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Created in 1952, Unitab is the European association of tobacco growers. As of 2014, the following national tobacco growers associations were listed as members:

  • Belgium: Fédération Nationale des Planteurs de Tabac
  • France: Fédération Nationaledes Producteurs de Tabac
  • Germany: Bundesverband Deutscher Tabakpflanzer eV
  • Greece: Confédération Panhellénique des Unions de Coopératives Agricoles
  • Hungary: Magyar Dohanytermelok Orszagos Szovetsege
  • Italy: Unione Italiana del Tabacco
  • Poland: Polski Zwiazek Plantatorow Tytoniu et Krajowego Zwiakku Plantatorow Tytoniu
  • Portugal: Associacão dos Produtores de Tabaco
  • Spain:Federacion Nacional de Cultivadores de Tabaco
  • Switzerland: Swiss Tabac

Links to the Tobacco Industry

Financially Supported by the Tobacco Industry

Unitab is funded by members’ fees. In addition, Unitab’s website states (as of 2014) that “most of UNITAB’s external actions are financed, additionally, by external incomes (gifts and subsidies), showing the corporate logos of British American Tobacco Italia, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and Philip Morris Italy1 (See Image 1).


Image 1 Unitab’s financial sponsors, from Unitab’s website, November 2014

Co-founder of Tobacco House

Unitab was one of the co-founders of Tobacco House,23 a pan-European lobbying collaboration set up in 1999 by actors across the entire tobacco supply chain, including tobacco manufacturers (notably Philip Morris), whose objective it was “To restore the legitimacy and credibility of the entire tobacco sector and become a reasonable and constructive partner of the European Institutions…”4

Tobacco House was involved in lobbying against the original 2001 TPD.5

Part of Philip Morris International’s “3rd Party Coalition”

Leaked internal documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) have revealed that Unitab’s TPD lobbying activities were part of a larger, comprehensive and well-financed PMI campaign to block certain policy options that were particularly threatening to the tobacco industry.6 As part of its campaign, PMI mobilised what it referred to as a “3rd party coalition7 of seemingly independent interest groups that could add weight and credibility to pro-tobacco arguments. Importantly, PMI considered this third party involvement “key to success” in their efforts to undermine the TPD.8

Unitab, together with EFFAT and Fetratab, were earmarked by PMI to garner political support for pro-tobacco views from non-health Commissioners and Commission departments.9 Image 2 shows a slide from a leaked PMI presentation outlining the involvement of this three-party coalition as part of the company’s strategy to oppose the TPD. It was intended that the collation would seek meetings in the second half of 2011 with the Cabinet of EU President Barroso, and Cabinets of EU Commissioners across several jurisdictions, e.g. Trade (Hahn) , Employment Social Affairs and Inclusion (Andor), Agriculture (Cioloş), and Health (Dalli).8

Image 2. Unitab’s presence in PMI’s ‘Ingredients Platform’ to oppose the TPD, presentation slide snipped from PMI TPD Core Team meeting presentation 14 September 2011, Leaked in 2013

Lobbying Against the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

In November 2009, François Vedel, the Secretary General of UNITAB , wrote to the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to warn that the “upcoming FCTC Conference on Tobacco Control of the Parties (November 15-20, 2010) represents a threat to the Europe 2020 Strategy goals.”

Vedel argued that because the Convention proposed to “prohibit or restrict the use of additives in cigarettes”, this would “lead to the abandonment of tobacco growing in the EU, without any improvement whatsoever of the public health, while alternative solutions exist to meet public health protection objectives without destroying employment on rural areas.”

The letter warned that if the EU Tobacco Products Directive was revised, “the sustainability of several regions and of hundreds of thousands of workers will be put in danger.” 10

Vedel also noted that several MEPs, including Paolo de Castro, supported this stance.

Lobbying against the EU Tobacco Products Directive

Unitab also lobbied fiercely against the EU Tobacco Products Directive(TPD), a piece of legislation that regulates the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco in the EU, and came into force in May 2014 following a 5-year long review marred with controversy and delay.6 In 2011, Vedel was quoted as saying that tighter tobacco rules would benefit the mafia:

“If I was in the mafia I would be investing in this business because some of the best-known brands will have limited access to the markets new rules are introduced and the smokers will simply use contraband.”11

Of the various tobacco control measures proposed in the TPD, Unitab appears to have most strongly objected to the ingredients ban and plain packaging (which was later omitted from the TPD proposal),6 and to a lesser degree the EU snus sales ban.

