Imperial Tobacco

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Background

Imperial Brands (previously Imperial Tobacco) is a transnational tobacco company that is headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom (UK). It is the fourth largest tobacco company in the world, after Philip Morris (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT), and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and excluding the Chinese National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC).1

The company has no relationship to Imperial Tobacco Canada, which is a subsidiary to BAT.

According to Euromonitor International, in 2019 Imperial Brands held 4.2% of the global cigarette market (by retail volume, including CNTC).1 The company reported a net revenue of UK£8 billion, with traditional tobacco products contributing over 97% of total revenue, and Next Generation Products contributing less than 3% of total revenue.2

Its parent company, Imperial Tobacco Group was rebranded to Imperial Brands in February 2016, and consists of the following companies: Imperial Tobacco, ITG Brands, Logista, and Fontem Ventures (and within it, e-liquids manufacturer Nerudia).345

In 2020, Imperial Brands divested from its cigar business, selling its subsidiary Worldwide Premium Cigar (including Tabacalera and Premium Cigar RoW), to tackle the company’s growing debt.6

In 2020 Imperial Tobacco operated in 160 countries, selling cigarettes, roll your own (RYO) tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigarette paper, and cigars.7 Its main brands are Davidoff, Gauloises Blondes, JPS, West, Fine, News, Winston, Bastos, Lambert & Butler and Parker & Simpson (cigarettes); Drum and Golden Virginia (RYO), skruf (Swedish-style Snus); Rizla (cigarette papers and filters). Its e-cigarette brand is Blu and its heated tobacco is Pulze.

The company’s key markets are the Unites States (US), Germany, Australia, Spain and the UK. In 2020, these markets contributed more than 70% of Imperial’s profit, with the remaining profit coming mostly from other European markets and African markets.8

Imperial used to be the UK’s cigarette market leader, but lost that position in 2015 to JTI.9

Employees or Board Members: Past and Present

A full list of the company’s leadership team can be accessed at Imperial’s website.

Over the course of 2019, Imperial Tobacco underwent significant changes in leadership and strategy. On 3 October 2019, it was announced that Alison Cooper, Imperial Tobacco’s Chief Executive since May 2010, would step down10 The announcement came after the company issued a profit warning that reduced the company’s anticipated revenue growth.11

In July 2020, Stefan Bomhard was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer, on a five-year contract. Bomhard previously held leadership roles at various multinational companies including Bacardi Europe, Cadbury and car dealership Inchape.1213

Bomhard’s appointment was followed by the announcement of a renewed five-year-strategy in January 2021.8 Imperial Tobacco announced renewed focus on traditional cigarettes in its priority markets, including “advertising at age-verified music festivals and comedy events” and the “use of brand influencers and product placement in bars and nightclubs”. It stated an aim to continue investing in Next Generation Products (NGPs), focusing on Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs) in Europe and e-cigarettes in the US.

The new strategy also referred to investment in the African markets, stating its aim to “turn Africa from an unloved asset to a platform for future growth”, with a “supportive market environment with improved affordability as incomes increase”.14

Other people that currently work for, or have previously been employed with, the company:
Roberto Ascoli Drago Azinovic Arthur van Benthem Ken Burnett Sue Clark Helen Clatworthy Fernando Domínguez Robert Dyrbus Gareth Davis Louise Day Kevin Freudenthal Roberto Funari David Haines Michael Herlihy Nikos Mertzanidis Peter Middleton Almos Molnar Susan Murray Iain Napier Matthew Phillips Walter Prinz Michiel Reerink Richard Ross Berge Setrakian Alessandro Tschirkov Mark Williamson Titus Wouda Kuipers Colin Wragg Malcolm Wyman Waldemar Zegar

Affiliations

Memberships

In 2020, Imperial Brands was a member or supporter of the following organisations:

Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA)15 | Associate Parliamentary Corporate Responsibility Group | Tobacco Europe (formerly CECCM) | European Rolling Papers Association (ERPA) | European Smoking Tobacco Association | European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) | Public Affairs Council16 | Tobacco and Nicotine Products Chemicals Group (formerly Tobacco Industry Platform)17 | Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association18

Imperial Brands is, or has been, a member of the following e-cigarette trade associations, as Fontem Ventures and its e-cigarette brands:

UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) |  Vape Business Ireland | France Vapotage |  VITA of Canada  |  Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) |  Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF)

