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

It has lobbied against the regulation of tobacco products in the EU and other countries, including against plain packaging. In May 2020 CCC set up the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA), which lobbies for the promotion of e-cigarettes and against their regulation.

Background

CCC’s parent organisation is Students For Liberty (SFL),7 an American libertarian organisation linked to billionaires Charles and David Koch and partner of the Atlas Network.89 CCC was listed as a partner of the Atlas Network in its 2018 Annual Report.10

In 2017, SFL launched CCC with a budget of  $210,296.11 CCC describes itself as “totally open” to corporate donations.12

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.1314 In 2019 this fell to around €1,000,000.1516 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.17 It has also received funding from the Atlas Network (and associated company the Atlas Project), the Geneva Network,18 and directly from transnational tobacco companies (see below).619 An investigation by Le Monde and The Investigative Desk revealed that CCC received a EU€14,000 grant from the Atlas Network in 2018.20 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.2122 Prior to working for CCC, Roeder worked for SFL where he co-founded their European Branch.20

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

  • Adam Cleave, Senior Adviser (previously worked for Imperial Tobacco)2324
  • Jeff Stier, Senior Fellow, tobacco harm reduction advocate2526
  • Bill Wirtz, Policy Analyst
  • Luca Bertoletti, European Affairs Manager
  • Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director22
  • Maria Chaplia, Research Manager

Many CCC staff have previously held, or currently hold, roles within SFL.2722

Roeder, Bertoletti and Chaplia were registered EU lobbyists in 2017/18.14 Bertolleti is also a Director of a public relations company called B&K Agency.28

LATAM Policy Fellow Antonella Marty is the Associate Director of the Center for Latin America at Atlas Network.2229 As of March 2022, CCC also had Policy Fellows for South Africa, Nigeria, Taiwan and Indonesia.22

Connections with Governments

Peter Liese, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), collaborates with the World Vapers’ Alliance.3031 In 2022, CCC’s website stated that it was 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”.3032 Claiming over 30 members “representing most EU states”, its work areas were listed as: “Digital; Healthcare; Agriculture; Harm Reduction; Consumer Goods” (all of potential interest to tobacco companies).32 Despite claims to and the use of the EU Parliament logo on its webpage, this group was not on the list of parliamentary ‘intergroups’ and appeared to have no official role.3033

In January 2022, Lord Wharton joined CCC as a Strategic Adviser.2234 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.35

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.2234

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

CCC has received funding from Japan Tobacco International (JTI), who co-funded its launch event,1736 JTI was a member of CCC in 2017.37386 Upon request, JTI declined to disclose what this membership entailed and how much financial support was linked to it.39

In addition, Roeder contributed to “Regulating Consumers?”, a Euractiv Special Report sponsored by JTI for €10,000.4041

In 2018, CCC stated that it had received funding from Philip Morris International.17

Altria has donated an unspecified amount of money to CCC annually from 2018.42434445

CCC has received funding from British American Tobacco (BAT) since 2019, in support of CCC’s “tobacco harm reduction advocacy”.620

See below for CCC’s outputs relating to e-cigarettes and harm reduction.

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) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), 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”.46 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:46

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

Brussels, 10 September 2018

At the Brussels roundtable, the following presentations were on the agenda:47

  • Bill Wirtz, CCC: “Too busy with the wrong Priorities: Does the WHO suffer from Mission Creep?”
  • Frederick Roeder, CCC: “Foreign Aid for Public Health and Clandestine Maneuvering sic: Insights from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”
  • “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

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)

Lobbying for Newer Nicotine and Tobacco Products

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.48

The researchers concluded that:

The nature of the activity on Twitter around COP8, including a substantial online presence by PMI executives and NGP [Next Generation Products, also referred to as newer nicotine and tobacco products] 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.48

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.

2018: COP 8

During the meeting of the 8th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the WHO FCTC in October 2018, the CCC organised the “Nicotine is Not Your Enemy Soirée”. The event advertisement criticised the WHO for “condemning nicotine” and refusing to “support harm reduction” and stated its “hope to convince delegates of COP8 to join us and learn more about harm reduction”.49 Professor Bernd Mayer, who sits on the World Vapers’ Alliance’s advisory board, spoke at the event which also included “live demonstrations of harm-reducing technologies.”495051

CCC Director Roeder and Co-Director Ossowski registered as journalists at COP 8, citing their contributions to libertarian news sites, which gave them access to the events sessions. However, their press badges were later suspended for “misrepresentation.”2051

This lobbying continued after COP 8 and in the run-up to COP 9.

2020

In June 2020, CCC called for the “liberalisation of vaping”.52 It also put out a statement arguing that the US State of Georgia’s proposed tax on e-cigarettes would “harm poor consumers”.53 CCC also lobbied politicians in Alaska to reject a proposed e-cigarette tax.54

In September 2020, CCC published a report called “Why Vape Flavors Matter”, co-written with the WVA. The report argued against proposals to ban e-cigarette flavours in the US and EU.55 CCC also lobbied against proposed flavour bans in California, Connecticut and Maine.565758

In October 2020, CCC published a report called “Vaping and the Gateway Myth”, also co-written with the WVA5960 It also recommended that e-cigarette advertising should be allowed.59

Neither report stated that CCC receives tobacco industry funding.