Arguments against the TPD Echo Industry Arguments

The main arguments Unitab used to oppose the TPD mirrored classic arguments Transnational Tobacco Companies (TTCs) have used to oppose unwanted regulation for decades. These included:

  • Plain packaging will increase illicit tobacco trade;1213
  • Plain packaging will result in lower EU prices for leaf tobacco, leading to significant job losses;1213
  • Packaging simplification will result in automatisation of the processing industry, leading to further job losses;13
  • Plain packaging will result in competition no longer being on the level of brands (i.e. the tobacco manufacturers), but shift to the tobacco processing industry;14
  • There is a need to add sugar without losing the flavour of European tobacco. An ingredients’ ban would result in the end of European tobacco and an increase in imported tobacco;1214 
  • Lifting the ban of snus will provide an additional outlet for European tobacco.12

Lobbying Non-Health Departments of the Commission: Agriculture, Trade, Budgets and Finance

Documents released under freedom of information (FOI) legislation confirm that Unitab, in collaboration with EFFAT and Fetratab and separately, lobbied non-health Commissioners and their Cabinets as early as March 2010 (when the revised TPD was in the early drafting stages):

  • In March 2010, following the appointment of the Barroso II Commission, the coalition of Unitab, EFFAT and Fetratab approached the new Commissioner for Agriculture (Dacian Cioloş), expressing their hope that the Commissioner would agree to meet with them to listen to tobacco growers’ concerns, although the TPD was not mentioned specifically. 15. A meeting with the Commissioner’s Cabinet was arranged for 27 April 2010, although no minutes have been released.16
  • In November 2010, ahead of the public consultation on the TPD review, Unitab wrote a letter to President Barroso and several non-health EU Commissioners, enclosing a report by Nomisma that claims that the proposed TPD measures would have a negative socio-economic impact on EU tobacco growing regions.171819
  • In April 2011, Unitab hosted a diner/debate on the future of small tobacco-growing farms, targeted at European Commission staff, Members of European Parliament, and representatives of the Permanent Representations to the EU. A member of the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Agriculture was invited, but there is no record to suggest they accepted. 20
  • Consistent with PMI’s strategy (Image 2), Unitab, EFFAT, and Fetratab met with senior staff of the Commission’s DG Trade on 8 September 2011 to express their opposition to the ingredients ban and plain packaging.14 In regard to the former, they voiced their concern about a ban on sugar as additive, but “they could however agree to the ban of menthol and candy ingredients/cigarettes”.
  • In the same month, PR company C& I (Communications and Institutions) arranged a meeting between Unitab and its partners with the Cabinet of the Agriculture Commissioner,21 who reported that “The representatives of the tobacco business repeated their usual requests and arguments” on plain packaging, the ingredients ban, and the snus sales ban.12
  • In June 2012, Unitab unsuccessfully tried to invite the Commissioner for Agriculture to attend Unitab’s 33th Conference which was to be held in October that year.2223
  • In October 2012, ahead of the adoption of the TPD proposal by the College of Commissioners, the coalition wrote to Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, stressing the “potential negative social and employment implications” of the proposed TPD, claiming that it “would result into a heavy cost that would hit hard precisely some of the most vulnerable EU regions”,13 and claiming that these consequences have not been included in the TPD’s Impact Assessment.
  • In October 2013, in response to the TPD vote in the Parliament earlier that month, Unitab, EFFAT and Fetratab wrote to the Wine Alcohol and Tobacco Unit in the Commission’s department responsible for Agriculture (DG AGRI), to challenge the Parliament’s decision to have a positive list of authorised additives to be developed by the Commission. 24

EU Transparency Register

Unitab has been listed on the EU Transparency register since April 2012. It disclosed that its 2013 EU lobbying budget was between €50,000- €100.000million.25

In view of Unitab’s active role in opposing TPD measures, this figure seems conservative and may not include all lobbying costs Unitab incurred. For example, a report by Corporate Europe Observatory shows that Unitab’s 2011 disclosed lobbying budget of €75,000 failed to include €800,000 it had paid PR firm C&I to lobby on its behalf.26

