Institute of Economic Affairs

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The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is a British “free-market” think tank, set up in 1955, which has a history of close collaboration with the tobacco industry. It describes its purpose as: “to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems”.1

Background

The IEA is registered in the UK as an educational charity and a charitable company , and also operates in Belgium.23 IEA established EPICENTER in Belgium in 2014.

For a full list of the IEA’s current staff, advisors, and fellows, see its website. Prominent staff members and advisors include:

Staff

  • Mark Littlewood was appointed IEA’s Director General in October 2009.4 Littlewood also is one of the founders of Progressive Vision, a libertarian lobby group, and its offshoot Liberal Vision.
  • The libertarian blogger Christopher Snowdon is the IEA’s Head of the Lifestyle Economics unit which was established in January 2013 to “put hard evidence at the heart of all its publications” about the “hazards and failures of state paternalism”.5 IEA’s webpage also states: “Time and time again, we see well-intentioned but ill-considered policies backfire by fuelling the black market, exacerbating poverty and encouraging more harmful consumption”.5

Advisors

Directors

  • Kevin Bell, listed as an IEA Director on Companies House,3 is a former Director of the now-dissolved British public relations firm, Bell Pottinger.9 Before its dissolution in 2014 in the wake of scandal and accusations of unethical practices, Bell Pottinger was paid by Imperial Tobacco (now Imperial Brands) to broker access to EU officials. For more information, see our page on Imperial Brands.

 Initiatives

  • An investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in May 2019 identified an organisation called Freer set up in 2018 which promotes free market policies. It is based at the IEA and shares staff but “is not registered as a charity and is therefore not subject to the same political lobbying restrictions that constrain the IEA’s activities”.10 Freer co-chair Luke Graham MP told the BMJ:

“The Freer initiative, like the IEA, has no corporate line on public policy proposals. It is united by people who broadly support free markets and free people. All views published by the IEA or Freer are the author’s own.”10

  • In April 2019 Freer published a collection of essays called On Social Freedom.11 It covered topics such as Ben Bradley MP opposing taxes on meat and sugar and Christopher Snowdon opposing minimum unit pricing. Writer Matt Ridley contributed a chapter promoting vaping where he wrote that the decline in smoking rates and cigarette consumption in the UK was due to e-cigarettes.11 This echoes industry claims but independent studies show a far more complex picture.12
  • In October 2015, the IEA launched the “Paragon Initiative”, a five-year project with the aim of putting “every area of government activity under the microscope” and analysing “the failure of current policies”.1314
  • In 2014, the IEA established and fully funded the think-tank collective EPICENTER.15 In 2020, it became funded by its “member think tanks”, including IEA.16 EPICENTER launched the ‘Nanny State Index’, designed by Christopher Snowdon, in 2016.17The 2021 version of the Index claimed that “nanny statists” had “exploited” the global COVID-19 pandemic.1819

For more information, see our page on EPICENTER.

Tobacco Industry Funding and Lack of Transparency

The IEA does not disclose its funding sources and has repeatedly received a “one star” (the lowest) rating by transparency watchdog Transparency International.20 The IEA’s stated policy is to “leave it to our funders to decide whether to disclose their support”.21

Evidence below shows that tobacco companies, amongst others, have financially supported the IEA for decades.2223

In May 2019, 32 Conservative MPs were named as linked financially, directly or indirectly, to the IEA by a BMJ investigation. Several members of Boris Johnson’s administration, who became Prime Minister on 24 July 2019,1024 have links to the IEA, including Dominic Raab (Foreign Secretary), Priti Patel (Home Secretary), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Leader of the House of Commons),25 Matt Hancock (former Health Secretary), Theresa Villars (Environment Secretary),25 and Kwasi Kwarteng (Minister of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).26

From 2010 until his appointment as health secretary in July 2018, Matt Hancock MP received a total of UK£32,000 from Neil Record, who joined the IEA board of trustees in 2008 and became its chair in 2015.10 The BMJ reported:

“Hancock did not respond directly to The BMJ’s request to confirm whether he had been aware that the IEA was funded by a tobacco company when he accepted donations from the chair of the institute’s trustees. A spokesperson said only that ‘all donations have been declared in line with parliamentary regulations’.”10

Michael Hintze, another IEA trustee, has also made gifts or donations to MPs.10 These include Robert Buckland MP, who was made Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on 24 July 201927, and Boris Johnson MP, who later became Prime Minister on 24 July 2019.1028