Imperial Brands previously listed membership of the following organisations:19

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) | British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium | BusinessEurope | European Cigar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) | European Smokeless Tobacco Council | Euraffex/ European Affairs Expertise | Industry and Parliament Trust (see Rosemary Brook)20 | Institute of Business Ethics21| Kangaroo Group | MARQUES | Wirtschaftsrat

The company has also been a member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT) since 2001.22 The ECLT has a partnership with the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency, focussed on issues related to labour such as international labour standards, social protection and unemployment.23 Surinder Sond from Imperial Brands is listed as a board member of the ECLT in its 2019 annual report.24

Consultancies

Imperial Brands has worked with the following public relations (PR) companies:

  • In 2019, Fontem Ventures was listed on the UK lobbying register as a client of David Alexander, Director of UK Sports PR agency Calacus.33From 2018 to 2020, Instinctif Partners provided services to Imperial, supporting the development of Astroturf campaign “Let’s demand smarter vaping regulations” on the European Citizens Initiative. 34 See the section: Interfering with Democratic Processes for more information.

Think Tanks

In May 2012, the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) at the University of Bath asked Imperial Tobacco to disclose which think tanks the company was funding, and had funded over the last few years. The company replied that it did “not wish to participate in your research”.35

In response to a specific query made in 2014 in regards to Imperial Tobacco’s engagement with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a UK-based think tank supported by corporations and which has repeatd tobacco industry messages, Imperial’s Head of Regulatory Science, Steve Stotesbury, replied: “We [Imperial Tobacco] have been supporters of the IEA for many years, stretching back well over a decade”.36

Imperial Tobacco also held historical links with the Democracy Institute, a think tank based in the UK and US. In 2006 the company funded a book published by the Democracy Institute, which argued there was no evidence that graphic health warnings on tobacco, food, and alcohol packaging would work.37

Controversial Marketing Strategies

Targeting Women and Girls

In 2011, the tobacco industry introduced cigarette packs to the market that were specifically designed to attract female consumers. Imperial Tobacco launched its Richmond SuperSlims, promoted as “the first superslim brand in the value-price cigarette sector”. At the time, The Grocer retail magazine reported that the pack was embossed with a “stylish pink design”, and that it was “clearly designed to appeal to female smokers”.38

As of 2021, Imperial Brands continue marketing their “specialist [cigarette] brands” which “appeal to specific consumer groups”39 Amongst these is Jadé, a brand of superslim cigarettes with a logo featuring cursive letters and a stylised butterfly logo.40

It is worth noting that plain packaging legislation introduced in Australia in late 2012, and in the UK in May 2016, does not address the size of the cigarette stick and its use as a marketing vehicle to target specific consumer demographics.41The legislation bans slim cigarette packs, but not slim individual cigarette sticks.42

  • For more information on tobacco companies’ efforts to market its product to female consumers, go to Targeting Women and Girls.

Pre-empting Plain Packaging Legislation in Australia

In September 2012, a few months before plain packaging legislation was introduced in Australia, Imperial Tobacco Australia changed the packaging of its Peter Stuyvesant cigarette pack to show a ripped pack exposing plain packaging underneath (see image 1 below). The accompanying slogan said “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”.4344

The Australian Health Minister criticised Imperial’s marketing campaign, saying that “diseased lungs, hearts, and arteries are the reality of what is happening on the inside to a smoker”.43

Image 1. Screen grab of Peter Stuyvesant packaging Australia September 2012. Screengrab from the Telegraph43 (archived webpage)

Complicity in Tobacco Smuggling

Imperial Tobacco has argued that tobacco control legislation, in particular plain packaging, might lead to unprecedented levels of illicit tobacco trade. The company has made these claims in its 2012 and 2014 Submissions to the UK Consultations on standardised packaging.

In 2016, ahead of the introduction of plain packaging in the UK, Imperial Brands launched a “Suspect it? Report it!” anti-illicit trade campaign. In January 2017, Imperial Tobacco collaborated with the Federation of Independent Retailers (known at the time as National Federation of Retail Newsagents) to “educate independent retailers and UK smokers about the growing trade in illegal tobacco”.45 The collaboration saw 50,000 packs branded with Imperial’s “Suspect it? Report it!” campaign distributed to retailers, containing infographics, posters and stickers.

In contrast to Imperial’s campaign, which portrays the tobacco company as the victim of illicit trade, there is strong historical evidence of Imperial Tobacco’s complicity in facilitating the smuggling of their own cigarettes.

