BAT Funded Lobbying Against Plain Packaging

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In general, tobacco companies are reluctant to publish any details on the causes and organisations they support. In 2013, the issue of financial contributions to lobby groups and political campaigns, was raised at the AGM of British American Tobacco (BAT). In response to questions by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), BAT provided the following information on its involvement in campaigning against Plain Packaging.

Lobbying in Australia

BAT publicly launched a national campaign against plain packaging in Australia, aimed at distributing and disseminating promotional materials, in print, radio, billboards and social media.
The campaign was launched on 17 May 2011 at an event broadcasted on national TV, but BAT also states that the campaign had actually started in 2010, and ran to 2012.

  • BAT costs 2011 – 2012: AUS$ 3,482,247.1

According to BAT, there is no current campaign funding in Australia against plain packaging, which came in to force on 1st December 2012.2
It is unclear from BAT’s information, whether it’s disclosed budget included the company’s involvement with the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR). The AAR is a tobacco industry front group, paid for by Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and BAT. It was set up specifically to oppose the Government’s introduction of Plain Packaging in Australia, and was operated by the Melbourne based public relations firm The Civic Group (TCG).
When it was launched, the AAR did not reveal its industry connections. It presented itself as a grassroots campaign created by small businesses against plain packaging. Leaked internal emails exposing the group’s links to the tobacco industry showed that the director of Philip Morris’ Corporate Affairs, Chris Argent, was instrumental in the establishment and day-to-day running of the AAR.34
The leaked documents included the contract between Philip Morris and TCG, and several emails exchanged between the two.5 One of the documents revealed that TCG received:

  • $ 1,080,860 from Imperial Tobacco Australia;
  • $ 2,200,000 from British American Tobacco;
  • $ 2,161,720 from Philip Morris Limited.

Since the document leak, the AAR disclosed on its website that the AAR is in fact supported by BAT Australia, Philip Morris Limited and Imperial Tobacco Limited, albeitin the small print.
BAT Australia is a corporate member of a number of business organisations in Australia, including the Institute of Public Affairs.2

Lobbying in New Zealand

BAZNZ launched a national media campaign in August 2012 and according to BAT all the campaign materials (print, radio, TV and social media) clearly disclose the funding by the tobacco company. The budget for the campaign in New Zealand quoted in the information from BAT, however, was for a longer period than that disclosed:

  • BAT costs for 2011 and 2012: NZ $ 3,993,940.

BAT has also supported retailers In New Zealand. No further details1 beyond a single budget for the same two years:

  • BAT costs for 2011 and 2012: NZ $ 48,869

Lobbying in Brussels

BAT has an office in Brussels which lobbies EU institutions on a broad range of issues, including plain packaging.1 The approximate expenditure for this office appears on the EU’s Transparency Register:

  • BAT EU costs:
    • 2010 – € 500,000
    • 2011 – € 450,000
    • 2012 – € 1,000,000

One of the agencies paid by BAT to lobby in Brussels is EUK Consulting. The consultancy declared payment of between €50,000 – €100,000 by BAT for each year (2010-12).6
It is not known which other consultancies are on the pay-roll of the BAT Brussels office. BAT does however volunteer to the EU Transparency Register that it is a member of a long list of associations and networks. For 2013, the list includes American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (AmCham EU), British Chamber of Commerce Belgium, BusinessEurope, European Policy Centre (EPC), European Risk Forum (ERF), Kangaroo Group, International Chamber of Commerce UK (ICC UK), International Trademark Association (ITA), Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy set up by the International Chamber of Commerce (BASCP ICC), Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM), European Smoking Tobacco Association (ESTA), European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC), and ECMA. For 2011, the list was even longer. No budgets were specified. The organisations mentioned include lobby groups, chambers of commerce, think tanks as well as industry networks and front groups. Only two of them declare to have BAT as a member, the European Policy Centre and the European Risk Forum.
BAT does concede that:

In the EU, our financial contributions to third party associations in the EU are not related to plain packaging in particular, but instead relate to a broad range of policy issues or activities that are of general interest to the business community and the tobacco value chain.1

For more on lobbying in Brussels, see: EU Tobacco Products Directive

Lobbying in the UK

In the UK, BAT has spent £2 million on corporate and regulatory issues since April 2012. This amount incorporates a wide range of lobbying activity in the UK surrounding plain packaging and revisions of the EU Tobacco Products Directive.1

From BAT’s information it is not clear whether this £2 million figure includes just the budget for advertising, or also incorporates campaigns undertaken by third parties, or influential think tanks. The details of BAT budgets are detailed below.

  • BAT costs since April 2012: £2 million (one year)

BAT created a short emotive advert; This is the Man which showed the victims of illicit trade. BAT makes the case that illicit trade is part of organised crime which can include criminal activities such as sex trafficking and terrorism. The advert associates illicit trade with an innocent woman forced into prostitution, children who buy unregulated cigarettes and the general public at danger from terrorist acts. The company uses this advert and a number of organised crime scenarios to make non-evidence based connections between plain packaging and illicit trade.

