PMI's Mobilising Support from Retailers

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A series of leaked documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) have revealed that, as part of its multi-faceted campaigns against the regulation of its industry, the tobacco giant has created and underwritten retailer “grassroots” movements.

The use of ‘independent’ voices is a third party strategy used by tobacco companies in an attempt to add weight to their arguments and lend credibility to their campaigns. This page focuses specifically on PMI’s activity in the UK and Europe. However, the Alliance of Australian Retailers page outlines how tobacco companies, including PMI, created a front group, managed day-to-day by PMI, to mobilise retailers in opposition of plain packaging in Australia.

In its private documents, PMI reveals that retailers have been pivotal to the industry’s opposition campaigns against:

Although the PMI documents reveal the company’s meticulous plans, it is important to note that PMI is not the only company to engage in such tactics. Some examples of how other tobacco companies have utilised retailers as third-parties and allies to promote their anti-regulation arguments are also included here.

Point of Sale Display Ban

PMI Aims to ‘Overturn’ and ‘Delay’ Legislation

In the UK, PMI planned a staged campaign to oppose the Point of Sale (POS) Display Ban, the regulation which requires that all tobacco products be stored in covered gantries so that they cannot act as advertisements at the point of sale.

Third-party meetings as part of PMI’s Communication Plan

PMI set out to delay the passage of the legislation in the UK in the first instance (which was successful), and following its passage, to have the law overturned using a multifaceted strategy, in order to achieve a large unified opposition movement. To achieve this outcome PMI intended to:

  • Generate media coverage to raise awareness of the legal challenge to POS Display legislation in Ireland to dissuade UK Parliament from following suit.
  • Lobby and utilise politicians. The leaked documents mention the names of 28 MPs including Earl Howe, the Shadow Minister for Health at the time.


Project Clarity

Following the passage of the POS display ban legislation in the UK, PMI designed Project Clarity in Spring 2010 to create a post-election political environment which would, PMI hoped, enable decision makers to mitigate the effects of the ban either through regulation or legislation. [1]

As part of this plan PMI stated:

PMI planned for third-party LABA to lobby MPs
  • Retailers are essential to campaign success, so must be parties to the lawsuit and must take the lead in the communications effort.[1]
  • As part of Project Clarity, media training for PMI’s third-party voices was provided, including for "Retailer co-plaintiff(s)" and an "NFRN spokesperson on grass roots campaign [sic]."

Media training by a tobacco company for a grassroots movement is a classic example of Astroturfing.


Leicestershire Asian Business Association: Retail Lobbying of Politicians

PMI organised meetings between retailers and their MPs and produced media coverage of these meetings for public relations purposes.

In PMI’s words: The plan is to secure 100 active, supportive and committed MPs who will, should there be a free vote on a repeal or retreat, elect to vote to support the local retailers in their constituency.


British American Tobacco Denies then Admits Funding National Federation of Retail Newsagents

The NFRN regards itself as the voice of the independent retailer however, in addition to media training from PMI, the NFRN received funding from BAT for its POS display ban opposition campaign. When questioned, BAT originally denied this.

On 27 April 2011, a BAT spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper that they had not funded the NFRN to run a campaign against proposals for a Point of Sale Display Ban in the UK, saying:

To accuse us of underhand tactics and the funding of an independent retailer organisation [the NFRN], via a PR agency that we use solely for work related to the European wide problem of tobacco smuggling, is untrue.[2]

However, the day following this vehement denial, company chairman Richard Burrows confirmed that BAT had, in fact, funded the NFRN and had met with both the NFRN, and public relations firm Hume Brophy, to discuss the opposition campaign. [3]

BAT confirmed in a letter to labour MP Kevin Baron that, We have provided financial assistance to the NFRN in relation to this [POS Display ban] campaign.[4]

Industry funded Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association created the Tobacco Retailers Alliance which ran the Responsible Retailers campaign against the POS display ban


”Responsible Retailers” Postcard Campaign

In addition to the aforementioned campaigns, the ‘Responsible Retailers Alliance’, a seemingly grassroots movement, launched the ‘Save Our Shop’ campaign. The campaign encouraged retailers to send a standardised postcard to their MP in opposition of the ban.

However, MPs were not aware that the Alliance was a brand of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA), which is the creation of the TMA. [5] Not only is the TRA funded by the TMA, the two are housed within the same building,[6] and the TRA’s website was registered by the TMA.[7]




Plain Packaging in the UK

After announcing it would consider plain packaging for tobacco products in November 2010, the UK Government held a public consultation between April and August 2012.[8]

There was a significant response to the Consultation, with 2,444 detailed responses to the questions posed and 665,989 campaign responses (signatures to petitions, identical emails, postcards and letter submissions).

Detailed responses - Just over half (53%) of the detailed responses were in favour of introducing plain packaging while 43% wished to maintain the status quo. The remaining 4% were neither for nor against the proposal.[9]

Campaign responses - The consultation received 665,989 campaign responses (signatures to petitions, identical emails, postcards and letter submissions) from 24 separate campaigns. Approximately two-thirds (64%) of campaign responses were opposed to plain packaging and a significant proportion of these responses came from retailers.[9]

PMI Plans the Mobilisation of Retailers

As part of a large, multi-pronged, lobbying campaign PMI outlined its plan to mobilise support from retailers in its corporate affairs presentation in March 2012 (this document was subsequently leaked in 2013).

