Simon Clark

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Simon Clark, a life-long non-smoker, is the Director of tobacco industry funded group Forest1 2 3 and has been a member of Imperial Tobacco‘s Stakeholder Panel. 4
Clark is an active blogger at Simon Clark – Taking Liberties. He also writes for the Forest website and has previously written for its offshoots, including The Free Society and the Hands Off Our Packs Campaign.5

Criticising the Tobacco Control Movement

A public relations tactic employed by several controversial industries and their proponents is to try to paint their critics as extremist and irrational, as Clark has done with the tobacco control movement.

“Fanatics”, “Taliban”, “Zealots” and “Fascists”

On his blog Taking Liberties, Clark has denigrated members of the tobacco control movement. Although Clark has argued that his language is more guarded than other pro-tobacco bloggers, stating “I certainly don’t condone personal abuse or loose jibes about Nazis in relation to tobacco control”,6 he has engaged in such behaviour. For example:

* June 2013 Denigrated the work of Prof Linda Bauld after she appeared in the media presenting the report Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy.7 As the director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, Clark put out a press release before he had actually seen the report, stating that the result of the research “sounds like a headline grabbing estimate rather than an undisputed fact based on scientific evidence.”8

* January 2012 Writing in his inaugural blog on Forest’s new website, Hands Off Our Packs, Clark wrote: “For anti-smoking fanatics plain packs represent the Holy Grail. In the words of Australia’s leading tobacco control activist Simon Chapman, ‘Plain packs will make smoking history'”.9

* January 2012 Clark described Simon Chapman, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, as a “zealot”.10

* January 2012 Clark also described the tobacco control movement as the “tobacco taliban”.11

* August 2011 Clark posted comments by libertarian pro-tobacco blogger, Chris Snowdon, likening the tobacco control movement to “zealots”.12

* July 2011 His blog contained the headline “Zealots on the march”.13

* July 2011 Clark ran a blog entitled “Rod Liddle on health fascists”.14

* June 2011 Clark attacked individual tobacco control activists as well as leading academics, describing them as “zealots”. Referring to the comments in response to a blog post by Liberal Vision Director Angela Harbutt, he wrote: “Anyway, the really remarkable thing is the appearance – in the comments – of some leading anti-smoking zealots, among them Martin Dockrell of ASH (still waiting for your call, Martin), Linda Bauld, who was then at Bath University, and Robert West of Cancer Research UK.”15

* May 2011 Clark labelled ASH Scotland “state-sponsored bullies”.16

Linking to Threats Against Academics

In September 2011, Clark linked his blog to an article by blogger Frank Davis.17 Davis’ article contained direct threats against academic Linda Bauld, warning that:

“Those nasty emails and phone calls you’ve been getting weren’t organised or planned by anyone. I shouldn’t worry about them too much. It’s just the trailing edge of the swarm, like the zephyrs on the perimeter of a hurricane. But they’re not going to stop. They’re going to become more and more frequent. You should start worrying when bricks start getting thrown through your window, or messages daubed on your door. They won’t be planned or organised either. They’ll just happen.”

Davis also advised Bauld to leave her job and emigrate: “That way, you’ll be out of the country and maybe even living under a new name when your old university department gets torched, and your old colleagues are strung up from lamp posts.”18
Simon Clark called Davis’ article “stunning”.

Against Plain Packaging

Clark is against plain (standardised) packaging, writing that the:

“arguments for plain packaging are built on a number of fallacies. One is that packaging equals advertising. If this was true ‘coloured’ packs would have been outlawed at the same time as tobacco advertising but no-one, not even tobacco control, thought to argue that branded packs represent anything other than a means to distinguish between different brands (a minimum requirement in a free market).

“Another fallacy is that cigarettes are sold in ‘glitzy’ packaging designed to entice young people to start smoking … Furthermore the expression ‘plain packs’ is highly misleading. There is nothing plain about plain packaging. The Australian government has decided that the colour of all packs should be a deliberately unattractive olive green (or drab green as it became known when olive growers complained!)”.19

“It’s a Farce”

In response to the UK Government’s initial 2012 consultation on plain packaging, Clark said:

“The consultation on plain packaging threatens to be a farce. Andrew Lansley says he is open minded yet he clearly supports plain packaging even before the consultation has begun … Plain packaging is another step towards the denormalisation of a legal product. It is yet another attack on ten million adult consumers. The consultation on plain packaging has nothing to do with health. It’s all about Andrew Lansley. The health secretary is using the consultation to curry favour with health professionals, many of whom are less than impressed with the changes he is making to the NHS”.20

“Its Persecution”

In April 2012, prior to the UK Government’s consultation, Clark also called plain packaging “the persecution of a minority lifestyle”. 21
After the initial consultation period closed, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to the Department of Health (DH) asking to see correspondence between the DH and the tobacco industry resulted in a number of documents being made public. Included in these documents was correspondence between the Department of Health and Simon Clark which revealed a number of concerns about the legitimacy of the 235,000 signatories of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign petition that was submitted to the consultation. Complaints had been made by members of the public about the methods used to gather signatures and a concern had been raised by a DH official who witnessed a Hands Off Our Packs campaigner forge a number of signatories to the petition

Forest Campaigns

As Director of Forest, Clark has been the man behind the organisation’s anti-plain packaging campaigns Hands Off Our Packs (2012), Say No to Plain Packs (2013) and No, Prime Minister (2014).

