Adam Smith Institute

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The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) describes itself “one of the world’s leading think tanks”. It’s website states that: “The Institute is today at the forefront of making the case for free markets and a free society in the United Kingdom”.1

The free-market think tank has strongly opposed the regulation of smoking and there is evidence that it has accepted money from the tobacco industry.2

In 2016, ASI was rated “highly opaque” by watchdog group Transparify, which campaigns for more disclosure of think tank funding. ASI was one of only four think tanks of the 200 surveyed in the UK that refused to reveal the identities of their donors.34 Open Democracy, an independent international media platform, also gives ASI the lowest possible ranking for transparency.5

ASI is a partner of the Atlas Network.

Received Funding from Tobacco Industry

Early June 2013, The Observer revealed that ASI and another UK think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), received funding from cigarette firms.2

Both Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco (now Imperial Brands), defended their donations to the think tanks. A spokesman for Imperial told the newspaper:

“We believe the contributions of organisations like the ASI and the IEA are very valuable in an open and free society. We respect their work and share their views on many issues”2

In a statement JTI said:

“We work with the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute as their economic and behavioural expertise help us better understand which tobacco regulation measures will work and which will not.”2

A spokesman for Philip Morris International confirmed its membership of the IEA, but refused to provide any details on links to ASI.2

At the time, the ASI confirmed to the Observer that 3% of its funding came from tobacco firms, although it declined to reveal the total figure (see below). A spokesman told the Observer it had a policy of capping private donations, but declined to reveal the level of the cap. The Observer noted: “However, the latest available company accounts reveal that Adam Smith Services Ltd had an income of just under £750,000 in 2011, which suggests that it received around £24,000 from ‘big tobacco’.”2

The Observer added:

“Their admissions have dismayed health groups, which question the degree to which both organisations have influenced government thinking, especially on plain packaging for cigarettes. It also highlights the entrenched links between “big tobacco” and the libertarian strand of British politics that has been strengthened by the recent rise of Ukip, a party that has positioned itself firmly on the side of smokers.”2

Both think tanks have a history of criticising regulation of smoking such as plain packaging and the smoking ban in pubs, arguing that they represent an attack on civil liberties, as is detailed on this page and also our pages on the IEA and Mark Littlewood.

The ASI also has a history of close collaboration with the tobacco industry, detailed on the pages: ASI: History of Close Ties with the Tobacco Industry.

No Disclosure on Funding

The ASI does not disclose its sources of funding on its website or price of membership. However, it has previously offered “subscriptions” costing GB£150 for individuals, UK£500 for companies and institutions, and “partner memberships” for more than GB£1000 per year. “Patrons” of the organisation give GB£5,000 or more a year.6

Nor does the ASI publish a list of its subscribers, partners or patrons, but it has admitted funding from “a couple” of tobacco companies in the recent past.

In February 2012, the Institute published a report written by by ASI and IEA fellow Christopher Snowdon attacking plain packaging. Echoing industry arguments against plain packaging, the report argued:

  • “There is no solid evidence of [plain packaging’s] efficacy or unintended consequences”
  • “The public does not believe that plain packaging will stop people smoking”
  • “It is hard to think of a policy that could delight counterfeiters more than standardising the design, shape and colour of cigarette packs”
  • “Plain packaging is an infringement of intellectual property rights and a violation of international free trade agreements”
  • “It limits information and restricts choice”.7

When Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) claimed that the tobacco industry’s “invisible hand” was behind the report,8 the Institute responded (as quoted on Snowdon’s blog):9

“We commissioned this report ourselves because it reflects our free market, libertarian ideology. Indeed, the Adam Smith Institute does not do commissioned research.

“However, there are a couple of tobacco companies that have corporate subscriptions at the Institute. The revenue from this – while welcome – is not terribly significant. It amounted to less than 3 percent of our 2011 income. Moreover, neither of these companies has played any role whatsoever in the production or editing of this report. We take our independence very seriously.”

Two months later, the Financial Times reported that the ASI had received UK£9,000 from tobacco companies in 2011.10 In 2013, ASI stated that tobacco donations represented 3% of its funding.2

In June 2023, The Observer reported that ASI had accepted sponsorship from Japan Tobacco International (JTI, see below for details).11 A spokesperson for JTI said that “We do provide donations to a number of thinktanks, but we do not disclose details of our financial support”.11

Pro-Tobacco Activities

Anti-WHO, anti-COP activity

In 2021, ASI’s head of programmes, Daniel Pryor,12 authored a submission to the COP enquiry on e-cigarettes.13 In it, Pryor argued that the WHO FCTC position on e-cigarettes “undermine[s] the UK’s harm reduction approach to e-cigarettes”.13  In 2023, Pryor left ASI to work for PMI (see below).

