Action on Consumer Choice

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This page was archived on 22 September 2020 and is not actively maintained

This organisation is now defunct

The Latest Front Group From Forest

Image 1. Mockup cover of Consumer Choicefrom Simon Clark’s blog

Forest’s “Latest Project”

Action on Consumer Choice (ACC) is a front group set up by the tobacco industry front group Forest. ACC, which is modelled on similar corporate front groups in the US, was launched by Forest in November 2014. 1
ACC is described by Forest’s Director Simon Clark as “a consumer group that fights the health police on the battlegrounds of choice and personal responsibility.”
According to Clark, it will centre primarily on “consumer products including tobacco, food and drink.”2
In June 2015, Clark outlined on his blog how Rob Lyons, who used to work for Spiked had been recruited to head up the front group. Clark wrote: Lyons “has been appointed to work on Forest’s latest project, Action on Consumer Choice, which will address issues relating to food, drink and (smokeless) tobacco.” 3

Forest Broadens out its Campaigning

When describing the impetus behind ACC on his blog, Clark wrote of how “the arguments and tactics used against tobacco were slowly but surely being used to target alcohol and food.”4 In a speech published by The Free Society, he went onto explain the reason behind the campaign:

“Few would deny there are health risks associated with smoking. However, to suggest that smoking automatically leads to an early grave is absurd. It’s just one reason why the health police appear increasingly foolish on this and other issues.

Nevertheless, the same exaggerated tactics that have been used to tackle smoking are now being used to target our eating habits. Incredibly, we are told that one fifth of Britain’s population will be clinically obese within the next ten to 15 years and by 2040 half the population will be ‘superfat’ and in danger of dying early.

The problem with these outlandish claims is that they are being used as an excuse for restricting freedom of choice through social engineering and censorship.”4

The campaign has a dedicated twitter account and website (inactive since 2017). It has also explored the possibility of producing quarterly publications of Consumer Choice, which would centre on lifestyle issues related to the ACC’s work (see Image 1 for a mockup cover of the proposed magazine.)

Attacks UK Government Over Sugar Tax

ACC Attacks Government Sugar Tax, March 2016

In its March 2016 Budget, the British Government announced a new levy on producers of sugary drinks in an effort to tackle childhood obesity, raising about £500m a year. 5

In response (see image), ACC dismissed the tax or levy as “a PR stunt” and “gift to public-health campaigners who will almost certainly be emboldened to come back for more when the levy has next-to-zero impact on sugar consumption6

Links to the Tobacco Industry

In an article published in The Observer on 1 November 2014, Clark confirmed that the campaign’s initial funding came from the tobacco industry.7

“Inspired” by Center for Consumer Freedom

According to Clark, the ACC campaign has been in the making for years, and is “inspired” by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)2. Clark has also described the Forest-led ACC campaign as the “UK version” of the CCF and is based on the same model. 8
Based in Washington D.C., CCF is described on its website as “a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices.”9

The CCF: An Industry Front Group in the US

The CCF does not disclose its funders as “Many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors.”9
However CCF is recognised as a front group for the food, alcohol and tobacco industries, which “runs media campaigns that oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, animal advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them “the Nanny Culture.10
The CCF is run by Executive Director Richard Berman, who owns the public relations firm Berman & Co. The firm has operated numerous campaigns and front groups similar to CCF, including campaigns against raising the minimum wage and smoking in bars and restaurants.11 In 2005, more than 40% of the CCF’s expenditure was paid to Berman & Co.10

Berman: “Win ugly or lose pretty”

In October 2014, The New York Times obtained a recording of a speech that Berman gave to representatives of the oil and gas industry, from whom Berman had recently received approximately three million USD to counter anti-fracking campaigns.12 The New York Times” reported:

“The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because ‘you can either win ugly or lose pretty,’ he said.”

Berman went on to explain how industry corporations could fund his firm to campaign without fear on their behalf: “People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?’” to which Berman responded, “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”

Clark Met with Berman Ahead of ACC Launch

On a blog post, dated 9 October 2014, Clark disclosed that he met with Berman ahead of the November launch of the ACC,8 which is not surprising given he intends to make the ACC the UK counterpart of the CCF. In the post, Clark praises the CCF, stating he “loved the swagger, the controlled aggression and cutting humour directed at opponents” it is known for. Clark also remarked on Berman’s main strategy- to “destroy your opponent’s credibility before they destroy yours.”8

External Resources

For more information on the CCF and Berman, visit:

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. Simon Clark, Save the date, Taking Liberties Blog, 8 October 2014, accessed October 2014
  2. abSimon Clark, Coming soon… Action on Consumer Choice (no more meddling!), Taking Liberties Blog, May 24, 2013, accessed October 2014
  3. Simon Clark,Eat, drink, smoke, vape: Rob Lyons joins Action on Consumer Choice, Taking Liberties Blog, 5 June 2015, Accessed July 2015
  4. abSimon Clark, It’s official: food really is the new tobacco, Taking Liberties Blog, May 29, 2014, accessed October 2014
  5. Financial Times, Budget 2016: summary and highlights 16 March, 2016
  6. Action on Consumer Choice, Action on Consumer Choice, Eating, ACC website, archived 22 May 2016, accessed July 2019
  7. J Doward and G Bissett, Tobacco firms adopt tactics of ‘Dr Evil’ in battle against tougher regulation, The Observer, November 1, 2014, accessed November 2014
  8. abcSimon Clark, Face to face with Dr Evil, Taking Liberties Blog, October 9, 2014, accessed October 2014
  9. abCenter for Consumer Freedom, About Us: What is the Center for Consumer Freedom?, CCF Website, accessed October 2014
  10. abThe Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Consumer Freedom, SourceWatch, last updated 11 September 2014, accessed October 2014
  11. The Center for Media and Democracy, Rick Berman, SourceWatch, last updated 30 October 2014, accessed October 2014
  12. Eric Lipton, Hard-nosed advice from veteran lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’, The New York Times”, 30 October 2014, accessed October 2014