The BMJ investigation into the IEA also found that: “Among the MPs most closely and publicly associated ideologically with the IEA is Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton in Surrey since 2010”.10 On 24 July 2019, Raab was appointed Foreign Secretary.29 Raab’s special advisor, Stephanie Lis, was the IEA’s Director of Communications until August 2018. Before joining the IEA, Lis was Campaign Manager at the Freedom Association, where she spoke out against plain packaging of cigarettes as being “mad and dangerous”.30

British American Tobacco

The IEA has received funding from British American Tobacco (BAT) since 1963. Until May 2021, BAT described itself as an IEA member in the EU Transparency Register.3132

The IEA has received annual donations from BAT. It refused to disclose the amount in 2019.33. In 2018 the donation amounted to £40,000.34 The yearly amount has increased from £10,000 in 2011 to £20,000 in 2012 and £40,000 since 2013. 353637383940

For details of more historic IEA funding from BAT, see: IEA: History of Close Ties with the Tobacco Industry.

Imperial Tobacco

Imperial Tobacco has also been a long-term financial backer of the IEA. In 2014, Dr Steve Stotesbury, then-Head of Regulatory Science at Imperial Tobacco, wrote in an email to the Tobacco Control Research Group that “We have been supporters of the IEA for many years, stretching back well over a decade.”41

Philip Morris International

In 2013, Philip Morris International (PMI) confirmed IEA membership to British newspaper The Guardian. The company was quoted as saying: “We confirm that we are a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs, but cannot provide you with any further details.”42

An internal 1998 Philip Morris document detailing “Public Policy Donations” lists a donation to the IEA’s American funding arm, the “American Friends of the IEA”, to the value of US$10,000.43

Japan Tobacco International

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) told The Guardian in 2013 that: “We work with the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute as their economic and behavioural expertise help us better understand which tobacco regulation measures will work and which will not.”42

IEA as a “Messenger” for the Tobacco Industry

In a 2012 leaked PMI presentation, the tobacco company identified the IEA as a potential “media messenger” in its strategy to prevent the introduction of Plain Packaging legislation in the UK.44 This is consistent with historic evidence which shows that the tobacco company had identified the IEA as “particularly useful for PM” as early as 199545 and that it could potentially assist in “policy outreach”, being one of seven groups that would “pro-actively relay our positions” and “establish an echo chamber for PM messages/responses addressing major issues facing the company.”46

Documents dating from 1996 and 2001 show that BAT also considered the IEA a “vehicle for delivery” of UK reputation initiatives.4748

Criticised Tobacco Control Legislation

The IEA has a history of criticising tobacco regulation such as plain packaging and the smoking ban in pubs, arguing that they represent an attack on civil liberties.49

Plain Packaging

UK plain packaging legislation was approved in March 2015 after many years of consultation and significant opposition from tobacco companies and their allies, much of which hinged around evidence. The IEA was very active in the policy debate around plain packaging, engaging in activities to influence public opinion and lobby decision-makers against the policy, promoting tobacco industry-commissioned research, and creating doubt about independent scientific evidence throughout.

Influencing Public Opinion: Plain Packaging “Will Do Nothing to Improve Health”

In April 2012, when the UK Government announced its first consultation on plain packaging, the IEA’s response in the media closely resembled the arguments put forward by the tobacco industry. Commenting on the government announcement, Mark Littlewood, said that the consultation was “a patronising and unnecessary distraction which will do nothing to improve the public’s health”.50 Littlewood also suggested that the policy might increase illicit trade, and that the best way to tackle underage smoking is through “improved education and better enforcement at the point of sale.”50

In April 2014, the IEA published a pamphlet authored by Snowdon called: “Plain Packaging – Questions That Need Answering”.51 The pamphlet repeated arguments commonly used by the tobacco industry and quoted industry-funded evidence, for example PMI-funded research by Roy Morgan Research.

Supported Tobacco-Industry Funded Campaign

IEA Director Littlewood was a prominent supporter of tobacco industry front group Forest‘s Hands Off Our Packs campaign against plain packaging, and was an invited guest speaker at the campaign’s launch in January 2012.5253 In addition, IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon wrote a campaign blog in support of Hands Off Our Packs.54 Angela Harbutt, the IEA’s Development Director, was the coordinator of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign.55

Lobbied Decision Makers

In January 2014, the IEA submitted evidence to the UK Government’s independent review into standardised packaging of tobacco undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler. The IEA’s submission, written by Snowdon, re-iterated common tobacco industry arguments against plain packaging.56 Snowdon drew from industry-funded research, conducted by KPMG, which was dismissed as “flawed” by the Australian Government.57

In a statement following the announcement of a second public consultation on the introduction of plain packaging in June 2014, Littlewood claimed that the evidence was “not on the side of plain packaging”.58

Display Bans

The UK government introduced an England-wide Point of Sale Display Ban in 2010, to be implemented in all retail outlets by 2015. A legal challenge by BATImperial TobaccoPMI and JTI ensued but was dropped in December 2011.59 Also see: Point of Sale Display Ban.

