. DHHS Publication No. (CDC) 88-8406
  10. Press Release: JT International firmly rejects smuggling allegations made by EU Commission, 9 November 2000, added 15 October 2005, Bates No: 531541653-531541656, accessed June 2016
  11. J. Holland, B. Jovanović , S. Dojčinović, Big trouble at Big Tobacco: Tales of smugglers, mobsters and hackers, Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, November 2011, accessed July 2016
  12. 12.0 12.1 A. Gietz, Illicit trade: Only the criminals benefit, New Europe, 1 June 2015, accessed June 2016
  13. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat, The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: an overview, January 2015, accessed June 2016
  14. Alex Gietz testimony at the World Health Organization, Geneva during the public hearings on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 13 October 2000, You Tube, accessed July 2016
  15. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat, Guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3, no date, accessed July 2016
  16. M. Hawthorne, V. Desloires, Big Tobacco distributes report bullying plain packaging laws, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 November 2014, accessed December 2014
  17. M.Scollo, M. Bayly, M. Wakefield. Availability of illicit tobacco in small retail outlets before and after the implementation of Australian plain packaging legislation. Tobacco Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051353, [published online first 10 April 2014], accessed May 2014
  18. M. Scollo, M. Zacher, K. Coomber, M. Wakefield. Use of illicit tobacco following introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products in Australia: results from a national cross-sectional survey. Tobacco Control, 2015:24:ii76-81
  19. One News Now, Video: The moment Maori Party leader walks off during testy live TV debate, 25 June 2016, accessed June 2016
  20. Department of Health, Australian Government,Post-Implementation Review: Tobacco Plain Packaging 2016, accessed March 2016