The tobacco industry has long seen the advantage in financing and helping promote publicity for outspoken, media-savvy scientists who are prepared to challenge accepted views on smoking and health or various aspects of tobacco control, while appearing to be independent. Cooperation between the tobacco companies on a global scale has ensured that competent tobacco industry spokespeople have been shared.1-3 In Australia, it has been documented that at least nine visiting industry-sponsored scientists gained substantial publicity between 1969 and 1979, promoting a range of industry-friendly views debunking the health evidence about smoking. Over the years the views of these individuals were widely reported, often uncritically, by the news media. It is probable, given the timing and content of some of these publicity initiatives, that tobacco industry consultants adversely influenced the course of tobacco control initiatives in those early days.1
In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the Australian tobacco industry cultivated a home-grown dissenter, Sydney general practitioner Dr William Whitby, who self-published two books (Smoking Is Good for You and The Smoking Scare De-Bunked). Although there is evidence that the industry recognised that Dr Whitby's particular brand of pro-smoking fanaticism might pose a liability, it provided the means for his views to be widely disseminated and Whitby's works were retained in the armoury of international tobacco circles well into the 1990s.2
The tobacco industry adopted similar techniques in efforts to subvert the accumulating medical evidence on secondhand smoke, as well as deflecting attempts to introduce bans on tobacco advertising and other forms of regulation of tobacco products in Australia and internationally. For example, Philip Morris and other international companies collaborated to promote the views of scientists holding views on secondhand smoke counter to those of mainstream health authorities throughout Asia, Europe and the US during the 1980s and 1990s.3-7 During the 1980s British American Tobacco 'ghost-wrote' reports for JJ Boddewyn, which were published by the International Advertising Association, designed to counter bans on tobacco advertising.8 The Boddewyn reports on advertising were widely circulated internationally (including in Australia9) and formed the basis of industry campaigns to oppose advertising bans.
Contemporary examples of high-profile tobacco industry-funded consultants include Patrick Basham and John Luik of the Democracy Institute. Basham directs the Washington and London-based Democracy Institutei and is a Cato Instituteii adjunct scholar. Basham and Luik have published reports11 and newspaper editorial critiques12 of plain packaging legislation. In June 2011, Luik and Basham made a submission to Australia's public consultation on plain packaging, primarily arguing that there is little evidence the legislation will reduce smoking and that it is a violation of intellectual property laws.13 Basham was funded by Philip Morris in August 2011 to visit New Zealand in order to discourage the government from following Australia's lead in developing plain packaging legislation.14
On several occasions up until the mid-1990s the industry established pseudo-scientific research foundations designed to give credibility to the notion that there remains controversy about the medical evidence on smoking on health. Funding research organisations has also allowed the tobacco industry to:5, 15-17
Generally research foundations of this nature were given official sounding names that betrayed no connection between the organisation and its financial backers. The organisations funded in-house research, and acted as funding agencies that provided grants to other groups, with or without obvious tobacco connections.
The first industry research group, established in the US in 1954, was the Tobacco Industry Research Council (later the Council for Tobacco Research), which promoted the industry's ends for more than 40 years until its closure under the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998.16 As an antidote to concerns regarding secondhand smoke, the industry established the Center for Indoor Air Research to fund projects that would support industry resistance to smokefree regulations.5
The Master Settlement Agreement-mandated closure of multi-company cooperative research and lobbying organisations has lead to the sprouting of a new crop of organisations post-settlement, including the Institute for Science and Health (funded by British American Tobacco and Brown & Williamson), the Philip Morris-connected Life Sciences Research Office,18 and the Philip Morris External Research Program. A critical analysis of the first round of projects funded by the Philip Morris External Research Program shows that foci of the program's interest were projects that would deliver findings likely to support Philip Morris' corporate aims. An added bonus was using the program as a vehicle for identifying cooperative scientists, as well as gaining credibility and goodwill16.