In 2021, Imperial (alongside BAT) was reportedly found to be oversupplying its products in Mali, through a local subsidiary company, and accused of supporting conflict in the area by fuelling the illicit trade. Imperial’s responded it is committed to opposing tobacco smuggling, which it stated “benefits no-one but the criminals involved”46

In 2002, genuine Imperial Tobacco brands accounted for more than half of the 17 billion cigarettes smuggled into the UK.47 The company claimed ignorance when it was questioned about over-supplying countries notorious for smuggling at the Commons Public Accounts Committee, to which Imperial Tobacco’s chief executive was told: “One comes to the conclusion that you are either crooks or you are stupid, and you do not look very stupid.”48

Internal documents from Gallaher (now part of JTI), released through litigation, refer to Imperial Tobacco’s “highly aggressive” smuggling activities in the 1990s, blaming Imperial’s smuggling for Gallaher’s weakening position in the UK market.49

Tactics to Subvert Tobacco Control Campaigns and Policies

Imperial Tobacco has strongly opposed tobacco control legislation and regulations, including plain packaging in Australia and the UK, and the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) in the European Union (EU). The company has used a variety of strategies and tactics to influence tobacco control policies, and subvert existing regulations.

Discrediting Science and Scientists

The tobacco industry has long tried to undermine science and legitimate anti-tobacco messages from scientists to get around, weaken, or discredit tobacco control legislation. According to one tobacco executive, “doubt” was the best means “to compete with a body of fact and establish controversy”.50

In 2011, Imperial Tobacco strongly criticised a study commissioned by the UK Department of Health,51 which concluded that England’s smoke-free 2007 legislation had positive benefits for public health. The study also concluded that the legislation had no obvious negative impacts on the hospitality industry, contrary to claims made by the tobacco industry.52

Imperial Tobacco criticised the three-year review as being “lazy and deliberately selective”, and furthermore accused the study’s author, Professor Linda Bauld, of having a conflict of interest due to her links to the charity Action for Smoking and Health (ASH).53

  • For further information on Imperial Tobacco’s attempts to discredit Professor Bauld, and the subsequent hate campaign by others that followed, visit our page on Professor Linda Bauld.

Using Freedom of Information Requests to Counter Health Campaigns

In February and March 2011, acting on behalf of Imperial Tobacco, Bell Pottinger, persistently requested access to research data that supported an anti-RYO tobacco health campaign run by regional charity SmokeFree South West.5455

Fabricating Support through Front Groups

Imperial Tobacco has used front groups to oppose tobacco control legislation. Front Groups are organisations that purport to serve a public cause while actually serving the interests of a third party, and obscuring or concealing the connection between them.50

In 2010, Imperial Tobacco Australia (in collaboration with PMI and BAT) financed the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) to oppose the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.56 The AAR claimed to represent the owners of local corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations, but did not reveal that it was financed by tobacco companies and run by tobacco company executives and a PR company.57 The purpose of the AAR was to argue that plain packaging would cause economic damage to small Australian retailers.

In 2013, to promote the tobacco industry’s tracking and tracing system, Codentify, Imperial Tobacco, BAT, PMI and JTI jointly set up the Digital Coding & Tracking Association (DCTA), which often failed to disclose its relationship to the tobacco industry in its statements.

Corporate Political Advertising

In June 2012, Imperial Tobacco attempted to influence UK Members of Parliaments’ (MPs) views on the plain packaging debate by running an anti-plain packaging advertising campaign in The House magazine, a magazine designed for MPs (see image 2 below).58

The company did not reveal itself as the funder anywhere on the front page advertisement.

Image 2. Imperial Tobacco cover of The House magazine in plain packaging, June 2012

Hospitality for UK Politicians

In 2014, Imperial Tobacco gifted Wimbledon tennis tickets to Members of Parliament (MPs) Aidan Burley, Mark Field, and Mark Pritchard.59

Imperial Tobacco also gifted Wimbledon tickets to Lord Pendry in 2005, 2008 and 2012.606162

In the 1990s, the tobacco company provided the following hospitality to MPs:63

  • Jacqui Lait MP and her husband attended the 1999 Scotland v England rugby match courtesy of Imperial Tobacco
  • MPs attended a 1998 and 1999 Lords v Commons Clay Pigeon Shoot at Highclere Castle sponsored by Imperial Tobacco
  • Conservative MPs Ian Taylor and John Townsend attended the 1997 rugby international England v New Zealand at Twickenham, courtesy of Imperial.
  • In 1995, Imperial gifted a lunch and two tickets for the Men’s Singles final at Wimbledon to Liam Fox, at the time the MP for North Somerset

Our page on Tobacco Industry Hospitality for UK Politicians provides more detail on gifts and hospitality provided to MPs and peers by Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies.

