Fraser Institute

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The Fraser Institute is a free market, libertarian think tank in Canada, with a history of pro-tobacco work and funding. 1

Pro-Tobacco Work

In 1999 the Fraser Institute convened two conferences. The first, on “Junk Science, Junk Policy? Managing Risk and Regulation”, promised to focus
attention on “the relentless pursuit of a ‘zero risk’ society” and produce a “framework” for “sensible public policies”. The second conference, “Should government butt out? The pros and cons of tobacco regulation,” promised to provide insight into “what public policy should be toward this still-legal product that remains a habitual pleasure for one-third of Canadian adults”.
Leading public health advocates condemned both conferences. “The public relations campaign against tobacco regulation now being supported by Canada’s Fraser Institute is a classic example of the tobacco industry’s decades-long effort to confuse the media and the public about the risks of tobacco industry products and second hand smoke” wrote Mary Jane Ashley, a Professor of Public Health and Chair of the Expert Committee of Ontario Minister of Health’s Advisory Panel on the Review of the Ontario Tobacco Strategy; along with Professor Stan Glantz, Professor of Medicine and the University of California and James Repace, Physicist, an expert on second hand smoke.
The scientists continued: “What is difficult to comprehend is why the Fraser Institute would put its credibility on the line by becoming allied with the tobacco industry’s latest efforts to either misinform the public or to undermine credible scientific authorities. At best, working hand-in-hand with tobacco manufacturers on conferences about ‘junk science’ and tobacco industry regulation calls into question the ethics and judgement of the Fraser Institute. But getting into bed with the international masters of the use of ‘junk science’ and disinformation to block public health reform
is cavalier and irresponsible.” 2
In turn, Patrick Basham argued that the reason why the Fraser Institute was interested in this issue, was because “in my judgement, assessing the regulation of tobacco entails an examination of several important public-policy questions, including freedom of speech and the personal freedom to trade longevity knowingly for pleasure”. 3

Funding from Big Tobacco

In January 2000 Sherry Stein from the Fraser Institute wrote to Martin Broughton, the chairman of British American Tobacco.

The area of risk regulation has interested the Fraser Institute for some time. However, lacking adequate funds we have only been able to progress slowly. It is our goal to establish, alongside our Social Affairs Centre, a Centre on Risk and Regulation. With support by British American Tobacco with a multi-year grant we will be able to develop a top-notch centre that will become a constant and important participant in the public debate on risk and regulation … We are hopeful that British American Tobacco will elect to support the Institute with an annual contribution of $50,000 to be divided between the Social Affairs Centre and The Centre on Risk and Regulation. 4

BAT was interested enough in the Institute to meet Patrick Basham. In June 2000, the Institute asked again, this time for more money. The Executive Director of the Institute, Michael Walker wrote to Adrian Payne from BAT:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with Patrick Basham, Director of the Fraser Institute’s Social Affairs Centre, while he was in London, and with Laura Jones, Director of the Institute’s new Centre for Studies in Risk and Regulation while you were both in Toronto. I would like to share with you what has transpired since then and how we hope to proceed with British American Tobacco’s help.

It is our hope that British American Tobacco will contribute $50,000 towards the Institute’s Social Affairs Centre, picking up the multi-year commitment made by Rothman’s International two years ago. As well, we hope that you will contribute an additional $50,000 to the new Centre for Studies in Risk and Regulation. These funds, together with contributions from other organisations, will enable us to move forward with our extensive research agenda designed to educate the public and policy makers about risk issues. It is our belief that this will contribute to more rational decisionmaking in the public policy process.

The letter went on to warn that “Agitators for a “zero-risk” society have become increasingly successful in advancing their cause, often basing their case on exaggerated junk science scares”. It ended by saying that:

It will interest you to know that we have met with a number of your colleagues in the industry to discuss this proposal and all are on side and have implied that they will support the Centre with comparable contributions. The companies they represent are Imperial Tobacco Company Ltd, JTI Macdonald Corp, and Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc. We have begun discussions as well with Philip Morris International Inc, and Brown & Williamson Tobacco in the U.S. 5

There is no indication from the tobacco documents as to whether the Institute received the funds requested. On 28 July 2000 Sherry Stein from the Institute wrote to Adrian Payne from BAT, this time praising Patrick Basham’s work in promoting research that argued against regulating the tobacco industry. The letter argued that:

Patrick Basham, who you met in London, has done several radio interviews and was delighted and surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to this study. The focus seems to be that smokers were cutting back and quitting on their own accord and government regulations such as smoking bans in public places, prohibition on tobacco ads, higher tobacco taxes, and warnings on packages had little to do with dropping smoking rates in Canada.6

In September 2000, Sherry Stein wrote to Adrian Payne again:

Following up on our earlier discussions, I am enclosing three proposals for consideration by British American Tobacco in support of the new risk centre. Each reinforces the mission of the risk centre, which is to educate citizens, media and policy makers about the science and economics behind risk controversies … Luncheon, to launch the new Centre for Studies in Risk and Regulation, with keynote speaker, ABC News’ John Stossel in Toronto (speaker & publication costs).

  • Expanded distribution of the book Safe Enough? Managing Risk and Regulation to Canadian and U.S libraries, university students, international media, and other specific markets.
  • Publication and distribution of The Cost of Regulation in Canada. 7

In response, BAT was forthcoming with some money contributing 10,000 (unclear if dollars or pounds) “towards the research, writing and international distribution of “Safe Enough? Managing Risk and Regulation” and for 150 copies of the book to be sent to your attention for B.A.T.’s own use”. 8

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  1. Fraser Institute Website, accessed December 2011
  2. Canadian Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, Economic Think Tank or Front for the Tobacco Industry? April 1999
  3. Patrick Basham, Public Policy Sources, Preface, The Fraser Institute, #40
  4. Sherry Stein, Letter to Martin Broughton, Chairman British American Tobacco, 28 January 2000
  5. Michael Walker, Letter to Dr. Adrian Payne, International Scientific Affairs Manager, British American Tobacco, 19 June 2000
  6. Sherry Stein, Letter to Dr. Adrian Payne, International Scientific Affairs Manager, British American Tobacco, 28 July 2000
  7. Sherry Stein, Letter to Dr Adrian Payne, International Scientific Affairs Manager, British American Tobacco, 12 September 2000
  8. Sherry Stein, Letter to Dr. Adrian Payne, International Scientific Affairs Manager, British American Tobacco, 7 December 2000