Other groups have been established to divert attention and trivialise smoking in ways appealing to the popular media. In the early 1990s the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, funded by Philip Morris, purported to be a grassroots coalition of people fed up with health scares and 'junk science'.19 Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment (ARISE) claimed to be an affiliation of independent scientists but was actually substantially funded by several tobacco companies. ARISE's brief was to show how 'everyday pleasures, such as eating chocolate, smoking, drinking tea, coffee and alcohol, contribute to the quality of life'.20
Internal tobacco industry document research continues to expose global examples of tobacco industry funding of research institutes to refute secondhand smoke concerns,21, 22 question the evidence and legality of tobacco control reforms, and build alliances.23
The Australian Tobacco Research Foundation (ATRF) opened for business in 1970, the joint creation of the three major tobacco companies operating at the time (WD & HO Wills, Rothmans and Philip Morris), which shared its funding and oversaw its governance. Although criticised from the start for its overt mission of forestalling tobacco regulation and widespread cynicism that it would contribute to robust, impartial research, the ATRF fulfilled a useful PR function for the following two decades, chiefly by providing evidence that the Australian tobacco companies supported independent medical research.15 The ATRF entered terminal decline in 1988, when, in response to building criticism from health interests about the shared interests of and blurred organisational boundaries between the ATRF and the tobacco companies, the entire scientific advisory committee of the ATRF wrote to the Medical Journal of Australia declaring its unanimous agreement that smoking caused disease.24 Negative publicity, compounded by increasing rejection of tobacco research money by the medico-scientific community, lead to the scaling down and eventual closure of the ATRF in 1994.15
Meanwhile the industry was engaged against secondhand smoke through the offices of another seemingly independent organisation. In 1987 the Tobacco Institute of Australia facilitated the establishment of a local offshoot of the US-based Air Conditioning and Ventilation Associates Atlantic, which came to be known as Healthy Buildings International.25 Its brief was to promote the tobacco industry view that the evidence about secondhand smoke was inconclusive; that secondhand smoke is a minor issue in the context of overall indoor air quality; and concerns about smoking indoors could be adequately met with appropriate ventilation and by providing smoking areas.iii Healthy Buildings International gained a high public profile, achieving extensive media coverage and a wide professional audience for its views, while always asserting its status as an independent organisation.25 During the 1990s Healthy Buildings International gained membership on an advisory committee charged with revising Australian Standards for indoor air, a position which allowed it to influence the committee's recommendations, as well as keep Philip Morris abreast of developments, until Healthy Buildings International was exposed and its position on the committee terminated in 2002.15 iv
In 2002, the Institute of Public Affairs admitted to receiving tobacco industry funding. In 2010, during interviews following the Federal Government's plain packaging legislation announcement, Tim Wilson (an Institute of Public Affairs employee) refused to clarify if the Institute of Public Affairs currently received tobacco industry funding, simply stating that 'any funding has no impact on the policy positions we take whatsoever'. The official Institute of Public Affairs response to the funding question was that, 'the IPA does not disclose its membership list. However, members are welcome to disclose their membership of the IPA'. When ABC Media Watch approached the three Australian tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco responded stating it did not currently nor had it in the past provided funding to the Institute of Public Affairs. British American Tobacco Australia responding by stating that, 'any such arrangements are commercial in confidence' and Philip Morris International gave a similar reply: 'we do not disclose the details of these relationships'.26
As discussed in Section 10.18.2 above, the industry has used its own funding bodies, their connection with the industry often obscured, as a conduit for distributing money into mainstream universities and other research institutes.
Over the years, acceptance of tobacco industry funding has been widespread in Australia27 and globally,17 generating rafts of studies with findings beneficial to the tobacco industry. In turn, this research has permeated the peer-reviewed medical press. For example, in 2005 Philip Morris provided the funding for an Israeli study into the determinants of uptake of smoking in young women,28 which examined the influences of genetics, environment and psychological characteristics. Critics pointed out that the study neglected to include the possible impact of tobacco advertising.29 The successful infiltration by the tobacco industry of reporting of published research in Germany has been credited with serving the industry's interests of increasing the social acceptability of smoking and undermining tobacco control initiatives in that country.30 Prominent researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College caused controversy in 2008 when it became public that they had earlier accepted grants channelled through a tobacco-funded organisation called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention and Treatment, and that findings from this research31 had been published in mainstream medical press without disclosure of tobacco funding.32
As well as providing funding to individual scientists or departments, in some cases tobacco companies have established entire programs within universities. For example, Philip Morris has funded the Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research within Duke University's Nicotine Research Project (in Richmond, Virginia).33 In 2002, in an audacious move that might be funny were it not so cynical, the University of Nottingham accepted funding from British American Tobacco to establish the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility,v invoking, according to one observer, 'the ethics of the cash register'34(see Section 10.11 for more discussion on the tobacco industry and corporate social responsibility).