Direct Lobbying of Decision Makers: the EU Tobacco Products Directive

In the financial year 2014-2015, when the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was undergoing its first revision, Imperial Tobacco reported to have spent €400,000 – €499,000 lobbying EU institutions, employing five fulltime equivalent staff in its Brussels office.16

Lobbying disclosure records by Conservative Members of European Parliament (MEPs) show, that in 2011 and 2013 Imperial Tobacco met with UK MEPs Giles Chichester, Ashley Fox, Emma McClarkin, and Anthea McIntyre to discuss the revision of the TPD.646566

Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies were given several opportunities to share their views on the TPD review with the European Commission’s Health directorate, DG SANCO, and Health Commissioner John Dalli.6768

  • To read more about the controversies that lead to the resignation of then commissioner Dalli, see TPD: Dalligate

But Imperial Tobacco also lobbied other directorates on the TPD. In 2011, Bell Pottinger tried to broker access to officials in DG Trade and the Secretariat General on its behalf

In July and September 2012, Imperial Tobacco attended meetings with DG ENTR (Enterprise and Industry) as part of a delegation with Tobacco Europe (known as CECCM at the time),6970 and in October 2012 the company directly met with DG Trade.71

With the exception of DG SANCO, EU officials were not systematically transparent about their contact with Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies at the time of the 2014 EU TPD Review.72 Some meetings only became public knowledge due to FOI requests.

Similar concerns have re-emerged in light of the third revision of the TPD in 2021, with Tobacco Control advocates raising concerns about tobacco companies, including Imperial Brands, access to the EU institutions.

Documents released by the UK Department of Health have also revealed that Imperial Tobacco had access to confidential information from the European Council concerning the 2014 TPD review.73 Despite the Department of Health asking the company to explain how it came into possession of this confidential information, Imperial refused to disclose its source.

Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

To help rehabilitate its image as a responsible business that “acts with integrity and lives its values”74, Imperial Tobacco ran a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These initiatives not only attempt to rehabilitate the company’s image, but also make it easier for the company to gain access to decision makers.

To make it easier for smokers to smoke whilst travelling, yet be seen to comply with smoke-free legislation, Imperial Tobacco launched its Smoking Allowed campaign in 2011, aimed at providing smoking shelters across UK airports.75 Apart from supporting smokers, Simon Clark, the director of Forest, suggested that the campaign also “challenges the Orwellian ‘denormalisation’ of smoking”.76

In 2013, Imperial Tobacco co-founded the Love Where You Live campaign in the UK, aimed at encouraging individuals, companies and local groups to clean up after themselves (image 3 below).77 The campaign gave Imperial Tobacco the opportunity to partner with government, who supported the project. More information on this CSR initiative can be found on the page CSR: Imperial and Love Where You Live.

 

Image 3. Love Where You Live website, April 2012

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, tobacco companies made extensive use of CSR campaigns, as a strategy to gain legitimacy, increase public trust and advance its business interests. Imperial Tobacco utilised this tactic, donating ventilators and donating in support of social causes in Ukraine and Germany787980

Intimidating Governments with Litigation or Threat of Litigation

Imperial Tobacco has legally challenged tobacco control regulations in the UK, EU and Australia, including:

  • The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) ACT 2010. The company argued that the ban on tobacco display and cigarette vending machines falls outside the legislative scope of the Scottish Parliament.81 This challenge was dismissed by the Supreme Court in December 2012, but delayed the introduction of the display ban by 2 years.
  • The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (Australia). Imperial Tobacco unsuccessfully challenged the legality of standardised packaging legislation in Australia. For more information, go to Australia: Challenging Legislation.
  • The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 (UK). Imperial first threatened with litigation against the UK Government in 2012, if the Government were to implement plain packaging legislation.82 Following the passage of the legislation in March 2015, Imperial Tobacco and others launched a legal action, which it lost in May 2016 (the day before the legislation was due to come into force).8384
  • The 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Imperial Tobacco formally supported a legal challenge brought by PMI and BAT to invalidate the TPD as a whole, or various provisions within it. This legal challenge was dismissed in the European Court of Justice in May 2016.85 More details can be found on the page TPD: Legal Challenges.