PMI’s main objective was to prevent the passage of plain packaging in the UK. Its main message, outlined in its presentation was, “Focus needs to be on economy and growth. Wait and see what happens in Australia (2-3 yrs) before walking into the unknown (IT [illicit trade], compensations, impact on trade) with no evidence it will reduce smoking.”

Impacts on trade - PMI planned to argue that plain packaging would lead to an increase in the illicit trade and that subsequent to this, legal sales revenue would be damaged, as would sales of other products as customers stopped shopping in convenience stores, thus leading to job losses. Also, it argued, the POS display ban had already burdened retailers.

To promote these messages, PMI identified Media Messengers. Under the sub-heading Retail PMI identified its targets as: trade associations, key accounts and independent retailers in seven cities. See the PMI Media Messengers PowerPoint slide below.

PRA stands for Petrol Retailers Association, SGF – Scottish Grocers' Federation, AITS (Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists).

Furthermore, in a key ‘influencers’ diagram, PMI identified the Association of Convenience Stores, and the British Brands Group as influencers amongst other organisations and think-tanks. Both organisations have been vocal in their opposition to plain packaging in the UK. All of the images in the following gallery are from PMI's, UK Corporate Affairs Update, March 2012, leaked in 2013. Please click on the images to make them larger.

Retail Response to the Consultation[9]

Synonymous with the tobacco industry’s rhetoric of the likely consequences of plain packaging on retailers, retailer responses to the Consultation suggested that they would incur increased costs as a result of packaging legislation, including:

  • Longer transaction times;
  • Longer queues that could result in reduced or lost custom;
  • More errors and customer complaints;
  • Down-trading on brands resulting in less profit per pack;
  • Threat of theft due to increased distraction picking products from gantries.

However, counter-evidence refutes these claims.

The majority of retail groups who have conducted campaigns against plain packaging receive funding from tobacco companies. Click on each hyperlink to discover the connections between each organisation and the industry.


Campaign Sponsor Type Response Count
Plain Nonsense Scottish Wholesale Association Postcard 2,865
No to plain packs for cigars and pipe tobacco Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists (AITS) Postcard; Email 2,017; 1,182
No title Asian Marketing Group Initiative, with support for the campaign provided by Philip Morris Ltd Postcard 898
No to plain packs Tobacco Retailers Alliance Postcard 26,530
Responses from small retailers Unknown Letters based on a variation of a standardised letter 561
Letters from members of the NFRN National Federation of Retail Newsagents Letter 6
Letter with multiple signatures from Members of Parliament Initiated by Ian Paisley, MP Letter 51


In addition to the aforementioned retailer-centric campaigns, a number of additional campaigns designed to mobilise opposition from a number of audiences (not specifically retailers) were widely advertised, including in the broadly disseminated trade and retail press, encouraging retailers to sign up.


Campaign Sponsor Type Text Response Count
Say no to plain packs Imperial Tobacco Postcard “I am opposed to standardised packaging and support option one of the consultation: to maintain the status quo for tobacco packaging.” 120,247
Hands Off Our Packs Forest Postcard; Petition “The Government has launched a public consultation on whether the UK should adopt ‘plain’ packaging of tobacco products. If you oppose plain packaging please enter your details below. We will submit the information to the consultation and let the Government know that you are against this measure.” 55,201; 214,653


In addition to campaign responses above, the following retail organisations all submitted detailed responses to the Consultation:

Mobilising Retailers via the Retail Press

Below is a gallery of images from the trade press, with most examples being from the trade magazine Retail Newsagent. These images illustrate how retailers have been encouraged to oppose proposals for plain packaging. Similar adverts were included in other trade magazines, including the Grocer, Wholesale News and Retail Express. In these adverts and opinion pieces the tobacco industry utilises a number of tactics including distraction, appeals to authority and third party techniques.

PMI deliberately set out to reframe plain packaging as a business, rather than a health issue (see image from Retail Newsagent, 11 May 2012). Furthermore, in June 2012 during the consultation period, Peter Sheridan, an ex-senior police officer in Northern Ireland, was referred to for his ‘expert’ opinion (29 June 2012). He was presented in local and national media, including the retail press, arguing that plain packaging would increase illicit trade. Nowhere was it disclosed that Sheridan co-founded The Common Sense Alliance which was receiving tobacco money from BAT. [10]

Similarly, on 19 October 2012, it was reported that research showed that plain packaging will cause increased transaction times. However, there was no disclosure in this article that this research was funded by the tobacco industry.[11]


For more detailed information on the anti-plain packaging movement please see:

Revision of the Tobacco Products Directive

Flooding the Consultation

A public consultation on the 2001 EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was conducted between 24 September 2010 and 17 December 2010. In its summary report, the European Commission concluded that "No previous public consultation launched by the European Commission had ever registered such significant participation".[12]