To accept or refuse tobacco funding clearly raises important ethical questions. Arguments against accepting tobacco grants include that:17, 35, 36
On the other hand, those who argue in favour of accepting research funding from tobacco companies contend that:17, 37
In June 2004, Cancer Research UK and Universities UK agreed to a protocol that contains guidelines for institutions considering accepting tobacco funding.38 Cancer Research UK is the leading provider of research funding into cancer in the UK, and has a strict policy of avoiding any direct or indirect links with the tobacco industry.39 Cancer Research UK has stated that it will not fund research in a university where there is the possibility that there could be any association with work funded by a tobacco company. The cancer charity also states that it considers it has a duty to publicly criticise a university that accepts tobacco donations. For its part, Universities UK has stated that while it is up to individual universities to decide which funding they should accept, they 'should normally reveal the source of funds for research and should satisfy themselves that their reputation for impartiality, integrity and disinterested inquiry will not be compromised by any particular source of funds' (p6).39 In the US, several schools of public health and of medicine (including Harvard University, Emory University, the University of California and Johns Hopkins University) have policies prohibiting acceptance of tobacco funding.40 In Australia, there is no over-arching agreement between universities but many have adopted policies governing or prohibiting the acceptance of tobacco money.41 vi
Given the scarcity of research dollars, a group of researchers, Cohen et al, have proposed assessment criteria and models that could be used to potentially illuminate the criticisms and problems associated with accepting tobacco industry funding for research.42 They propose the following eight criteria to evaluate four funding models:
The four models assessed were: 1) a dedicated tobacco tax or manufacturer license fee (legislation), 2) legally mandated contributions from tobacco companies (court ordered), 3) voluntary tobacco company contributions administered through an independent third party, and 4) voluntary tobacco company contributions direct to academic institutions. In their evaluation of the four funding models they conclude that there is no perfect model that scores well in every area. Overall, the most feasible models (3 and 4) were the ones deemed least acceptable to the public health and tobacco control communities.42
For many years the tobacco industry has recognised that it needs to present a unified front against the tobacco control coalitions. In the late 1970s, at the instigation of Imperial Tobacco in the UK and Philip Morris International, a coalition of tobacco company executives from major companies operating in the UK, the US and Europe was formed with the shared purpose of defending the tobacco industry against attack and championing the 'social acceptability' of smoking. To this end, the manufacturers agreed to cooperate in perpetuating the 'controversy' over smoking and health and to maintain that there was no proven causal link between smoking and lung cancer.43 This industry group, which operated under conditions of utmost secrecy, was to become known as the International Committee on Smoking Issues and, in 1981, INFOTAB. Its brief soon extended beyond orchestrating the international smoking and health controversy. INFOTAB acted as a 'hub' for the industry's national manufacturing organisations, tobacco companies and leaf dealers, facilitating the exchange of information and expertise. Up until it ceased operation in 1990–1991, INFOTAB provided its membership (including the Australian national manufacturing organisation: the Tobacco Institute of Australia) with:44
In 1992, a new organisation—the Tobacco Documentation Centre (now operating under the name International Tobacco Documentation Centrevii)—was established and continues to fulfil some of the former roles of INFOTAB, chiefly information sharing.45 A second organisation, Agro-Tobacco Services, was set up in the same year to coordinate and support the International Tobacco Growers' Association (discussed below). Agro-Tobacco Services was subsequently replaced by a UK-based public relations firm called Hallmark Marketing Services.45 viii
The International Tobacco Growers' Association was founded in 1984, 'with the objective of presenting the cause of millions of tobacco farmers to the world'.ix Among its activities, the International Tobacco Growers' Association facilitates contact among its members, shares non-competitive information, represents its membership to national and international policy-makers, and defends tobacco farmers against national and international anti-tobacco growing campaigns.
Despite its claims of independence from the manufacturing industry, internal industry documents show that the International Tobacco Growers' Association has been used very much as a lobbying front for the international tobacco companies, representing its combined interests and 'managing' tobacco issues in representations to the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and other bodies.45-47
The International Tobacco Growers' Association's website stoutly defends tobacco farmers against environmentalists' claims that tobacco farming has caused deforestation (see Section 10.14.1). The association also discusses its connection with the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Foundation and its commitment to combating child labour (see Section 10.15.1).
