Consumer Choice Center

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The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) is a US lobby organisation based in Washington DC. It was set up as not-for-profit in February 2017, and approved for tax exempt status in 2019, on the basis of it being a social welfare organisation.1 It has offices in the United States, Canada and the European Union (EU).2 As of March 2022 it had not filed any financial returns with the US authorities.1

CCC has stated that it lobbies against “paternalistic” government regulations,3 covering “food and agriculture policies, fat/sugar tax, soda tax, food labelling, health care and harm reduction, trade initiatives (TTIP /TTP), transportation and aviation regulations”.4 It describes itself as a “consumer advocacy group” and a “grassroots movement”5 which “represents consumers in over 100 countries”.6

Background

CCC’s parent organisation is Students For Liberty (SFL),7 an American libertarian organisation linked to billionaires Charles and David Koch.8 CCC stated in its 2018 annual report that it was a partner of the Atlas Network.9

In 2017, SFL launched CCC with a budget of  $210,296.10 CCC describes itself as “totally open” to corporate donations.11

On the EU transparency register, CCC declared total income of close to €7.8 million in its first two years of operation, in the form of donations from unspecified sources.1213 In 2019 this fell to around €1,000,000.1415 Its declaration for 2021, published in March 2022, declared no funding.4

The organisation states that it has received financial support from consumer goods, energy, manufacturing, digital, healthcare, cryptocurrency and fin-tech industries.16 It has also received funding from the Atlas Network (and associated company the Atlas Project),  the Geneva Network,17 and directly from transnational tobacco companies (see below).618

According to CCC’s own code of ethics, published on its website, its “campaigns, op-eds, and videos are not sent to supporters before they are released. Partners see our content and outputs at the same time as the general public.”6 It does not detail what other input any supporters might have up to the point of release.

Staff

CCC’s Managing Director is Frederik Roeder.192021

Other persons that work for, or have previously worked for the CCC:

Many CCC staff have previously held, or currently hold, roles within SFL.2621

Roeder, Bertoletti and Chaplia were registered EU lobbyists in 2017/18.13 Bertolleti is also a Director of a public relations company called B&K Agency.27

LATAM Policy Fellow Antonella Marty is the Associate Director of the Center for Latin America at Atlas Network.2128 As of March 2022, CCC also had Policy Fellows for South Africa, Nigeria, Taiwan and Indonesia.21

Connections with Governments

Peter Liese, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), collaborates with the World Vapers Alliance, which was set up by CCC to lobby on e-cigarette regulation (see below).2930

CCC’s website states that it is the ‘secretariat’ for a cross party group in the EU Parliament called “Innovation, Brands, and IP – The future of Europe group”, also referred to as “MEPS4Innovation”.2931 Claiming over 30 members “representing most EU states”, its work areas are listed as: “Digital; Healthcare; Agriculture; Harm Reduction; Consumer Goods” (all of which are of potential interest to tobacco companies).31

In January 2022, Lord Wharton joined CCC as a Strategic Adviser.2132 James Lord Wharton is a member of the UK House of Lords, was previously an adviser to Boris Johnson and, as of 2022, is Chair of the Office for Students. He lists CCC as one of his Directorships on the UK Government register of interests.33

At the same time, Alexander Kvitashvili joined CCC as Public Health Advisor. An independent consultant to the World Health Organization, Kvitashvili was Minister of Healthcare of Ukraine (to 2016), and prior to that Minister of Health of Georgia.2132

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

CCC has received funding from Japan Tobacco International (JTI), who co-funded its launch event,1634 JTI was a member of CCC in 2017.35366 Upon request, JTI declined to disclose what this membership entailed and how much financial support was linked to it.37

In addition, CCC’s Frederik Roeder contributed to “Regulating Consumers?”, a Euractiv Special Report sponsored by JTI for €10,000.3839

In 2018, CCC stated that it had received funding from Philip Morris International.16

Altria has donated an unspecified amount of money to CCC annually from 2018.40414243

CCC stated on its website that it received funding from British American Tobacco (BAT) for support of CCC’s “tobacco harm reduction advocacy”.6CCC did not specify when the money was received, although it appeared to be in 2019.44 It was also unclear if BAT’s financial support was ongoing.18 See below for CCC’s outputs relating to e-cigarettes and harm reduction.

For more on BAT’s commercial interests in this area see Newer Nicotine and Tobacco Products: British American Tobacco.

Attempt to Discredit World Health Organisation (WHO) and IARC

In September 2018, in the run up to the meeting of the 8th Conference of the Parties (COP 8), CCC scheduled three strongly biased roundtables to discuss “WHO’s shortcomings in working towards better global public health and how the WHO actively blocks healthier technologies in the area of harm reduction”.45 The events also condemned the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assessment of the pesticide glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. None of the invited speakers had public health qualifications.

