PMI’s “Illicit Trade” Anti-Plain Packaging Campaign
In 2013, leaked documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) revealed the extent of the tobacco company’s public relations and lobbying campaign to derail the government’s proposals and public consultation on plain packaging.
- See below for links to other pages on the leaked documents.
The campaign used a variety of arguments against plain packaging, one of the most important being that the measure would increase the amount of illicit tobacco and cigarettes sold in the United Kingdom. The industry had used the argument on illicit before, in Australia, (Plain Packaging in Australia) and in Europe, against the Tobacco Products Directive, (PMI’s Lobbying Campaign to Undermine the TPD).
The illicit argument became a central pillar of PMI’s widespread media campaign, (see PMI’s Anti-PP Media Campaign) despite the fact that the major tobacco companies have a history of involvement in smuggling their own cigarettes. See for instance:
- Imperial And Gallaher Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling
- Gallaher versus its Cypriot distributor
- BAT Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling
- JTI Involvement in Smuggling
Main Scaremongering Messages
The main messages the company wanted to push in its campaign were listed in one of the slides in the leaked presentation:
- Cost to government;
- Illegal cigarettes content;
- Fuelled by tax increases;
- Harms legitimate business
Essentially PMI was trying to scaremonger the government into inaction by arguing that any introduction of plain packaging would lead to an increase in illicit cigarettes and crime. The company used these messages as part of its “engagement strategy” with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), as well as in its media campaign in the regional and national press.
Empty Pack Surveys
All the company needed to do was to generate data and media stories that argued that illicit cigarettes were a growing problem. From mid-2011, the company started to place stories in the press that focused on the increase of the use of illicit cigarettes.
The percentages were based on a series of Empty Pack Surveys (EPS) - a flawed method of measuring illicit favoured by the tobacco industry. Researchers collect discarded cigarette packets from various locations and from there extrapolate the percentage of illegal versus genuine cigarettes for the whole country. The method has been criticised by academics and other experts.
One recent academic article has noted that there is “growing evidence” which suggests that “EPS sampling may be designed to increase the likelihood of finding non-domestic/illicit packs” and that “EPSs may overestimate illicit.”
Despite concerns such as these, PMI using EPS data started placing stories about illicit in the press, working with the ex-Policeman, Will O’Reilly.
PMI Analysis of Media Stories it Generated
The company analysed the amount of “illicit trade headlines” the strategy had generated. PMI noted it had succeeded in getting coverage in the BBC, Daily Mail, The Guardian, Financial Times, Sunday Mirror, Daily Star and Evening Standard, as well as “widespread regional coverage”.
Other TobaccoTactic Resources
More on the Leaked Phillip Morris Documents and the confidential lobby campaigns to derail Plain Packaging proposals:
- PMI's Mobilising Support from Retailers
- PMI's Anti-Plain Packaging Lobbying Campaign
- PMI’s Anti-PP Media Campaign
- PMI’s Lobbying Campaign to Undermine the TPD
- Will O’Reilly
Indepth analysis of the leaked PMI documents by Corporate Europe Observatory:
- Looking back at the tobacco lobbying battle: Philip Morris' allies in the European Parliament, Michael Hörz, May 2014.
- ‘It will harm business and increase illicit trade’: an evaluation of the relevance, quality and transparency of evidence submitted by transnational tobacco companies to the UK consultation on standardised packaging 2012, K. Evans-Reeves, J. Hatchard, A. Gilmore, 2015, Tobacco Control, 24(e2), e168-e177
- International trade law, plain packaging and tobacco industry political activity: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, G. Fooks, A. Gilmore, 2014, Tobacco Control, 23(1), e1
- A critical evaluation of the volume, relevance and quality of evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to oppose standardised packaging of tobacco products, J. Hatchard, G. Fooks, K. Evans-Reeves, S. Ulucanlar, A. Gilmore, 2014, BMJ Open 4(2), e003757
- Representation and Misrepresentation of Scientific Evidence in Contemporary Tobacco Regulation: A Review of Tobacco Industry Submissions to the UK Government Consultation on Standardised Packaging, S. Ulucanlar, G. Fooks, J. Hatchard, A. Gilmore, 2014, PLOS Medicine, 11(3), e1001629
- How do corporations use evidence in public health policy making? The case of standardised tobacco packaging, J Hatchard, K. Evans-Reeves, S. Ulucanlar, G. Fooks, A. Gilmore, 2013, Lancet, 382(s3), S42, d
- European watchdog is failing to hold tobacco industry to account over smuggling, M. McKee, A. Gilmore, 2015, British Medical Journal 351, h6973
- Illicit trade, tobacco industry-funded studies and policy influence in the EU and UK, G, Fooks, S. Peeters, K. Evans-Reeves, 2014, Tobacco Control, 23(1), 81-83
- The transnational tobacco companies’ strategy to promote Codentify, their inadequate tracking and tracing standard, L. Joosens, A. Gilmore, 2014, Tobacco Control, 23(e1), e3-e6
- Assessment of the European Union's illicit trade agreements with the four major Transnational Tobacco Companies, L. Joossens, A. Gilmore, M. Stoklosa, H. Ross, 2014, Tobacco Control, online first, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052218
- Tobacco industry manipulation of data on and press coverage of the illicit tobacco trade in the UK, A. Rowell, K. Evans-Reeves, A. Gilmore, 2014, Tobacco Control, 23(e1), e35-e43
- Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report, A. Gilmore, A. Rowell, S. Gallus, A. Lugo, L. Joosens, M. Sims, 2013, Tobacco Control, 23(e1), e51-e61
- Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report, A. Gilmore, A. Rowell, S. Gallus, A. Lugo, L. Joosens, M. Sims, 2013, Tobacco Control, 23(e1), e51-e61, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051240