The ASI and organisations founded by its fellow, Mark Oates,14 were active in the run up and during the COP9 meeting in November 2021.

In October 2021, ASI hosted a session on harm reduction “in partnership” with JTI at the Conservative party conference.15 The listed speakers included JTI’s fiscal and regulatory affairs director, Chris Snowdon (ASI/IEA), Mark Oates (WeVape), and Daniel Pryor:15 The event page stated:

“On the international stage, our representatives at COP-9 later this year have the chance to push back against the World Health Organisation’s deadly campaign against vaping and promote the superiority of the UK’s more liberal, effective approach to tobacco harm reduction.”15

ASI and organisations founded by its fellow, Mark Oates, were extremely active in the run up and during the COP9 meeting in November 2021. The ASI was active on Twitter during the COP, promoting anti-WHO and anti-tobacco control messaging. In an article in The Express, Oates, attacked WHO and COP, saying “The event is the COP9 ‑ and it is where countries’ Governments, aided by the World Health Organisation, make secretive decisions regarding tobacco and smoking”.16 Oates’ organisation WeVape also drove a small lorry bearing the slogan “COP9 A COP OUT” around the UK Parliament during the week of COP.17

Historical Activities

Debates organized by Forest

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Adam Smith Institute (ASI) took part in a series of debates about civil liberties, risk and freedom, organised by Forest through its campaign, The Free Society, in June 2011.18 In October 2018, the ASI hosted a series of panel discussions and debates at the Conservative Party Conference on e-cigarettes with speakers UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) and Martin Cullip.19

The Letter to the Daily Telegraph

In March 2011, Eamonn Butler, ASI Director, was one of a number of signatories of a Letter to the Editor to the Daily Telegraph attacking the Government’s position on tobacco control and arguing against further restrictions.

Save Our Pubs & Clubs: was a “coalition of groups and individuals who believe that the public smoking ban introduced in Scotland in 2006 and the rest of the United Kingdom in 2007 is excessive and should be amended.”20

The website listed the following partners, along with the Adam Smith Institute (ASI):

Tobacco Products Directive

In late 2010, ASI’s Research Manager, Sam Bowman, submitted a pro-tobacco response to the European Commission’s consultation on the possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, arguing that the EU ban on snus should be lifted as it ignored “the issues of civil liberties”.

Bowman furthermore suggested that all EU-wide regulations on cigarette packaging should be removed, allowing member states to make their own regulations, and argued against an EU-wide reporting format for tobacco products. Bowman’s submission was also highly in favour of tobacco product innovations, arguing that “tobacco is nonetheless a popular substance that many EU citizens enjoy consuming. Innovations that enhance enjoyment of tobacco should not stifled unless the innovations themselves are directly harmful”.21

Articles and blogs

On 10 March 2011, Tom Clougherty, a senior fellow at ASI, wrote an article 22 on the ASI website calling the government’s proposal for to ban the display of tobacco in shops and to consider plain packaging “fundamentally illiberal”. Repeating the same arguments put forward by the tobacco industry, he claimed: “Neither is justified based on the evidence… and both will create all sorts of unintended consequences (display bans will cost shopkeepers thousands of pounds, plain packaging will severely exacerbate existing problems with counterfeiting).”22 He added:

“It seems to me that tobacco is at the coalface of a much bigger cultural battle, in which capitalism, individualism and rationality are all coming under relentless attack by the enemies of freedom.”22

On 18 December 2010, ASI senior fellow Tim Worstall wrote a blog on the ASI website, citing Christopher Snowdon‘s blog Velvet Glove Iron Fist. He claimed that people who argue that smoking bans reduce heart attacks are “lying to us”, and that the “various controls and bans on smoking in Ireland have actually increased smoking”.23

With apparently no irony, given the ASI’s history of taking money from the tobacco industry, Sam Bowman wrote on 27 October 2010: “A new report released today by Forest, the smokers’ lobby, shows the extent to which the government has been funding groups like Action on Smoking and Health and No Smoking Day and continues to do so.” He called for abolition of “anti-smoking quangos”.24


For an up-to-date list of current staff members, see the ASI website.