London, 6 September 2018

Scheduled presentations at the London roundtable included:

  • “Public Funding of Public Health Activists” by Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)
  • “Too busy with the wrong Priorities: Does the WHO suffer from Mission Creep?”, by CCC’s Bill Wirtz
  • “How the UK can become a leader in tobacco harm reduction”, Daniel Pryor from the Adam Smith Institute
  • “Foreign Aid for Public Health and Clandestine Maneuvering sic: Insights from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, by CCC’s Fred Roeder

Brussels, 10 September 2018

At the Brussels roundtable, the following presentations were on the agenda:

  • “Too busy with the wrong Priorities: Does the WHO suffer from Mission Creep?”, by CCC’s Bill Wirtz
  • “The WHO and The International Agency for Research and Cancer (IARC): How evidence based policies are sabotaged by those who ought enforce them”, by Professor David Zaruk, Odisee University College
  • “Foreign Aid for Public Health and Clandestine Maneuvering sic: Insights from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, by CCC’s Fred Roeder

Rome, 18 September 2018

The focus of the roundtable in Italy seemed to be on E-cigarettes and the product’s future in Italy. Listed external speakers were:

  • Carolina Pellegrini (Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori di Milano)
  • Daniele Capezzone (New Direction Italia)
  • Alessandro Colucci (Camera dei Deputati)

Research with Twitter data by Bath TCRG highlighted the nature of CCC’s activity around meeting of the 8th Conference of the Parties (COP 8), and those of other tobacco industry allies.46

The researchers concluded that:

The nature of the activity on Twitter around COP8, including a substantial online presence by PMI executives and NGP advocates with links to organisations funded directly and indirectly by PMI, is highly consistent with PMI’s 2014 corporate affairs strategy, which described engaging tobacco harm reduction advocates to ‘amplify and leverage the debate on harm reduction’ around events such as the COP.46

After this CCC continued to direct its lobbying efforts to the promotion of e-cigarettes, which it frames as “harm reduction advocacy”. It became more active from 2020, in the run up to COP 9, when it received further funding from BAT.

Lobbying for E-cigarettes

In June 2020, CCC called for the “liberalisation of vaping”.47 It also put out a statement arguing that the US State of Georgia’s proposed tax on e-cigarettes would “harm poor consumers”.48

In October 2020, CCC published a report called “Vaping and the Gateway Myth”4950 The report did not refer to CCC’s funding from BAT.  It was co-written an organisation called the “World Vapers Alliance” (WVA).

World Vapers’ Alliance set up to lobby COP 9

The World Vapers Alliance (WVA) was initially presented as an independent partner organisation, for which CCC had provided an unspecified amount of “seed funding”.51 WVA acknowledged the support of CCC on its website, which was set up in December 2019 and maintained by Red Flag Consulting (a lobbying company which has long had BAT as a client).525354

Investigations by Le Monde and the Investigative Desk showed that WVA was actively lobbying against the regulation of e-cigarettes before and during time of the meeting of the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP 9) in November 2021.44 CCC subsequently published an article on its website saying that it had, in fact, set up WVA.55 It stated that WVA was a “a global movement to represent the voice of vapers”.55 Videos on the WVA YouTube channel depicted the organisation’s activities before and during COP 9, including its “Back Vaping Beat Smoking” branded campaign van and its presence in Geneva (although COP was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic).56

According to an investigation by the Daily Beast, leaked e-mails and documents indicated that BAT was behind WVA’s campaign.29 A response by Roeder, published on CCC’s website, dismissed the accusations, referring to “anonymous claims from disgruntled former subcontractors”.57 BAT did not respond to the allegations of its involvement in an astroturfing campaign, other than to provide a statement saying that it supported organizations that share its goal of “tobacco harm reduction.”29

After COP 9 the WVA continued to lobby for e-cigarettes. In 2022, the WVA’s website invited people to take action to “make vaping part of Europe’s plan to beat cancer” but did not list any members or contributors.58 In February 2022, a video on its YouTube channel argued that proposed regulations in South Africa “would severely restrict vaping in the country and what impact they can have on consumers and on public health”.59 South Africa is a growing market for e-cigarettes, including BAT’s products.