  • Hands Off Our Packs, a campaign directly supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies) involved the promotion of an online petition against plain packaging. Following the release of documents that disclosed correspondence between the Department of Health (DoH) and Clark, the validity of the signatures on the petition has been heavily scrutinised.22
  • Forest’s Say No to Plain Packs campaign encouraged followers to send a template letter to their MP “At a click of a button…”23
  • The No, Prime Minister campaign took things a step further by allowing plain packaging opposers to send a pre-composed email directly to the Prime Minister David Cameron. On 10th June, 2014, the campaign announced an advertising campaign across the entire political advertising network MessageSpace in anticipation of the next stage of the UK’s Consultation on Plain Packaging.24

For more information on these campaigns, see our Hands Off Our Packs page.

“There is no Evidence”

In the 24 hours following the Government’s announcement that it was to vote on draft plain packaging regulations, Clark conducted no fewer than 22 radio, 3 TV interviews, 2 Skype interviews and featured in a number of news bulletins.25
During these broadcasts Clark restated over and over again that “there is no evidence” that plain packaging will work to reduce smoking and that the policy will play into the hands of counterfeiters. He also argued that the policy patronises the consumer and stressed that consumers’ food and drink products will be next.
Despite facing some tough questioning on his views about plain packaging, it was not disclosed in the BBC television interviews that Forest is funded by tobacco companies. Instead, in each interview Clark is introduced simply as “from pro-smoking campaign group, Forest.” For example:

BBC Breakfast, January 22, 2015

Newsreader Charlie Stayt: “Tobacco companies say they are very disappointed by this announcement. To discuss it now Simon Clark is here from pro-smoking campaign group Forest. A very good morning to you. Could you just establish one or two things from the outset? Will the industry challenge this in any legal sense?”

Clark: “Ah well, I can’t speak for the industry but I certainly hope they would challenge it…”

In this instance, Clark was able to distance himself from tobacco companies without challenge. To the naïve viewer, it creates a false sense of distance between Clark and tobacco companies. The BBC has been challenged previously for failing to adequately disclose conflicts of interest of the individuals that they broadcast.2627

BBC News Channel January 22, 2015

Newsreader Simon McCoy: “Tobacco companies say they are very disappointed. To discuss this we are joined by Simon Clark from the pro-smoking campaign group Forest.”

In this particular interview the newsreader probes Clark about industry links, however, Clark denies that he is working for the tobacco industry.

Newsreader Simon McCoy: “…Why object unless, you’re working for the tobacco companies who are in it for profit and this is about making money, nothing else…”

Clark: “Well I’m not working for the tobacco industry and as I’ve already said, the reason we object to it is because it’s not based on evidence and we’re against the denormalisation of smoking.”

Daily Politics (BBC2), January 22, 2015

Daily Politics host: “Simon Clark from the pro-smoking campaign group called Forest thinks the idea will play into the hands of criminals and won’t discourage children to take up smoking sic.”

In the same broadcast the UK Independence Party (UKIP) were ousted by the host for accepting a £25,000 donation from e-cigarette company ‘Totally Wicked’, yet Forest’s relationship with the tobacco industry was not disclosed.

Claimed 99% Opposed to Plain Packs

Forest’s ‘no to plain packs’ website in the weeks prior to the 11 March 2015 House of Commons vote on plain packaging

In comparison to the 665,989 campaign responses received by the Department of Health in its first consultation on plain packaging in 2012, 136, 404 campaign responses were received in the 2014 consultation.
Simon Clark stated that 99% of these responses were opposed to plain packaging.28 The summary report of the 2014 consultation reveals that Forest’s own campaign achieved 123,269 responses in the form of petition signatures, standardised emails and letters. During the second consultation no public health campaigns were conducted and therefore the opinion polls are heavily skewed.
In both its 2012 and 2014 consultation summary report the Department of Health stated that each consultation:

“… was not intended, or designed to elicit representative samples of public opinion. Instead it sought information, comments and views on the consultations questions, draft regulations, impact assessment and equality analysis.”29

Furthermore, a January 2015 survey of over 1,800 adults across Great Britain suggested that 72% of the UK public were in favour of plain packaging with only 15% against.30

“Last Chance Saloon”

Ahead of the Commons vote on plain packaging on 11 March 2015, Forest promoted its “No to Plain Packs” campaign, rebranding it as “the last chance saloon”. (Image) As in previous iterations of this campaign, Forest once again encouraged readers to write to their MPs in a last ditch attempt to thwart plain packaging legislation.