2021: COP 9

CCC submitted evidence to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vapings COP 9 inquiry. The submission said the UK should object to the FCTC’s e-cigarette treaty proposals and instead “champion… harm-reducing technologies such as vaping.” Adding: “with the United Kingdom’s influence, the FCTC could once more achieve its purpose of reducing tobacco consumption around the world.”61

In October 2021, a month before COP 9, CCC co-signed a letter “calling on the Biden administration’s WHO delegation to recognise the value of tobacco harm reduction.” The letter said the WHO pursued “quit or die” policies that “keep people using cigarettes.”62

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) launched in May 2020, initially presented as an independent partner organisation of CCC.63 WVA later acknowledged it had been established by CCC.64 It is linked to Red Flag Consulting a lobbying company which has BAT and CCC as clients.

Investigations by Le Monde and The Investigative Desk showed that WVAwas actively lobbying against the regulation of e-cigarettes before and during COP 9, in November 2021.20 Videos on the WVA YouTube channel depicted the organisation’s activities, 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).65

2022

In January 2022, Ossowski wrote an article for CCC’s website, blaming “the public health lobby” for a rise in smoking rates.66 David Clement, CCC’s North American Affairs Manager, wrote an op-ed in the Financial Post in June 2022 that argued “heavy-handed vaping regulations and taxation do nothing but create more smokers”.2267

Lobbying against proposed US menthol ban

Seminar organised by Americans for Tax Reform

In May 2022, Ossowski took part in a virtual seminar, titled “The Devastating Impact of the FDA’s Proposed Menthol & Flavored Cigar Ban”, convened by the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).68 All but one of the panellists represented organisations which have accepted tobacco industry funding:

  • Tim Andrews represented ATR, which has accepted money from RJ Reynolds (a subsidiary of BAT), Altria, JTI and BAT. 42434569
  • Guy Bentley represented The Reason Foundation, which has accepted money from Altria and is an Atlas Network partner84243444569
  • Major Neill Franklin, represented the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which in 2019 received more than a third of its funding from RJ Reynolds American.70 It has also accepted money from Altria.42434445
  • Lindsey Stroud represented the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), which does not reveal its funding sources. TPA is an Atlas Network20Stroud worked for the Heritage Foundation from 2016 to 2020, which has received funding from Altria.6971

CCC Session: “FDA’s Menthol Melee”

In June 2022 CCC hosted a session called “the Menthol Melee” which was chaired by Ossowski.72 The session included contributions from former law enforcement officers and Micheal Landl (Director of the World Vapers’ Alliance), Jeff Stier (Senior Fellow at CCC and Taxpayers Protection Alliance) and Dr Prritika Kumar (Senior Fellow at R Street Institute).

The speakers argued banning menthol cigarettes would incentivise the illicit tobacco trade and bring police departments into further conflict with black communities. The latter of these arguments is the same used by RJ Reynolds consultants.70

Lobbying on illicit trade around MOP 2

CCC also lobbies on illicit trade, including the illicit trade of tobacco products.73 In a July 2020 EU policy paper, “Illicit Trade is Dangerous for Consumers”, CCC argued that to prevent the illicit trade of tobacco products, plain packaging should be rejected, taxes should be limited and there should be no further restrictions on their marketing and advertisement.74

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.7576 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.75 The other speakers were from a Spanish business forum and a UK based brand consultancy.76

CCC submitted a response to the EU consultation on tobacco taxation in 2021, citing the risk of illicit trade 77 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”.77

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.78 CCC published an article in May 2021 criticising President Biden’s support of the waiver,79 and another in June 2022 arguing that the “TRIPS waiver will cost us decades of progress”.80 CCC has also advocated for Germany and Canada to oppose the waiver,8182 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.83

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.84 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 2022.85

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.86

Lobbying against plain packaging

CCC called on EU policymakers to reject plain packing in a July 2020 policy paper, arguing that it “increased the presence of illicit tobacco in all the countries which implemented it.”73

In March 2021, CCC made a submission to the UK Governments consultation on the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015. CCC argued “tobacco products should not see any further scrutiny”, that plain packaging “hasn’t proved to be effective” and nor have health warning labels “in helping smokers quit”.87

CCC also argued that “further bans of vaping products will drive more consumers to illegal products on the unregulated black market, where there is no guarantee of safety or quality. A larger black market will make it even easier for minors to purchase vaping products with no age verifications at all.”87

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.88
  • 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.89
  • CCC was represented by Jeff Stier at the launch of Forest EU, a tobacco industry-funded pro-smoking group.90

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

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