PMI’s Lobbying Campaign to Undermine the TPD

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Leaked documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) reveal the extent of a multi-million Euro, three-pronged, lobbying campaign to undermine the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision.
The campaign targeted Members of the European Parliament, influential members of the European Commission as well as national governments at the European Council. 1

The Lobbying Strategy

Targeting the Commission

By mid-2012, the overall strategic objective of PMI’s lobbying campaign was to either “Push” (i.e. amend) or “Delay” the Directive and “block” the proposals coming from the relevant Directorate on health called DG Sanco which was in charge of the proposals.
To this end, PMI employed a two-fold technical and political strategy to ensure it received as many “negative opinions” from other Commission DGs, as well as to try and ensure a political commitment from other business-friendly Commissioners to oppose what PMI was labeling as excessive legislation.
PMI identified key messages to push in its lobbying campaign, especially in relation to the Inter-Service Consultation between the directorates, arguing there was a need to “break” into the “silo” of the European Commission. The main lobbying messages used by the company were that the TPD proposals lacked legal basis, evidence, logic and a market analysis.
Just as PMI had done fighting proposals on Point of Sale, the tobacco giant was keen to highlight the “illicit trade problem”, despite its historical involvement in smuggling. See Tobacco Smuggling.
The company set out to “trigger negative opinions” amongst other Commissioners or their senior advisors known as their cabinet, and set out to get other “high level influencers” to directly engage with the Commissioners.

Using Front Groups

The tobacco companies such as PMI have a history of using third parties in their lobbying campaign, using other organisations or people to influence the debate on the industry’s behalf.

PMI’s anti-TPD lobbying strategy was no exception. The documents reveal that PMI’s anti-TPD lobbying campaign via social and traditional media would be “led by third parties.”
The tobacco giant identified tobacco growers, small and medium sized businesses, other trade organisations, unions, suppliers, intellectual property organisations, employers’ associations and even consumer associations to front its campaign for it.
Just as the industry has used retailers against Point of Sale and Plain Packaging in the UK, so they have been central to PMI’s lobbying campaign. It is far more persuasive to have a newsagent worried about jobs lobbying a politician than Big Tobacco.
PMI outlined how the retailers would lobby other parts of the Commission and “promote events to gain visibility” for the campaign. As well as retailers based in Brussels, national retailers associations across the EU were also brought in to help, too.
Another key constituency to front the campaign were tobacco growers and processors. PMI organised meetings between tobacco growers unions, such as UNITAB, the European Association of Tobacco Growers and Fetratab, the European Federation of Tobacco Processors, with key officials at the Commission, including a meeting with the Cabinet of the European President Manuel Barroso.

“Activate” MEPs

PMI’s strategy in the European Parliament is also outlined, including using retailers to “activate MEPs”.
But much of the lobbying was undertaken by PMI directly or by consultants working on its behalf. By mid-2012, nearly a third of MEPs had been lobbied by PMI, some 233 MEPs in total. Some MEPs by then had met the tobacco giant four to five times, with meetings happening on a regular basis. Almost half of the European People’s Party and European centre-right groups met with PMI’s lobbyists, the documents show.2

“Break ENVI”

At the parliament, the company also focused its lobbying efforts on two influential committees, ENVI and IMCO. The ENVI committee – short for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – was tasked with overseeing the TPD through the Parliament. PMI set out to “Break ENVI’s full control on the dossier.”
Heads of national delegations were lobbied, as were the “political heavyweights” from each political party. The company sought to “secure political agreement though top level contacts”.

European Council

PMI also set out to lobby the Council, in order to create a “blocking majority” against any public health measures it deemed “extreme.”

“Neutralise” Germany

One of these measures is the banning of certain flavours including menthol. PMI’s objective was “exclude” menthol from the TPD. It wanted to get different member states with “significant menthol segments to oppose menthol ban in TPD at the Council”. In order to do this it wanted to “neutralise” lead countries in the menthol debate, such as Germany.

Issues of Concern

This multi-million Euro lobbying campaign, using a myriad of people and organisations as fronts to undermine a proposal that is intended to reduce the harm of tobacco across Europe, raises all kinds of issues:

A Violation of the FCTC Article 5.3

The fact that PMI has had such extensive access to the Commission and hundreds of MEPs raises issues of clear breaches of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Article 5.3 of the Convention requires signatories to protect their health policies “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.3
Indeed, after the documents were leaked to the Observer, the head of the World Health Organisation accused PMI of seeking to “sabotage” the public health measure. “Here industry is counting on the historical pattern where economic and commercial interests trump public health concerns,” she told a conference in India. 4

Has PMI Been Misleading Over Transparency?

PMI has signed up to the EU’s Transparency Initiative and is meant to accurately record how many lobbyists and how much money it is spending lobbying in Brussels.5
The documents reveal that PMI has been using significant number of lobbyists and consultants. One spreadsheet outlines that 161 employees and consultants were engaged in lobbying concerning the TPD. By mid-2012, the documents also reveal PMI had spent € 1.25 million on consultancy and expenses fighting the proposals.
In contrast, PMI only declares 9 lobbyists in its entry to the EU Transparency Register. For the whole of 2012, the company estimated that its lobbying spend had been: €1 million – €1.25 million.6

Related TobaccoTactics Resources

More on the Leaked Phillip Morris Documents and the confidential lobby campaigns to derail Plain Packaging proposals:

External Resources

Indepth analysis of the leaked PMI documents by Corporate Europe Observatory:

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  1. Philip Morris International, Leaked Documents
  2. J. Doward, Tobacco giant Philip Morris ‘spent millions in bid to delay EU legislation’, The Observer, 7 September 2013, accessed October 2013
  3. World Health Organisation, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: on the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, 2008
  4. P. Macrae, WHO chief accuses tobacco giant of ‘sabotaging’ EU health bill, Agence France-Presse, 11 September 2013
  5. European Commission, Transparency Initiative , accessed September 2013
  6. EU Transparency Register, Philip Morris Entry , accessed September 2013