History of Forest

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This page is an extension of the page about Forest and provides some of the historical context of the organisation.


Forest was founded in 1979 by Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris.
Between 1987 and 2006, its chairman was Ralph Harris, also known as Lord Harris of High Cross, who was “best known for his work at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), where he was general director for 30 years”. The IEA is a think tank with a history of links with the tobacco industry.
Forest has had four directors:

  • Stephen Eyres (1983-1990)
  • Chris Tame (1990-95)
  • Marjorie Nicholson (1995-99)
  • Simon Clark (1999-present)

“In Line With Our Thinking”

Forest’s own account of its history emphasises its independence by tracing its origins back to its founder, Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, who reputedly set up the organisation after being told to put out his pipe at Reading station.1
According to a confidential industry document, Foxley-Norris wrote to British American Tobacco in 1978 seeking a paid position running a consumers’ association for smokers. At a meeting, BAT staff told him that “the industry had been giving thought to the possible formation of a consumers’ body for some time and (his) ideas were to a considerable extent in line with this thinking”.2

Tobacco Companies Integral to Start-Up

Although industry documents indicate that Foxley-Norris hoped that the group would become self-financing,34 tobacco manufacturers were integral to its establishment by providing the start-up costs for the group.56789 Following a failed advertising campaign for membership which produced a return of £70 per member (the equivalent of £260 in June 2011)10 and an unsuccessful recruitment drive to encourage people working in the industry to join the group,111213 Forest quickly conceded defeat in its drive to raise funds from a broad membership.1415
Industry documents suggest that with no membership from which to raise income, the group had, for all practical purposes, become “inactive” and unable to generate new members.16 Doubts among key industry personnel over the group’s leadership and its failure to become self-financing1718 forced the industry to rethink the value of providing further financial support.19 Fearing the loss of a “tobacco advocate” that “could be exploited as an example of increasing anti-smoking attitudes of the public,”20 the industry resolved to inject fresh funds into the group on the condition that it restructure itself and replace its chief executive, Geoffrey Evans. 2122232425

Restructured by Tobacco PR Company …

A plan to restructure the group was developed by the public relations agency Good Relations, who Forest took on as their public relations consultants on the recommendation of the Tobacco Advisory Council (the forerunner to the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association). Industry documents show the Council planned to provide strategic and tactical guidance to the consultancy, who would liaise with the group on the industry’s behalf. “It is envisaged that this would be on an almost daily basis with occasional more formal review meetings.”26 The same document includes a detailed proposal for a consumer group and one for a corner shop campaign: “To the industry the retailers can offer a sympathetic public platform for the smoking message.” In return the industry could “offer finance and management expertise”. The key message was, as it is today, to protect the freedom to choose to smoke.
Minutes of the Public Relations Committee of the Tobacco Advisory Council also record discussions of the industry’s plans for Good Relations to write the job specification for the group’s first director, Stephen Eyres (1982-1989).27
On Eyres’ appointment, Good Relations prepared a “comprehensive program of familiarisation” which included written and oral briefings, and two question and answer series to define Forest’s policy position on critical issues.28 Although the industry recognised that this would raise the risk of Forest being seen as its tool, it was acknowledged that this was already the popular perception of the group and that Forest would be able to partially rebut the accusation by claiming that it retained its operational independence.29 It has done so ever since.

… to Become “an Aggressive and Intemperate Adversary”

The creation of a smokers rights’ group was considered necessary to help preserve “the social acceptability of smoking” – the erosion of which was regarded as a “serious long term threat” to the business3031 in the wake of Takeshi Hirayama’s landmark epidemiological study linking passive smoking to lung cancer.32
Industry documents indicate that the major tobacco companies foresaw the potential for Forest to be more “active” and “provocative” than the industry in challenging the scientific consensus over smoking and second-hand smoke which “would leave the industry in a position to pursue the neutral tightrope more openly and credibly”.33 The value of such an approach in nullifying the increasing effectiveness of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was also noted.34
Consequently, in 1983 Forest’s success was linked to its ability to become “an aggressive and intemperate adversary”. The more extreme its tone, “the more likely it was thought that editors, producers, policymakers and opinion formers would take note of Forest’s own campaign themes”.35 This is consistent with a Forest Director’s report from 1985 which described the group’s strength as “its capacity to comment freely and quickly on current smoking issues without the inhibitions of product liability and commercial criteria”. The arm’s-length relationship with the industry was considered central to achieving this.3536
The tone of Forest press releases changed accordingly, as the following examples show:

  • In 1993 Forest accused ASH of “Misinformation and Incitement to Intolerance“, saying that “the Breathing Space Campaign is little more than verbal terrorism, based on dubious interpretations of the evidence and constant references to outdated material”. Chris Tame, Forest’s Director at the time, said:

“The strategy of terror and bullying pursued by the anti-smoking industry seems intent on preventing the research and studies which criticise their claims from coming into the public domain, let alone an outright condemnation of the refusal of certain consultants to test or treat smokers. This is perhaps the worst facet of health fascism, and should be stopped in its tracks before it extends its tentacles into other areas of peoples lives”.37 (emphasis added)

  • In 1994 Forest produced Fun With Figures, “a whole series of examples of how the public is only ever told half the story, statistics distorted to make a point, or vital information excluded in order to create a more frightening scenario”.38
  • In 1995 Forest accused medics of “verbal terrorism”, criticising research results published in the British Medical Journal that smokers in their 30s and 40s have five times as many heart attacks as non-smokers”.39

This campaign was picked up by Philip Morris. From 1996, a decade-long programme called Project Sunrise attempted to divide and rule the tobacco control movement, in part by attacking them as extremists.40 In fact, this was built on the Forest strategy in the preceding years.
A more recent example of Forest’s “provocative” strategy, from 2006, involved a direct challenge to England’s Chief Medical Officer to prove claims that passive smoking killed hundreds of people in the UK each year. The BBC, which covered the story in full, quoted Lord Harris, Forest’s President, as saying that “dozens of studies…failed spectacularly to yield any reliably stable, uniform or statistically significant link”. He was further reported to have accused public health advocates of “twisting and stretching risk calculations beyond breaking point” and called on the government to appoint an independent expert panel to establish and publicise the true facts about passive smoking. Harris neglected to mention that such a body, the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, made up of 15 eminent British medical scientists, had already reported that exposure to other people’s smoke increased the risk of lung cancer and heart disease by about a quarter.41
Similarly, also in 2006, Forest’s spokesperson Neil Rafferty, told the Scottish edition of the Daily Star that claims about passive smoking were “a calculated deception by anti-smoking groups to scare the population and manipulate weak-minded politicians”.42

Industry Influence and Reliance on Funding

Forest’s history and financial dependence on the tobacco industry has led to it being described as both a front group and Astroturf organisation.43 Despite openly acknowledging that it accepts most of its funding from tobacco companies, the group stresses its independence and insists it represents consumers and not the industry.44
One argument Forest makes to reinforce these claims is that tobacco companies neither appoint its staff nor formally direct its operations.45
Forest’s practice of appointing directors from the libertarian right is likely to render direct influence unnecessary. Stephen Eyres, for example, was previously Director of Publicity for the Freedom Association, a right wing pressure group, which in the 1970s played a prominent role in disrupting campaigns for workers’ rights and racial equality.4647
Likewise, Chris Tame, who succeeded Eyres, was a former secretary of the Adam Smith Institute4849 and Russell Walters, a one time assistant director of the group, served on the executive committee of Conservative Way Forward, a Thatcherite organisation that operates within the Conservative Party.50 Their adherence to an anti-regulatory neo-liberal philosophy51 which, in its extreme forms, denigrates concerns over health, the environment and social justice by linking them to communist authoritarianism,52535455 is broadly in line with the industry’s commercial interests.
Forest’s heavy reliance on industry funding is likely to compound this effect. Industry documents suggest that Forest owes its existence and effectiveness to “adequate funding by the industry”.3556 This can be abruptly withdrawn when the group’s activities are at odds with the industry’s commercial interests.57 As recently as 2001, Forest’s decision to pursue a campaign against Customs and Excise cost them the funding of one tobacco company. Forest used this as an example of its independence in the Frequently Asked Questions section of their website.44
The industry’s intention to use the funding mechanism as a form of indirect influence was discussed at a meeting of the Public Relations Committee of the Tobacco Advisory Council shortly after the restructuring of Forest and Stephen Eyre’s appointment:

“In discussion members acknowledged the need for Forest to have a considerable degree of independence of action but that this would ultimately be controlled by the industry’s funding. Members agreed that Forest’s activities should not, without the industry’s consent, extend beyond aspects connected with smoking.

However this would not necessarily prevent the staff from making comments on other issues provided that they were concerned neither with political issues nor involved the use of Forest’s resources. It was thought necessary that Mr Eyres should, at a very early stage, meet representatives of T.A.C. companies to get a understanding of their views, methods of operating and expectations of Forest.”58

Forest’s financial dependence on the industry in the start-up phase is reflected in how it called meetings to “gauge manufacturers’ reaction to their work” back then.59 It also explains monthly review meetings with the industry at which Forest reported its activities and expenditure in detail.
606162636465666768 The provision of detailed lists of Forest’s activities to the industry on a monthly basis also indicates that Forest has consistently accounted for and justified its funding to the industry until the mid-1990s at least, according to the documents in the Legacy archives.69707172
For more information about the group’s current activities, see the TobaccoTactics page page about the present-day Forest.

TobaccoTactics Resources

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