Lobbying on illicit trade around MOP 2

CCC also lobbies on illicit trade, including the illicit trade of tobacco products.6061

In November 2021, around the time of the second meeting of the Members of the Parties (MOP 2) to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, CCC organised a webinar on the topic.6263 This was introduced by the Irish MEP Sean Kelly. Although CCC promoted this as a live event, Mr Kelly’s statement was pre-recorded and he did not take part in the discussion.62 The other speakers were from a Spanish business forum and a UK based brand consultancy.63

CCC submitted a response to the EU consultation on tobacco taxation in 2021, citing the risk of illicit trade.464 Its submission stated that:

“Smoking should be seen as a matter of consumer choice and personal responsibility. Tobacco products should not see any further scrutiny”

Citing concern over illicit trade is a well-documented industry argument against taxation.

Opposing intellectual property wavier on COVID 19 vaccines

CCC has opposed attempts by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to improve access to COVID-19 vaccines. WTO has considered temporarily waiving intellectual property rights relating to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19, which would allow WTO member countries to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines to cope with demands.65 CCC published an article in May 2021 criticising President Biden’s support of the waiver,66 and another in June 2022 arguing that the “TRIPS waiver will cost us decades of progress”.67 CCC has also advocated for Germany and Canada to oppose the waiver,6869 and appears to have attempted to influence Members of the European Parliament on the subject, predominantly through its “Innovation, Brands and Intellectual Property- The Future of Europe” group.70

Tobacco companies that are financially linked to CCC have significant investments in COVID-19 vaccine development. BAT announced in April 2020 that its subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing, is developing a COVID 19 vaccine, and has since launched a new company, KBio Holdings Limited, to accelerate this development.71 Philip Morris International is a major shareholder in Medicago, a Canadian biotechnology company whose COVID 19 vaccine was approved for use in Canada in February 2022.72

The tobacco industry has a history of using intellectual property arguments to oppose new tobacco control regulations, such as the introduction of plain packaging and graphic health warnings.73

For more information on tobacco industry COVID-19 vaccines visit the Tobacco Company Investments in Pharmaceutical & NRT Products page.

Other Affiliations

  • In addition to being scheduled to speak at the anti-WHO event, the IEA was involved in launching the CCC in April 2017. Christopher Snowdon, the IEA’s “Head of Lifestyle Economics”, featured in the promotional video for the CCC’s launch event.74
  • At its launch event, the CCC disclosed that it “collaborated with” EPICENTER, a free-market think tank collective, set up and funded by the IEA.75
  • CCC was represented by Jeff Stier at the launch of Forest EU, a tobacco industry-funded pro-smoking group.76

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, L. Robertson, A. Joshi, T. Legg et al, Tobacco Control, 11 November 2020, doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2020-055889

