Freedom of Information Requests

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The tobacco industry has used Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) on a number of occasions in Australia, the US and the UK. It is not a new tactic. Back in the early 1990s one of the world’s leading tobacco control researchers, Dr Stan Glantz, the Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, reported that Philip Morris were “using FOIA’s to impede the progress” of his research. 1

In the mid-1990s, the US Tobacco Institute noted how it was using the FOIA as an intelligence gathering exercise: “The FOIA style requests at the state level have proven to be our most useful means of gathering information about our opposition”. 2
One recent scientific study from New Zealand concluded that: “Tobacco companies portray themselves as socially responsible corporate citizens. Yet they abuse legal avenues designed to protect the public’s right to access official information.”3

New Zealand is not an isolated case. In 2011 Philip Morris filed Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to get hold of the raw material of Stirling University’s research into young peoples’ smoking habits. This cost the Stirling Management School a lot of energy, time and money to deal with request; the industry got access to research that had been used to decide on new laws, and could use the insights in lobbying decision makers, while simultaneously misrepresenting the results and undermining the credibility of the scientists involved. This evolved into a Smear Campaign targeting Linda Bauld of Stirling University.

In September 2011, The Independent newspaper reported how in the UK the tobacco industry was “covertly using third-party companies to lobby against smoking restrictions and to gain access to health documents held by public organisations.” The paper continued: “Public relations companies and law firms are working on behalf of anonymous multinational tobacco companies without declaring who their clients are”.

The paper highlighted two cases, one where Philip Morris’ lawyers had tried to access data and another where Imperial’s PR company Bell Pottinger had used the libertarian group Big Brother Watch to try to access material through FOI.4

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

“They try to suppress us, but we should be louder”: a qualitative exploration of intimidation in tobacco control, B.K. Matthes, R. Alebshehy, A.B. Gilmore, Globalization & Health, 19:88,  2023, doi: 10.1186/s12992-023-00991-0.

Advocacy counterstrategies to tobacco industry interference in policymaking: a scoping review of peer-reviewed literature, B.K Matthes, P. Kumar, S. Dance, T. Hird, A. Carriedo Lutzenkirchen, A. B. Gilmore,  Global Health 19, 42 (2023), doi: 10.1186/s12992-023-00936-7

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  1. Philip Morris, Cover Letter for Article on FOIA, 24 March 1992
  2. The Tobacco Institute, 1996 ASSIST RESEARCH PLAN, 1996
  3. Grace Wong, Ben Youdan, Ron Wong, “Misuse of the Official Information Act by the tobacco industry in New Zealand”, Tobacco Control 19: 346-347, 7 July 2010
  4. Steve Connor, “Smoke and mirrors: how the tobacco industry hides behind lobbyists – PR firms and lawyers campaign without revealing clients’ identity”, The Independent, 3 September 2011, accessed February 2012