Interfering with Democratic Processes

As Next Generation Products have come onto the market, new tobacco industry tactics are emerging to challenge current tobacco control regulations around the world. In February 2019, a campaign was launched under the European Union Commission’s “Citizen’s Initiative” with the name “Let’s demand smarter vaping regulation!”34 This campaign, part-funded by Imperial, proposed revoking article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which “requires EU Member States to introduce restrictions on the advertising of electronic cigarettes”.86

The European Citizens’ Initiative is a democratic tool meant to benefit individuals, or groups of individuals, by bringing to the Commission’s attention proposals for legal acts. There are rules in place which prohibit companies or organisations from proposing this process. However, there are no specific rules against company employees using the initiative as individuals.87Organisers of the ‘smarter vaping regulations’ initiative include Valerio Forconi, head of EU corporate affairs and registered lobbyist for Imperial Brands, and it was set up with EURO€10,000 from Imperial’s Brussels office.34

Two of the other organisers were representatives of e-cigarette trade associations (Vape Business Ireland and France Vapotage) of which Imperial was a member.34 For details see E-Cigarettes: Imperial Tobacco

This is a clear example of ‘astroturfing’, a well-known tactic used by the tobacco industry to interfere with tobacco control legislation.88 Corporate watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory has condemned Imperial’s activities, stating that the tobacco company “has vested commercial interests in getting vaping products excluded from the Tobacco Products Directive and is abusing a democratic tool for citizenship participation”.87

The main representative of the “Let’s demand smarter vaping regulation!” organising committee was listed as Dustin Dahlmann, from German e-cigarette-business association Bündnis für Tabakfreien Genuss (BfTG), which donated EURO€8,000 to the campaign. BfTG states that it is “tobacco-free” and has no tobacco industry members.348990 Another organiser was Mosè Giacomello, from Vapitaly, which organises an annual trade event in Italy, and provided EURO€16,000 in funding to the campaign.34

The initiative was launched in April 2019 with the intention of gathering one million signatures in one year, from at least 7 EU countries. This would then require the European Commission to consider the request to revoke article 20.3487 The accompanying website, promoted by Imperial Brands, portrayed it as a “grassroots” campaign to support a change in regulation, by differentiating e-cigarettes from traditional tobacco products.91

Circumventing EU Menthol Ban With New Products

The 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision, passed into UK law in 2016, banned the sale of menthol cigarettes and rolling tobacco, as menthol was deemed a ‘characterising’ flavour.92

Pipe tobacco, cigars and smokeless products such as e-cigarettes and snus were exempted from this flavour ban. After lobbying from tobacco companies, and a legal case brought by the Polish Government, a four year delay was granted.9394 The sales ban was due to come into force in May 2020.95

In December 2019, Imperial announced that it was launching a new Rizla product in the UK in January 2020; a cardboard insert which could be put into a packet of cigarettes or rolling tobacco, to infuse the product with one of two flavours – “Menthol Chill” or “Fresh Mint”. The company argued that this product was an “accessory” and therefore not covered by the tobacco product regulations.96 The regulations state that the ban includes “tobacco products containing flavourings in any of their components such as filters, papers, packages, capsules or any technical features allowing modification of the smell or taste of the tobacco products concerned”.97

In January 2018, Imperial had relaunched one of its cigarette brands, JPS Green, with a menthol-infused packet liner, which it claimed would be “more effective at transferring flavour to the cigarettes than traditional menthol tips”.98

In February 2021, Imperial released its “New Crush” Embassy cigarettes designed “specifically for ex [menthol] crushball smokers”, featuring a “cooling sensation filter”, promoted to be used specifically alongside its menthol-flavoured cardboard inserts.99

COVID 19

Tobacco companies including PMI, JTI, Imperial Brands and Altria Group all raised their sales or profit targets, saying the industry had done better than expected in 2020 mostly in US and EU. Imperial tobacco reported an increase in revenue from cigarettes due to increased smoking rates during the pandemic. 100101 Throughout the first half of 2021, Imperial has reported growing market shares in their priority markets, and is expecting further growth from its wholly-owned European logistics business Logista.102 In December 2020, French media reported that Logista had concluded an agreement with the Spanish Ministry of Health for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.103

Next Generation Products

For an overview of Imperial Tobacco’s investment in Next Generation Products, including snus and e-cigarettes, go to Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco.

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including TCRG research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to the Bath TCRG’s list of publications.

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