Property Rights Alliance

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The Property Rights Alliance (PRA) was formed in 2009 in Washington, and has described itself as an “advocacy organization dedicated to the protection of physical and intellectual property rights, both domestically and internationally”.1
The PRA’s focus is the protection of intellectual property, which it argues fosters “growth in trade and foreign direct investment not just in the United States, but across the globe”.2
The organisation’s Executive Director is Lorenzo Montanari.

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Indirectly Funded by Tobacco

The PRA is “an advocacy project” of the think tank Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).3
The ATR has a long history of tobacco industry collaboration and funding. Philip Morris classified the ATR as a “Category ‘A’ Organization”,4 meaning the tobacco company considered its relationship with the ATR to be “most important/ sustained”, and that ATR “traditionally received support of over $50K”, and had “multiple relationships with PM people”.5
In the 1990s tobacco companies, in particular Philip Morris USA (PM) and RJ Reynolds (RJR), funded the ATR for general public policy support and specific campaigns, including:

  • 2000: PM allocated $100,000 to ATR in its Public Policy Grants Budget.6
  • 1999: ATR received $435,000 funding of a total $3,089,750 awarded by PM to American think thanks and advocacy organisations.
  • 1998: The Tobacco Institute awarded ATR $2,000 towards its ‘Pledge campaign’ against tax increases.78
  • 1997: RJR paid ATR $200 towards “efforts against possible tax increases”, 9 and hosted a dinner for the organisation.10 Via RJR’s lobbyist Kim Hamilton, the tobacco company also paid ATR a further $3,445.89 for specific “PR relations in support of lobbying activities”.11
  • 1996: ATR received $100,000 from RJR,12 $80,000 from PM.13
  • 1994: PM donated $80,000 to ATR.14

It is unclear if tobacco companies continue to offer large support grants to ATR. In 2012 Reynolds American (the holding company of RJR) reported on its website that it had contributed $175,000 to the ATR.1516 This amount was later removed from Reynolds American’s list of 2012 corporate contributions, when ATR advised Reynolds that none of the contribution had been used for political activities.17 Since then, the only other contributions to ATR publicly disclosed by tobacco companies are a $7,750 donation by Reynolds American in 2015,18 and a 2016 donation in-kind by Altria (no details provided).19

Speaker at 2015 Tobacco Industry Event

Montanari, PRA’s Executive Director, was an invited speaker at a tobacco industry event in 2015.20
The Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) was funded amongst others by British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, and Swedish Match.21
Montanari was a panel member in a session discussing plain packaging, a tobacco control measure vociferously opposed by the tobacco industry, who have utilised third-parties including think-tanks in an attempt to influence Government opinion.222324 The session was chaired by BAT’s Michiel Reerink, and other panel members included Duane Layton (Mayor Brown), Neil McKeganey (Centre for Drug Misuse Research), Flora Okereke (BAT), and Rupert Wilson (Strategic Business Consulting).25

Opposition to Plain Packaging

The PRA has been opposing plain packaging legislation since 2012, claiming that plain packaging is not an effective tobacco control measure and threatens individual property rights of people.26

Social Media: YouTube Videos

In June 2016, the PRA posted two videos executed in several languages on YouTube that criticised plain packaging. The first video claimed that “across the globe, governments are attempting to create a new world, one without brands, without choice”.27 It then asks “Today it is food, alcohol and tobacco. Tomorrow what’s next? It could be anything”. This is commonly referred to as the ‘slippery slope’ argument.
A second video focused on Australia’s implementation of plain packaging and argued that the Government had been misleading the public when claiming that the policy had benefitted public health.28 Both videos end with a written message that states “when Governments destroy property rights and consumer choice they undermine the very core of free societies”.

Open Letters to World Health Organization

The PRA has coordinated two open letters to the World Health Organization (WHO), signed by a collection of think tanks and other organisations including the PRA, urging the WHO and governments to reject plain packaging:

* “5 Years of Failure. Global Coalition Letter Against Plain Packaging”. An Open Letter from 62 think tanks to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General WHO, March 2018.29

*“International Coalition Letter Against Plain Packaging”. Letter from 47 think tanks to Dr. Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, Director General WHO, June 2016.30

In addition to the PRA, some of the other signatories of the letters have tobacco industry links, including Simon Clark from Forest (signatory to first letter), Mike Ridgway (signatory to the second letter), and Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) (signatory to both letters).
The first letter claimed that plain packaging is “a dangerous precedent to set for commerce in general” and that “there has been a 24% increase in the consumption of illicit tobacco in Australia since plain packaging took effect”. These arguments are consistent with those made by the tobacco industry against plain packaging. Independent evidence from Australia found no such increase in illicit trade.3132

The second letter urged the WHO and governments to “stop infringing on intellectual property rights with plain packaging policies”. The letter claims that “the latest independent research” on the impact of plain packaging in Australia finds ‘no statistically significant difference in effectiveness of the graphic health warnings as a result of the policy being introduced- if anything that effectiveness declined’”.33
The “latest independent research” cited is one non peer-reviewed article by academics Sinclair Davidson and Ashton De Silva, the former a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian think tank that has received tobacco industry funding in the past. The paper was critiqued by Cancer Research Victoria in 2016 which found that the authors’ analysis misrepresented, oversimplified and contained “numerous errors of fact”.34

Opposition to E-Cigarette Ban

Letter to the South China Morning Post

In April 2019 the South China Morning Post reported that Philip Morris was threatening to close its Hong Kong research facility in response to Hong Kong’s e-cigarette ban.35 The same day the PRA published a letter in the same newspaper arguing against the Hong Kong e-cigarette ban, claiming that it “will serve surely serve to fuel a black market”.36 The PRA provided no evidence to support its claim.