Think Tanks in the UK

In 2011, BAT gave the Institute of Economic Affairs £10,000, plus £1,000 for hosting an event. The following year it donated a further £20,000 to the institute.1 The tobacco company planned to increase its contribution to the IEA in 2013 and 2014.2

Third Parties and Front Groups in the UK

The creation of front groups and the hiring of third-parties is a tactic used by the tobacco industry to conceal their involvement. As detailed above, in the case of AAR, the Retailers Association in Australia, BAT insisted everything was done in a transparent way, despite the fact that the AAR did not disclose it had been founded by the industry when it was first launched.
When pressed about the funding of third parties, BAT replies that :

British American Tobacco is happy to support those who believe in the same things we do. Our support may be financial or resources in-kind but we do not tell these bodies what to say or how to spend the money.

In 2011, at the BAT AGM, just days after a categorical denial, company chairman Richard Burrows confirmed the tobacco group had funded the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) in the UK, and had met with them and Hume Brophy to discuss the campaign against the display ban.7
According to BAT, this financial support has not extended to campaigning on plain packaging. BAT argues that “in the UK, BAT has not supported the NFRN specifically for any campaigning on plain packaging. We have only contributed our normal annual subscription.”
Overall, BAT admits that it is funding the following organisations, although no budgets are provided 1:

Entity Activity Disclosure of support
FOREST Hands Off Our Packs (HOOP) campaign BAT’s support is clearly disclosed on the HOOP website.
The Common Sense Alliance Seeks evidence-based regulation across a wide range of topics. BAT’s support is clearly disclosed on the Common Sense Alliance website.
Rural Shops Alliance Funding for research project. BAT’s support is clearly identified in the report
Scottish Wholesale Association Funding support for postcard campaign during the consultation BAT’s support is disclosed on each postcard
Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (including the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance) Funding support for postcard campaign The TMA support (of which BAT is a member) is identified on each postcard

Part of Larger Funding

A closer examination reveals that the majority of the organisations above are funded by the industry:

  • Forest is almost entirely funded by the tobacco industry and set up to serve as a voice separate from the industry.
  • The Common Sense Alliance – According to the organisation’s website, BAT is one of the five main supporters.
    • Two of the founding members of the Alliance, Peter Sheridan and Roy Ramm, are cited as expert witnesses by tobacco companies in their submissions to the UK Consultation on Standardised Packaging (Sheridan by BAT and Ramm by PMI) – without acknowledgement of their involvement with the Alliance. Both have been lobbying on plain packaging as well – again, with only their credentials as former police officer mentioned.

Third Party Lobbying Orchestrated by the Tobacco Industry

The BAT overview can also be read as a first overview of public pressure on Parliament orchestrated by the tobacco industry, undertaken by third parties. It lists the main campaigns set up to voice concerns about plain packaging, by retailers, smokers and other members of the public.

  1. Hands Off Our Packs started in February 2012 and submitted a petition of 235,000 signatures to the Governments consultation (although questions were raised about the methods to acquire signatures).
  2. The Plain Nonsense campaign of the Scottish Wholesale Association included a postcard campaign and offered an opportunity to send a message to the consultation via the Plain Nonsense website. The small print says it was supported by BAT.
  3. The TRA launched the No to Plain Packs in May 2012. Two months later, 30.000 people in retail signed paper postcards to Parliament, TRA claimed.

Not mentioned in the BAT overview is the more recent campaign launched by Forest:

In February 2013, at a crucial time in the plain packaging debate, with the Department of Health’s report on the consultation expected to be released in the spring 2013, Forest announced a new Hands Off Our Packs campaign: Say No to Plain Packs. Its website sends a template letter opposing plain packaging to your local MP – at a click of a button.9

TobaccoTactics Resources

Illicit Trade

Plain Packaging

TCRG Research

Visit Peer-Reviewed Research for more research on the tobacco industry and how it has influenced the plain packaging debate in the UK.

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  1. abcdefgSimon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
  2. abcSimon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, second letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 18 June 2013 2013
  3. The Tobacco Files – A definitive conclusion to the debate over plain-packaging, 2010
  4. Anne Davies, ‘Big Tobacco hired public relations firm to lobby government’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 September 2010, accessed 8 June 2011
  5. Ballyhoo, Alliance of Australian Retailers Media Investment Reconciliation, 30 August 2010, Accessed February 2013
  6. EU Transparency Register, EUK Consulting, accessed August 2011 and May 2013
  7. The Guardian, BAT admits bankrolling newsagents’ tobacco campaign, 28 April 2011, accessed 15 July 2011
  8. Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance website, About the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, undated, accessed June 2013
  9. Forest, Email your MP about plain packaging, HOOPS webpage, 11 February 2013, accessed February 2013