Plain Packaging in the UK: TCRG Research on Policy Opposition 2011-2013

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Background

The UK’s 2011 decision to consider introducing plain tobacco packaging precipitated a lengthy and hotly contested public and political debate which lasted until the policy’s implementation in May 2016.
Research from the Tobacco Control Research Group published in BMJ Open in 2016 investigated which organisations opposed plain packaging in the three years around the 2012 consultation: 2011-2013.
The research asked who are these organisations, what sector are they from, are they linked to ‘big tobacco’ and what kinds of actions did they take to oppose the policy’s introduction? The research also asked what can be learned from this case study about tobacco companies’ attempts to overcome Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC). This article requires governments to “protect” tobacco control policies “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

Research Findings: Opposition links to global tobacco companies

Setting aside tobacco and tobacco packaging manufacturers, the study identified 109 organisations which opposed, or helped oppose, plain packaging in the UK between 2011 and 2013. The study found that:

– Of these, 43 actively opposed the policy themselves and rarely declared a conflict of interest or any association with tobacco companies when undertaking opposition activities;

– 39 facilitated tobacco companies’ opposition activities – for example, explicitly lobbying on their behalf or producing research for them.

  • Between them, the 82 organisations:

– Undertook 60% of the 404 opposition activities identified in the study, including 88% of research activities and 78% of public communications; and

– Backed up tobacco companies’ extensive lobbying activities via correspondence and meetings with government officials and ministers.

  • Tobacco industry-funded campaigns also generated 98% of opposition postcard and petition submissions to the UK’s 2012 consultation
  • In these activities, opposition organisations replicated and promoted tobacco companies’ main arguments against plain packaging – intellectual property, evidence, smuggling, the nanny state and costs to businesses.
  • Organisations which actively opposed plain packaging rarely reported any relationship with tobacco companies transparently. Of 150 public communications activities undertaken by those organisations, less than one in five acknowledged the link. In contrast, research consultancies and university academics commissioned by tobacco companies to facilitate opposition were almost always transparent in reporting that relationship; and yet, active organisations who promoted tobacco industry commissioned research in lobbying correspondence and press releases frequently failed to report its funding source.

Lessons for Policy

Opposition organisations’ high prevalence of financial links with tobacco companies and accompanying low levels of transparency created a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition to plain packaging. This opposition posed a risk to plain packaging in the UK and, ultimately, is highly likely to have played a part in delaying implementation of the policy between 2011 and 2016.
Countries which are party to the FCTC should strengthen their implementation of Article 5.3 by systematically requiring conflict of interest declarations from all organisations participating in political debates on tobacco control. This key measure will reduce the opportunity of tobacco companies to use their resource advantage to fund third party opposition to tobacco control policies.

Funding sources for the research

This research was funded by Cancer Research UK and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.

Table 1 – 82 organisations with financial links to global tobacco companies who contributed to opposing plain packaging in the UK 2011-13

Colour code: Tobacco company members or have received tobacco company donations; Tobacco company clients; Core or campaign funding.
Information on organisations’ lobbying, research, public communications and mass recruitment activities undertaken to oppose plain packaging can be accessed by clicking on the headers of the table.

Alliances Commissioned Experts Third Party Campaigns Tobacco Industry Associations
Intellectual Property Business Associations

Research Consultancies

Retail and Wholesale Business Associations

Tobacco Manufacturing Business Associations

General Business Associations

Universities

  • Alan Zimmerman, City University of New York55
  • Professor James Heckman, University of Chicago56
  • Laurence Steinberg, Temple University Philadelphia57
  • Professor Martin Cave, London School of Economics58
  • Professor Stephen Nowlis, Washington University59
  • Professor Ernesto Savona and Dr Francesco Calderoni at Transcrime60
  • Professor Alfred Kuss, University of Berlin61
  • Professor Jonathan Klick, University of Pennsylvania and Erasmus University62
  • Professor Timothy Devinney, University of Technology, Sydney6364
  • Professor Richard Mizerski, University of Western Australia65
  • Professor Daniel Gervais, Vanderbilt University66
  • Professor Peggy Chaudhry, Villanova School of Business
  • Professor Ravi Dhar, Yale University676869
  • Hands Off Our Packs70
Retail and Wholesale Business Associations

Public Relations Firms

General Rights Organisations

Think Tanks

Law firms

  • Bird & Bird LLP107
  • Lord Hoffman, Centre for Commercial Law Studies108
  • Herbert Smith LLP109
  • Lalive110
  • Powell Gilbert LLP111
Media Companies

  • Asian Media and Marketing Group112

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

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