Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging

conversation.PNGBig Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging – Dr Jenny Hatchard

Originally posted: October 17, 2016 1.38pm BST

Tobacco companies want to sell you cigarettes – today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re at the tobacco counter or out with friends, glitzy cigarette packaging is a really important part of their sales pitch. Tobacco companies are aware of this. It’s why they are so opposed to their cigarettes being put in plain packaging.

But it isn’t just tobacco companies that are against plain packaging. In the UK, where plain packaging was introduced in 2016, business associations, think tanks and civil society groups publicly campaigned against the policy and academics, research consultants and public relations and law firms variously wrote lengthy reports and lobbied the government.

But why would these organisations lobby against plain packaging? On looking into these opposition groups, our recent research gives a clear answer. Opponents of plain packaging tend to have links to the tobacco industry. So much so that three-quarters of organisations identified in our study had financial links to tobacco companies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Decades of research into political activity by the tobacco industry has shown that “third parties” are used to campaign against tobacco-control policies. Health advocates are aware of this. In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control committed the countries that signed the convention to protect tobacco policy from interference by the tobacco industry and, crucially, groups linked to them. In response, in 2011, the UK government committed to publishing details of any policy meetings with tobacco companies and the Department of Health routinely requests disclosure of tobacco industry links. So far so good. In doing so, the UK sets a strong example.

Third party interference

But our research shows how “third party” opposition to tobacco control policies extends tobacco industry interference beyond this realm of government. In a three-year period which included the 2012 government consultation on plain packaging, 88% of research and 78% of public communications opposing plain packaging were carried out by organisations with financial links to tobacco companies (see figure 1). And public and retailer campaigns funded by tobacco companies to mobilise opposition to plain packaging generated 98% of the more than 420,000 negative postcard and petition submissions to the consultation.

Figure 1 Author provided

In this way, ideas and arguments that come from tobacco companies and their research spill into public spaces. Once there, they can influence the public and political mood on life-saving tobacco control policies and create a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. This is known in the world of political science as “conflict expansion”. And the potential effects are significant. When widespread, these “third party” activities can work to delay and even prevent policies: it took four years to get from consultation to implementation in the UK.

This wouldn’t be so serious if organisations and tobacco companies were open about their relationships. But, in many cases, links were not easy for the research team to detect. Of 150 examples of public communications, less than 20% explicitly acknowledged tobacco industry connections. And, while academics and research consultants tended to clearly report funding sources, “third parties” promoting their research in press releases, news stories and letters to government, frequently did not.

If they were open about their financial relationships with tobacco firms, business and civil society organisations would give the public, politicians and officials the opportunity to scrutinise their arguments and evidence in context. In the case of plain packaging, a lack of openness masked these links and lent credibility to claims that the policy lacked evidence and would increase the trade in illicit cigarettes – claims which have been shown to be unfounded by both peer-reviewed research and by the High Court in Britain. Now, as more countries move to introduce plain packaging, “third party” transparency remains an issue.

In order to help countries guard against tobacco industry interference, awareness can be raised of the effects of their activities on public and political debates. And steps could be taken to make their relationships with tobacco companies clearer. A compulsory register of tobacco companies’ memberships, political activities and associated spending would be a strong first move.

There is strong global commitment to addressing the problem of tobacco industry interference. Parties to the framework convention meet in India in November amid concerns about this issue, and the message to the tobacco industry from the WHO is clear: “The world understands who you are and what you do, and is determined to stamp out the global plague which you do so much to spread.”

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Research Associate Position in Public Health/Applied Policy Research at University of Bath (Fixed Term for 12 months)

The University of Bath is seeking to appoint a Research Associate in Public Health/Applied Policy Research based at the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group within the Department for Health, which is part of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS).

The successful applicant will be working on an exciting project, funded by Cancer Research UK, on researching the activities of the tobacco industry, predominantly in the UK but also internationally, as and where necessary. The post-holder will work as part of a small research team and will be expected to contribute to and publish their research in high-impact journals in collaboration with other members of the Tobacco Control Research Group and present their work at conferences and events where relevant. In addition the Research Associate will also write regularly for the University’s widely acclaimed knowledge exchange platform, TobaccoTactics.org, helping the research leader ensure the website’s quality, relevance and timeliness. The post holder will have the opportunity to collaborate more broadly with those in the tobacco control field and will help disseminate research information to our stakeholders.