Slide from Philip Morris International (PMI) presentation which was leaked in September 2013

Of the more than 85,000 responses received via the online form there were 18,650 signatures from 10 different petitions from citizens, retailers, traders, wholesalers, trade unions and gas station owners. The summary concluded that the high volume "appears to be a result, to a large extent, of several citizen mobilisation campaigns that took place in some Member States." [12]

One such campaign was organised by a group representing over 75% of Italian tobacconists. The action resulted in personal signatures of over 30,000 tobacconists across Italy. However, 99% of Italian submissions consisted of duplicate responses.[12]

Furthermore, leaked PMI docs include a graph which illustrates the number of responses to the TPD public consultation over time (see Picture 1)[13]. The green section, representing the majority of the consultation responses, depicts those “known” to the company. Although only 2,320 of 85,000 submissions openly identified themselves as originating from the industry, this graph shows that more than 70,000 submissions were known to PMI, suggesting that a much larger proportion of submissions were in some way connected to the industry.


For more detail please see TPD: Delaying the Process of Consultation.

Europe-Wide Store Protest

PMI planned a retailer mobilization campaign for a strike against the TPD on 6th September 2012. Image acquired from PMI document

In opposition to the TPD revision, a Europe-wide demonstration took place on 6 September 2012. Retailers covered their shop displays with protest banners, sent letters to national governments and met with politicians.

In addition, a press conference was organised next to the Polish President’s house. The chairman of The European Confederation of Tobacco Retailers (CEDT) said that its members in Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Austria and Poland took part. The EU affairs publication, European Voice, reported that the protest was a movement from ‘tobacconists across Europe’. [14]

Despite reports that this was a grassroots movement, leaked documents reveal that PMI masterminded the protest. [15]

Reacting to the Europe- wide store protest, the Smoke Free Partnership stated that the industry-funded tobacconists association manipulated retailers into thinking that the ban would affect them more than it would.[14]

Retail Express advert JTI and Forest (24 September-7 October 2013

Petition

A fortnight before the European Parliament's crucial vote on the revision of the EU TPD on 8 October 2013, JTI, placed adverts against the TPD revision in at least one retail trade magazine; the Retail Express.[16] The advert encouraged retailers to oppose the revision by signing the petition, writing to the British Prime Minister and mobilising action from their customers (See image).

For more information see [[PMI’s Lobbying Campaign to Undermine the TPD].

Exaggerated Threat to Retailers

Back in 1999, the World Bank report, ‘Curbing the Epidemic: Governments and the economics of tobacco control’ concluded that research suggests that “falling demand for tobacco does not mean a fall in a country’s total employment level. Money that smokers once spent on cigarettes would instead be spent on other goods and services…” [17]

Furthermore, the report outlined how arguments that tobacco regulation will lead to “massive job losses are usually based on studies funded by the tobacco industry.”[17]

Nevertheless, tobacco companies continue to use these arguments against the further regulation of their industry.

TobaccoTactic Resources

More on the Leaked Phillip Morris Documents and the confidential lobby campaigns to derail Plain Packaging proposals:

External Resources

Indepth analysis of the leaked PMI documents by Corporate Europe Observatory:

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 PMI, UK POS Display Action Plan, Undated
  2. D. Campbell, 'BAT denies allegations that it funded anti-tobacco ban lobby', The Guardian, 27 April 2011, accessed 14 July 2011
  3. D. Campbell, BAT admits bankrolling newsagents' tobacco campaign, The Guardian, 28 April 2011, accessed 15 July 2011
  4. J. Doward, 'British American Tobacco admits funding campaign against display ban', The Observer, 28 May 2011, accessed 9 June 2011
  5. Action for Smoking and Health, The smoke filled room: How big tobacco influences health policy in the UK, 2010, accessed January 2014
  6. Personal Communication with Royal Mail PO Box Team, 23 January 2014
  7. register.com,Who Is Lookup, accessed 23 January 2014
  8. Department of Health, Consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products, 2012, accessed December 2013
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Department of Health, Consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products: Summary Report, July 2013, accessed December 2013
  10. Jamie Doward, Plain packaging lobbyists under fire over links to tobacco company, The Observer, 28 April 2013, accessed April 2013
  11. Retail Newsagent, Your Say, 19 October 2012
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Health and Consumers Directorate-General – Directorate D – Health systems and products D4 – Substances of human origin and Tobacco control, Report on the public consultation on the possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (2001/37/EC), July 2011, accessed February 2012
  13. Philip Morris International, EU In Practice. 11 April 2012, Leaked documents, accessed September 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 D.Keating, Tobacconists stage EU-wide protest, European Voice, 6 September 2012, accessed December 2013
  15. Philip Morris International, EU Tobacco Products Directive Review, Powerpoint slides, 17 August 2012, Leaked Documents, accessed September 2013
  16. JTI, '45% of tobacco products you sell under threat.' Retail Express, 24 September - 7 October 2013, p7
  17. 17.0 17.1 World Bank, Curbing the epidemic: Governments and the economics of tobacco control. World Banks Development in Practice series. 1999 Washington DC