References

  1. abUS Internal Revenue Service, Consumer Choice Center: EIN: 84-2358602, register entry, accessed March 2022
  2. Consumer Choice Center, FAQ, 2018, accessed July 2019
  3. Consumer Choice Center, About us, undated, accessed July 2019
  4. abcConsumer Choice Center, EU Transparency Register Entry, 7 March 2022, accessed March 2022
  5. Consumer Choice Center, The Global Grassroots Movement for Consumer Choice, CCC website, accessed July 2019
  6. abcdeConsumer Choice Center, FAQs, website, accessed March 2022
  7. Consumer Choice Center, About Us, website, archived November 2018, accessed March 2022
  8. Corporate Europe Observatory, Big Tobacco and right-wing US billionaires funding anti-regulation hardliners in the EU, 20 July 2017, accessed July 2019
  9. Atlas Network, Annual Report 2018, accessed July 2019
  10. Students For Liberty, 2017 Annual Report, available from www.studentsforliberty.org, 2017 (undated), accessed March 2018
  11. H. Cooper, Q. Ariès, POLITICO Brussels Influence: Consumers for liberty — EU breaches justice rules, POLITICO, 24 March 2017, accessed July 2019
  12. Consumer Choice Center, EU Transparency Register Entry, 10 January 2018, accessed February 2018
  13. abConsumer Choice Center, EU Transparency Register Entry, 31 December 2018, archived August 2019, accessed March 2020
  14. Consumer Choice Center, EU Transparency Register Entry, 29 April 2020, accessed October 2020
  15. Consumer Choice Center, EU Transparency Register Entry, 20 April 2021, archived November 2021, accessed March 2022
  16. abcConsumer Choice Center, Frequently Asked Questions, undated, archived 13 June 2018, accessed January 2020
  17. The Geneva Network, Open Corporates, accessed March 2022
  18. abConsumer Choice Center, About Us, undated, accessed October 2020
  19. F. Roeder, Frederik Cyrus Roeder, LinkedIn profile, accessed January 2018
  20. Consumer Choice Center, Meet the Team, CCC website, accessed July 2019
  21. abcdefgConsumer Choice Center, Meet the Team, website, undated, accessed March 2022
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  24. Consumer Choice Center Jeff Stier, undated, accessed July 2019
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  26. Consumer Choice Center Staff, undated, accessed July 2019
  27. B&K Agency,  LinkedIn profile, undated, accessed March 2022
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  32. abConsumer Choice Center, The CCC Welcomes Lord Wharton and Alexander Kvitashvili as Advisors, press release, 18 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  33. UK Parliament, Lord Wharton of Yarm, website, accessed March 2022
  34. Y. Ossowski, Email to Corporate Europe Observatory, Consumer Choice Center, 22 June 2017, archived 21 February 2018, accessed December 2020
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  37. Japan Tobacco International, Email reply to Tobacco Control Research Group, Subject: Re: REF GB-18-01469/NCC/TRM, 26 February 2018 08:48
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  44. abS. Horel, The Vapour Trail, Le Monde, 3 November 2021, accessed March 2022
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  46. abL. Robertson, A. Joshi, T. Legg et al, Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Tobacco Control, 11 November 2020, doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2020-055889
  47. Consumer Group Urges Liberal Tobacco Policies, Tobacco Reporter, 1 June 2020, accessed October 2020
  48. Consumer Choice Center, Georgia’s Proposed Vape and Nicotine Tax Will Hurt Poor Consumers, 25 June 2020, accessed October 2020
  49. Consumer Choice Center, Vaping and the Gateway Myth, website, undated, accessed October 2020
  50. M. Chaplia, M. Landl, Vaping and the Gateway Myth, report by CCC and World Vapers Alliance,  October 2020, accessed October 2020
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  56. World Vaper’s Alliance, Vape TV, undated, accessed March 2022
  57. F. Roeder, Response to Recent Media Coverage of the CCC’s Harm Reduction Work, Consumer Choice Center website, 9 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  58. World Vapers’ Alliance, Campaign hub, website, undated, archived 9 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  59. World Vapers Alliance, Vaping Voice: Episode 1- Vaping in South Africa, Vape TV youtube channel, 1 February 2022, accessed March 2022
  60. Consumer Choice Center, Illicit Trade, website, undated, archived October 2021, accessed March 2022
  61. Consumer Choice Center, Illicit Trade is Dangerous for Consumers, policy paper, website, July 2020, accessed March 2022
  62. abConsumer Choice Center, Illicit Trade: Challenges and Solutions, youtube, 10 November 2021, accessed March 2022
  63. abConsumer Choice Center, Illicit Trade: Challenges and Solutions, website, 15 November 2021, accessed March 2022
  64. Consumer Choice Center, Tobacco taxation – excise duties for manufactured tobacco products, consultation submission, 21 June 2021, accessed March 2022
  65. World Trade Organisation, TRIPS Council to continue to discuss temporary IP waiver, revised proposal expected in May, World Trade Organisation 2021 News, website, 30 April 2021, accessed June 2022
  66. Consumer Choice Center, Biden’s support for seizing vaccine IP harms innovation, Consumer Choice Center website, May 2021, accessed June 2022
  67. Consumer Choice Center, Trips waiver will cost us decades of progress, Consumer Choice Center website, June 2022, accessed June 2022
  68. Consumer Choice Center, Canada under pressure to support waiver lifting patents on Covid-19 vaccines, Consumer Choice Center website, May 2021, accessed June 2022
  69. A. Green, How Germany’s new coalition could change the fate of the TRIPs waiver, Devex, 22 November, accessed June 2022
  70. S. Lazare, Big tobacco is funding opposition to global covid vaccine access, In These Times, June 2022, accessed June 2022
  71. British American Tobacco, BAT creates biotech company KBio to accelerate development of existing plant-based technology, Press Release, BAT website, January 2022, accessed June 2022
  72. STOP, Philip Morris International and Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccine, Industry Brief, March 2022, accessed June 2022
  73. S. Zhou, Intellectual property arguments in tobacco industry legal challenges: lessons from recently concluded cases, Tobacco Induced Diseases, 2018;16(Suppl 1):A52, doi:10.18332/tid/83914
  74. Consumer Choice Center, Launch of the Consumer Choice Center 16 April 2017, YouTube video footage, published on 2 May 2017, accessed July 2019
  75. M. Hope, Lobby Group Tied to Koch Brothers, Brexit Climate Deniers Pushes ‘Strong Pro-Corporate Agenda’, Ecowatch, 20 July 2017, accessed July 2019
  76. S. Clark, Forest EU launch party, Taking Liberties blog, 2 June 2017, accessed July 2019
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