“Global Partners”

On its website,37 PRA lists several “global partners” in its efforts for stronger physical and intellectual property rights, including two organisations with strong links with the tobacco industry:

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

Relevant Links

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  1. Property Rights Alliance, About Property Rights Alliance, PRA website, 2009, accessed March 2018
  2. Property Rights Alliance, News: Intellectual Property, PRA website, 2009, accessed May 2017
  3. Americans for Tax Reform, Help Support the Property Rights Alliance, ATR website, 19 November 2009, accessed March 2018
  4. Unknown, Public Policy Group Contribution Process, March 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2077591394-2077591403, accessed March 2018
  5. Unknown, Operating principles – Public Policy Review Process, 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2078844668-2078844669, accessed March 2018
  6. Unknown, Public Policy Review Committee Meeting, 23 September 1999, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2073204225/4271, accessed March 2018
  7. Unknown, From the desk Ralph Vinovich, 27 July 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, TI15960199, accessed March 2018
  8. Unknown, I urge you to read the enclosed letter from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and join his, 18 June 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no:TI15960201, accessed March 2018
  9. D. Powers, DC Accounts payable voucher, Americans for Tax Reform, 1 May 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 518242364-512842365, accessed March 2018
  10. J.M. Cresanta, NV Contributions, 29 December 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 515613926, accessed March 2018
  11. J. Krebs, Employer of Lobbyist Report, July 1997, Bates no: 522534067-522534072, accessed March 2018
  12. T. Payne, Washington DC Contributions, 25 October 1996, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 522572096-522572097, accessed March 2018
  13. Unknown, Public Policy Group Grants, April 1996, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2047726137-2047726139, accessed March 2018
  14. Unknown, Public Policy Group Grants, November 1994, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2048621332-2048621334, accessed March 2018
  15. Reynolds American, Original List 2012 Corporate Contributions to 501 (c)(4) and 501 (c)(6) Organizations, 2012, accessed March 2018
  16. D. Levinthal, Tobacco giant funded conservative nonprofits, Center for Public Integrity, 30 May 2013, accessed March 2018
  17. Reynolds American, Revised List 2012 Corporate Contributions to 501 (c)(4) and 501 (c)(6) Organizations, 2012, accessed March 2018
  18. Reynolds American, 2015 Corporate Contributions to 501(c) (4) and 501(c) (6) Organizations, accessed March 2018
  19. Altria, 2016 Recipients of Charitable Contributions from the Altria Family of Companies, 2016, accessed March 2018
  20. Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum, Look Who’s Talking, GTNF website, 2015, accessed December 2017
  21. Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum, Made Possible By…, GTNF website, 2015, accessed March 2018
  22. K.A. Evans-Reeves, J.L. Hatchard, A.B. Gilmore, ‘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, Tobacco Control, 2015 24:e168-e177
  23. J.L. Hatchard, G.J. Fooks, K.A. Evans-Reeves, et al, A critical evaluation of the volume, relevance and quality of evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to oppose standardised packaging of tobacco products, BMJ Open, 2014;4:e003757. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003757
  24. J. Smith, K. Lee, Protecting the plain packaging consultation from tobacco industry interference, CMAJ, 2016 Oct 4; 188(14): E340-E341
  25. Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum, Agenda, GTNF website, 2015, accessed March 2018
  26. M. Guay, Plain as Day That Plain Packaging Not for UK, Americans for Tax Reform website, 10 September 2012, accessed March 2018
  27. Property Rights Alliance, Plain Packaging: What’s Next?, published on 1 June 2016, accessed March 2018
  28. Property Rights Alliance, Plain Packaging. Know the Real Facts, published on 1 June 2016, accessed March 2018
  29. Coalition of 62 think tanks, 5 Years of Failure. Global Coalition Letter Against Plain Packaging, 22 March 2018, accessed March 2018
  30. Coalition of 47 think tanks, International coalition letter against plain packaging, 2 June 2016, accessed March 2018
  31. 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, 2015:24:e45-51, accessed March 2018
  32. M. Scollo, M. Zacher, K. Coomber, et al, 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, accessed March 2018
  33. S. Davidson, A. De Silva, “What the Government Demanded As Proof for Plain Packaging Efficacy: An Analysis the Public Health Lobby Did Not Perform”, RMIT University, 3 May 2017
  34. Cancer Council Victoria, Comments on Davidson, S and de Silva, A. Stubbing out the evidence of tobacco plain packaging efficacy: An analysis of the Australian National Tobacco Plain Packaging Survey, Social Science Research Network, Melbourne, 3 June 2016
  35. E. Cheung, Tobacco giant Philip Morris warns it may close HK$ 78 million Hong Kong research centre in light of government proposal to ban e-cigarettes and other new smoking products, South China Morning Post, 21 April 2019, accessed April 2019
  36. L. Montanari, Why Hong Kong must not follow Singapore on e-cigarette ban, South China Morning Post, 21 April 2019, accessed April 2019
  37. Property Rights Alliance, Global partners, PRA website, 2016, accessed March 2018