As of June 2023, the following core staff were listed:25

  • Dr Madsen Pirie, president
  • Dr Eamonn Butler, director
  • John Macdonald, director of strategy
  • Duncan Simpson. executive director. Before joining ASI in February 2023 he worked for over five years at the Taxpayers Alliance, as well as roles in parliament.2526
  • Maxwell Marlow, Director of Research. Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center

Daniel Pryor, author of the 2021 COP enquiry submission, was head of research until May 2023, when he began working for PMI as external affairs strategic research manager.2728

The ASI website also lists its fellows. In June 2023, these included:

Relevant Links

Adam Smith Institute website

TobaccoTactics Resources

Other entries relevant to the ASI:

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  1. Adam Smith Institute, Home page, Adam Smith Institute, undated, accessed June 2023
  2. abcdefghJ. Doward, Health groups dismayed by news ‘big tobacco’ funded right-wing thinktanks, The Observer, 1 June 2013, archived August 2013, accessed January 2022
  3. Transparify, How Transparent are Think Tanks about Who Funds Them 2015?, 29 June 2016, archived July 2016, accessed January 2022
  4. Transparify, Think Tanks in the UK 2017: Transparency, Lobbying and Fake News in Brexit Britain, 8 February 2017, Bristol UK/Tiblisi Georgia, available from
  5. Open Democracy, Who Funds You?, website, undated, accessed December 2023
  6. Adam Smith Institute, Support the Adam Smith Institute, undated, archived August 2011, accessed January 2022
  7. Christopher Snowdon, Commercial expression, anti-smoking extremism and the risks of hyper-regulation, Adam Smith Institute, February 2012, accessed January 2022
  8. Action on Smoking and Health, “Invisible hand” behind Adam Smith Institute plain packs report, ASH website, 20 February 2012, accessed January 2022
  9. Adam Smith Institute, Plain Packaging: Commercial expression, anti-smoking extremism and the risks of hyper-regulation, Iron Fist, Velvet Glove blog, 20 February 2012, accessed January 2022
  10. Christopher Thompson, Big Tobacco Hits out at ‘Big Mother’, Financial Times, 7 April 2012 (paywall)
  11. abS. Das, J. Ungoed-Thomas, Lobbyists with links to Big Tobacco fund pro-vaping Facebook campaigns, The Observer, 18 June 2023, accessed June 2023
  12. Daniel Pryor, LinkedIn profile, accessed June 2023
  13. abD. Pryor, ASI submission to COP enquiry on APPG Vaping, 1 February 2021
  14. Adam Smith Institute, Fellows, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  15. abcAdam Smith Institute, The Golden Opportunity: How Britain can embrace tobacco harm reduction, website, undated, archived 2 October 2021, accessed June 2023
  16. M. Oates, Secretive WHO is ignoring the science on vaping, says MARK OATES, The Express, 7 November 2021, accessed January 2022
  17. WeVape, #COP9 commences today. Behind closed doors Governments will make decisions that could directly harm your health, with little to no public scrutiny. #COP9FCTC, Twitter, 8 November 2021
  18. The Free Society, Voices of Freedom, undated, archived June 2011, accessed January 2022
  19. Adam Smith Institute, 1 Million Years of Life: How Harm Reduction in Tobacco Policy Can Save Lives, 2 October 2018, archived December 2018, accessed January 2022
  20., About us, undated, archived December 2014, accessed January 2022
  21. European Commission, Public consultation on the possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive: NGO submission, page 216, undated, archived February 2021, accessed January 2022
  22. abcT. Clougherty, Smoking and individualism, ASI blog, 10 March 2011, accessed January 2022
  23. T. Worstall, On smoking bans and lies about smoking bans, ASI blog, 18 December 2010, archived December 2018, accessed January 2022
  24. S. Bowman, The anti-smoking boondoggle, ASI blog, 27 October 2010, archived July 2019, accessed January 2022
  25. abAdam Smith Institute, Our People, undated, accessed June 2023
  26. Duncan Simpson, LinkedIn profile, accessed June 2023
  27. Adam Smith Institute, Our People, undated, archived March 2023
  28. Daniel Pryor, LinkedIn profile, accessed June 2023
  29. abAdam Smith Institute,  Senior Fellows and Fellows, website, undated, accessed June 2023
  30. Institute of Economic Affairs, Christopher Snowdon, website, undated, accessed June 2023