The successful candidate will hold a PhD in a relevant subject (e.g. public health, international relations, political and social sciences, business studies, law, and business), or an equivalent professional qualification and significant relevant experience where applicable. The candidate will ideally have a track record in undertaking mixed methods research and must be highly motivated and committed. Experience in effective knowledge exchange and writing for diverse audiences to secure research impact would be advantageous. Ideally you will have experience of undertaking policy related research in tobacco control or a very similar area.

This post is offered as a full-time fixed-term contract for up to 12 months. It may be possible to work part-time (4 days per week).

In addition to the standard application procedure you are also requested to submit a copy of your CV and 2 examples of your written work (ideally, one peer-reviewed publication paper and one non-academic piece intended for a general audience). Please contact Dr Karen Evans-Reeves, k.a.evans-reeves@bath.ac.uk for further details.

Specifics:

Salary:  Starting from £32,004, rising to £38,183 pro rata for part time hours as applicable
Placed On:  Wednesday 21 September 2016
Closing Date:  Thursday 20 October 2016
Interview Date:  To be confirmed
Reference:  DC4311

For more information and to apply click here.

 

Research associate position available at the University of Bath | Tobacco Control Research Group | Fixed Term

bathThe University of Bath is seeking to appoint a Research Associate in Public Health/Applied Policy Research based at the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group within the Department for Health, which is part of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTCS).

The successful applicant will be working on an exciting project, funded by Cancer Research UK, on researching the activities of the tobacco industry, predominantly in the UK but also internationally, as and where necessary. The new post-holder will work as part of a small research team for the University’s widely acclaimed knowledge exchange platform, TobaccoTactics.org, helping the research leader ensure the website’s quality, relevance and timeliness. The Research Associate will also be expected to contribute to and publish their research in high-impact journals in collaboration with other members of the Tobacco Control Research Group and present their work at conferences and events where relevant.

The successful candidate will hold a PhD in a relevant subject (e.g. public health, international relations, political and social sciences, business studies, law, and business), or an equivalent professional qualification and significant relevant experience where applicable. The candidate will ideally have a track record in undertaking mixed methods research and must be highly motivated and committed. Experience in effective knowledge exchange and writing for diverse audiences to secure research impact would be advantageous. Ideally you will have experience of undertaking policy related research in tobacco control or a very similar area.

This is a full time position, fixed-term for up to 9 months.

For more information and to apply click here.

Expert evidence in call for tobacco tax increases – @UniofBath @BathTR

Research from the University of Bath’s Department for Health and School of Management has contributed to a recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health calling on the Chancellor to increase tobacco taxes, to fund a reduction in smoking prevalence.Parliment

Professor Anna Gilmore, Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, and Dr Rob Branston, Deputy-Director of the Centre for Governance and Regulation, presented expert evidence on tobacco industry profitability and pricing at an Inquiry by the APPG into the cost effectiveness of tobacco control.

A summary of the evidence presented at the Inquiry will be submitted as evidence as part of the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review – APPG on Smoking and Health.  Representation to the 2015 Spending Review. Oct 2015.

Key findings!

Evidence in the report shows that measures to reduce smoking prevalence, including by tobacco taxation, are not only cost-effective but can also have a positive impact on public finances. Members of the APPG recommend that the tobacco tax escalator be increased from 2 per cent to 5 per cent above inflation every year.

They also call for spending on tobacco control to be increased from £200 million to £300 million a year, funded by the additional tax rise. This additional investment could deliver a return on investment of almost 1100 per cent over 5 years and nearly double the rate of decline of smoking, they suggest.

The NHS Five Year Forward view forecasts a £30 billion shortfall in funding by 2020 and even after additional funding promised by the Government there will be a predicted shortfall of £22 billion by 2020.

According to the King’s Fund, closing this gap through efficiency savings alone will be “very challenging”. Therefore to avoid large reductions in NHS services, it will be necessary to reduce demand. The APPG Inquiry heard that continuing to drive down smoking prevalence will be essential to the success of this strategy.

Professor Anna Gilmore:

“Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the UK and reducing smoking rates is a high priority for public health. While the UK has made good progress in tobacco control, much more could be done. Our work shows there is clear scope to further increase tax on tobacco but that simultaneously the tax structure must change to ensure that the tobacco industry cannot undermine the intended impact of tobacco tax increases.”

Read the rest of the report here.