Industry Events

Clark has been a regular speaker at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF), an annual tobacco industry-funded event known pre-2015 as the Global Tobacco Networking Forum.313233
For more information, see the following pages:

TobaccoTactics Resources

  • Plain Packaging in the UK
  • Forest
  • Forest EU
  • History of Forest
  • Hands Off Our Packs
  • Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    1. Forest Website, Frequently asked questions, undated, accessed July 2019
    2. Nick Duerden, Is Smoking Still Defensible?, The Independent, 4 July 2011, accessed July 2019
    3. Battle of Ideas, Speaker Details: Simon Clark, 2015 website, accessed July 2019
    4. Simon Clark, What have the tobacco companies ever done for us?, Taking Liberties blog, 10 April 2012, accessed July 2019
    5. The Free Society, Columnists: Simon Clark, undated, accessed September 2011
    6. Simon Clark, Comment Posted in Response to “Only One Word To Describe Stephen Williams MP – Pathetic”, 18 January 2012, accessed July 2019
    7. Lowry, C.& K. Scammell, Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy: A Call to Action, A report for Action for Smoking and Health, 2013, accessed July 2019.
    8. Simon Clark, Linda Bauld: “Smoking in the UK kills one baby every day”, Taking Liberties blog, 28 June 2013,accessed July 2019
    9. Simon Clark, Simon Clark: when is a Liberal not a liberal?, Hands Off Our Packs website, 30 January 2012, archived 13 February 2012, accessed July 2019
    10. Simon Clark, “Satisfied customer” responds to anti-smoking zealot, Taking Liberties Blog, 28 January 2012, accessed July 2019
    11. Simon Clark, The BBC thanks … Cecilia Farren, Taking Liberties Blog, 5 January 2012, accessed July 2019
    12. Simon Clark, The road to prohibition, Taking Liberties Blog, 15 August 2011, accessed July 2019
    13. Simon Clark, Zealots on the March, Taking Liberties Blog, 5 July 2011, accessed July 2019
    14. Simon Clark, Rod Liddle on health fascists, Taking Liberties Blog, 15 July, 2011, accessed January 2012, accessed July 2019
    15. Simon Clark, ASH’s Credibility Goes Up in Smoke, Taking Liberties, 24 June 2011, accessed July 2019
    16. Simon Clark, ASH Scotland: the bully state in action, Taking Liberties blog, 9 May 2011, accessed July 2019
    17. Simon Clark, Hold the front page!, 3 September 2011 (link at page bottom), accessed July 2019
    18. Frank Davis Letter to Linda, 3 September 2011, accessed January 2012
    19. Simon Clark, The year ahead, 1 January 2012, accessed July 2019
    20. Forest, Plain Pack Consultation “Threatens to be a Farce”, 13 April 2012, accessed July 2019
    21. Christopher Thompson, “Big Tobacco Hits Out at ‘Big Mother'”, Financial Times, 7-8 April 2012, p4
    22. Department of Health, FOI release – correspondence about the Government’s consultation on the packaging of tobacco products, 13 September 2012, accessed July 2019
    23. FOREST, Your MP About Plain Packaging, Hands Off Our Packs website, 11 February 2013, archived 2 September 2014, accessed July 2019
    24. FOREST, Forest Launches Online Ad Campaign Against Plain Packaging, Forest press release, 10 June 2014, accessed July 2019
    25. S. Clark, The longest day: Speaking to the media on plain packaging, Taking Liberties blog, 23 January 2015, accessed July 2019
    26. A. B. Gilmore, J. Britton, M. Mckee. BBC must ensure commentators’ tobacco industry links are made public. The Lancet, 2014:383(9921):952-3
    27. G. Monbiot. Three commentaries in The Guardian published 29 November 2013, 12 December 2013 and 17 March 2014
    28. Forest, Stop the nonsense say critics of plain packaging, News and comment, 4 March 2015, accessed July 2019
    29. Tobacco Programme, Public & International Health Directorate, Consultation on the introduction of regulations for standardised packaging of tobacco products: Summary report, Department of Health, February 2015, accessed July 2019
    30. CRUK, Cancer Research UK welcomes Government action on standardised cig packs with voter support at a high of nearly three quarters, Press Release, 21 January 2015, accessed July 2019
    31. GTNF ANTWERP 2012: Look who is talking and what they are talking about, GTNF 2012 website, accessed 6 April 2012
    32. GTNF 2013: Look Who’s Talking, GTNF 2013 website, archived 1 October 2013, accessed July 2019
    33. GTNF 2014: Look Who’s Talking, GTNF 2014 website, archived 7 October 2014, accessed July 2019