In 2010, the IEA published a discussion paper by Patrick Basham entitled “Canada’s ruinous tobacco display ban: economic and public health lessons”.60 The publication concluded: “the empirical evidence does not demonstrate that tobacco display bans have reduced smoking prevalence or consumption in the four countries where they have been instituted: Canada, Iceland, Ireland, and Thailand. In this sense, display bans appear to be – like so many other tobacco control policies – highly ineffective”.60

The discussion paper was strongly criticised by health charity Cancer Research UK, which argued that Basham’s paper had a number of “general weaknesses”, including:

  • the failure to disclose Basham’s or the IEA’s longstanding links with the tobacco industry;
  • the lack of evidence published in peer-reviewed journals; and
  • the presentation of “selective evidence” that “undermined claims about the effects of a display ban”.61

In March 2011, Littlewood was one of a number of signatories of a Letter to the Editor to the Daily Telegraph attacking the Government’s position on tobacco control and arguing against display bans.

Tobacco Advertising

In 1997 and 1998, the IEA’s Roger Bate was the author of multiple articles in the Wall Street Journal Europe and the Financial Times opposing tobacco advertising bans. He argued that a ban on tobacco advertising would not only fail to reduce smoking, but ultimately lead to an increase in smoking.626364

In 2007, the IEA republished a study by Professor Hugh High that the IEA had originally published at the end of the 1990s which concluded that “there is no evidence that advertising of tobacco products leads to increase in the total consumption of tobacco.”65 The IEA argued that High’s 1990s study was still relevant today, “particularly in the so called ‘obesity debate’.”66

See also our page on Hugh High.

Criticism of UK Public Health

In 2021, the IEA published several pieces criticising the UK public health goals, including: the smoke-free by 2030 goal,6768  efforts to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchasing to 21,6970 outdoor smoking bans,71727374 and e-cigarette control policies.75

In June 2021, IEA uploaded a report to a pre-print server that argued that the UK government saved UK£19.8 billion from “early death savings”. The authors argue that the government is “better off every year due to smoking”, because smoking-attributable deaths “save” money that would otherwise be spent on medical expenses. The report uses these findings in part to argue that tobacco taxation should be lower.7677

In May 2019, the British Medical Journal reported 20 instances over the previous year of the IEA attacking public health policies on issues such as alcohol pricing and sugar taxes.10

Funding from the Food and Beverage Industries

A letter to the IEA’s “American Friends” suggests that the IEA has received donations from a range of food and soft drinks companies such as Coca-Cola, Tesco, Unilever, and Tate and Lyle Sugars, amongst others.78

The IEA also co-hosted an event with Tate and Lyle at the 2016 Conservative Party Conference.79

Attacked the WHO

In 2000, Roger Bate wrote a letter to the Financial Times arguing that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) should be “rejected”.80

That same year, the IEA published a pamphlet attacking the WHO for its campaign against tobacco.81 The author of the pamphlet, writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, was on the payroll of JTI and later conceded that he should have “declared an interest”.81 A leaked email revealed that Scruton, was receiving a monthly fee from JTI of UK£4500 and had asked for a UK£1000 per month pay rise to place more pro-tobacco articles in prestigious newspapers and international magazines.82

In 2020, IEA published a critique of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Public Health England (PHE) authored by Christopher Snowden. It argued that the “failing” of WHO in handling the COVID-19 pandemic was in part due to its involvement with “lifestyle issues”, including sugar consumption and vaping that has contribute to its “lack of focus” on infectious diseases.83

In 2021, its attention turned to the upcoming WHO FCTC 9th Conference of the Parties (COP) due to take place in October. On 24 June, the IEA hosted a webinar titled “COP9 and Its Impact on Vapers”.8485 Its website stated:

“The need for a discussion on this obscure bureaucracy arises because COP9 poses a significant threat to the United Kingdoms’ successful approach to harm reduction policy.”84

It also stated that the WHO was an “enemy of vaping” and that the panel would discuss:

“who represents the UK at COP, how decisions are reached (and whether we should listen to them), the impact of these decisions on the United Kingdom’s harm reduction progress, and the 2030 smoke-free target.”84

Members of the panel included: Mark Littlewood, Matt Ridley (Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping), Christopher Snowdon, and Louis Houlbrooke (from the New Zealand Taxpayers Union).

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

References

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