TobaccoTactics Resources


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  1. Unitab, About Unitab, undated, accessed November 2014
  2. La Maison de Metiers du Tabac. (AISBL) The Tobacco House. Creation of the Tobacco House in Brussels Press Kit, 21 October 1999. Available from http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/bnm81c00, accessed November 2014
  3. Proposal for the Public Announcement of the Creation of the Tobacco House, 22 September 1999. Available from http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/hel44a99, accessed November 2014
  4. Philip Morris, Tobacco House, accessed November 2014
  5. S. Mandal et al, Block, amend, delay: tobacco industry efforts to influence the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive (2201/37/EC), The Smoke Free Partnership June 2009, accessed November 2014
  6. abcS. Peeters, H. Costa, D. Stuckler et al, The revision of the 2014 European tobacco products directive: an analysis of the tobacco industry’s attempts to ‘break the health silo’. Tobacco Control Published Online first 24 February 2015
  7. Philip Morris International, EU Tobacco Products Directive Review 17 August 2012. Presentation slides leaked in 2013
  8. abPhilip Morris International, Stats File. Predicted committee voting outcomes and committee coverage information. Leaked in 2013
  9. Philip Morris International. PMI TPD Core Team Meeting, 14 September 2011. Presentation slides leaked in 2013
  10. F. Vedel, Letter to Jose Manuel Barroso, UNITAB, 9 November 2010
  11. J. Fleming, Lobbyists link EU tobacco curbs to rising crime, Roma, Euractiv 15 July 2011, accessed November 2014
  12. abcdeEuropean Commission Cabinet Commissioner of Agriculture Ciolos, Meeting report of the Cabinet’s meeting with representatives of the European tobacco business Bruxelles 20th September 2011 11hr, accessed November 2014
  13. abcdH. Wiedenhofer, L. Wojciech, F. Vedel, Letter to European Commissioner for Regional Policy Mr Johannes Hahn, Ref: Social and employment concerns related to the forthcoming review of the Tobacco Products Directive 2001/37/EC and to the Common Agriculture Policy Reform, Brussels 11 October 2012, accessed: November 2014
  14. abcEuropean Commission DG Trade, Meeting with tobacco processing industry 8 Sept 2011. Meeting notes released under freedom of information, accessed October 2014
  15. F. Vedel, C. Sachetto, P. Pellegrini, Letter from Unitab, Fetratab and EFFAT to Commissioner Dacian Ciolos dated 4 March 2010, accessed October 2014
  16. A. Catalao, Email from Cabinet Ciolos to Unitab dated 18 March 2010, accessed November 2014
  17. Nomisma, The Cultivation of Tobacco in the European Union and the Impact Deriving from the Changes in Directive 2001/37/EC. Analyses of Socio-Economic Impact, October 2010
  18. Unitab, Letter to Commissioner Dacian Ciolos dated 23 November 2010, accessed November 2014
  19. Unitab, Letter to Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski dated 23 November 2010, accessed November 2014
  20. Unitab, Letter to an Expert at the cabinet of the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, dated 20 April 2011, accessed November 2014
  21. V. Gagneur, Letter to Cabinet Ciolos, subject: EFFAT-UNITAB-FETRATAB/ meeting on the post 2013 CAP reform, dated 12 September 2011
  22. F. Vedel, Letter to Dacian Cioloş dated 25 June 2012, accessed November 2014
  23. A. Ujupan, Email to Unitab dated 9 July 2012, subject: RE: Invitation au 33eme congress de l’UNITAB- 18-20 octobre 2012, Budapest- ARES/784077, accessed November 2014
  24. Unitab, EFFAT, Fetratab, Letter to Mr. Jesus Zorrilla Torras, Head of Unit Directorate C Wine Alcool sic Tobacco DG AGRI, dated 29 October 2013, accessed November 2014
  25. EU Transparency Register, UNITAB, Financial Year 01/2013-12/2013, last updated 10 March 2014, accessed November 2014
  26. Corporate Europe Observatory, Mapping the tobacco lobby in Brussels: a smoky business, 6 November 2012, accessed November 2014