The now inactive Tobacco Institute of Australia (TIA) was the main locus for tobacco industry lobbying in Australia from its inception in 1978 until the late 1990s.44x Established as a national manufacturers' association in response to growing negative publicity about smoking, the TIA was jointly funded by the tobacco companies operating in Australia at the time with a charter to 'promote understanding of the tobacco industry in Australia'.48 The TIA did this chiefly by representing its member companies to the public, the government and other authorities and through negotiating policy issues on behalf of its constituency. In effect, the TIA's major roles were to lobby against tobacco control measures, to present a united public face of the Australian tobacco industry wherever needed, and to sow seeds of doubt and denial about the health effects of smoking and other matters of 'controversy'.xi Through its alliance with INFOTAB and other national manufacturers' organisations (particularly the US Tobacco Institute),44 the TIA and its membership were also kept abreast of tobacco issues worldwide.
In her analysis of the workings of the TIA, Carter has divided the TIA's 20 years of activity into four distinct chapters.44 In its first six years, the TIA's work was primarily involved with networking and promoting tobacco industry views on smoking and health, advertising and children, secondhand smoke, and the tobacco industry's financial importance. Its second phase, from 1983 until 1989, was marked by aggressive advocacy, mostly under the stewardship of chief executive officer John Dollisson. The TIA's court case (and eventual bruising loss) against the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations brought this chapter to a close, after which the TIA entered five difficult years of transient leadership, fractured support and apparent demoralisation. In the TIA's final phase, from 1994 to 1997, it was staffed by lawyers and its approach to public affairs became more disciplined and pro-active.
In its heyday, the TIA ran high-profile media campaigns to promote its views, the main focus being secondhand smoke. In 1985 the TIA lodged a four page 'advertorial' spread in the Australian Women's Weekly. The advertisement purported to represent the facts about passive smoking and in layout it appeared to be a feature article typical of the weekly. The TIA's association with the advertorial appeared in small print at the end of the piece, 'inserted in the interests of fair and open discussion by the Tobacco Institute of Australia Ltd'. The information on passive smoking provided in the advertisement was at odds with mainstream medical and scientific findings reported at the time. In response to complaints, the TIA's advertisement was deemed by the Advertising Standards Council to be misleading in presentation (in that it was inadequately identified as paid advertising material) but no ruling was made on its content, this being outside the Advertising Standards Council's remit.
Two half-page newspaper advertisements were devised and lodged by the TIA in July of the following year, again defending the industry against claims regarding secondhand smoke. The advertisements appeared in 14 newspapers across Australia. The advertisements selectively quoted a number of sources, including the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society, giving the impression that these bodies did not support the view that passive smoking is harmful to health. Among other things, one of the advertisements declared that 'there is little evidence and nothing which proves scientifically that cigarette smoke causes disease in non-smokers'.49 Again, in response to complaints made to the Advertising Standards Council and the Trade Practices Commission, the TIA was reprimanded. The issue was subsequently taken up by the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations, which brought a case against the TIA in the Federal Court, on the grounds that the newspaper advertising was misleading or deceptive and therefore in contravention of Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974. In a groundbreaking decision handed down by Justice Morling, the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations won the case, and the TIA lost an appeal it subsequently brought against the decision. AFCO v. TIA resulted in a landmark decision of international significance, in which a link between passive smoking and disease among non-smokers was accepted by a court of law.xii And in an outcome which could hardly have been worse for the TIA, the Morling decision gave legal impetus to the surge towards smokefree workplaces.
The Sydney-based Tobacco Information Centre was established in December 1996 by Rothmans of Pall Mall (Australia), WD & HO Wills (Australia) and Philip Morris (Australia), 'as a library of tobacco and smoking-related information'.50 According to its publicly stated brief, the Tobacco Information Centre's function was to 'provide current, timely and high-quality tobacco-related information to Australia's three tobacco companies', as well as to government bodies, politicians, industry and trade organisations, special interest groups and members of the public. The Tobacco Information Centre categorically denied that it had any role in undertaking political lobbying, public affairs work or media liaison on behalf of its funding members.50
The Tobacco Information Centre published a tobacco industry fact newsletter; another newsletter (Peace Pipe), which reported on 'current smoking issues'; and a number of fact sheets.50 The Tobacco Information Centre no longer appears to be active.
Smokers' rights groups provide a further conduit for tobacco industry lobbying by claiming to represent the views of the smoker. They are intended to mobilise smokers, offering them reassurance and providing a vehicle by which they can voice opposition to tobacco control measures.51 Primarily arising in response to moves to restrict smoking in public places, smokers' rights groups also address issues such as tobacco taxes. Smokers' rights groups typically portray their membership as the beset-upon smoker, indulging in a legal behaviour, being unreasonably harassed by over-zealous 'anti's'.
Early Australian examples of smokers' rights groups include the Smokers' Rights League in the late 1970s,51 and FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), which was established in Victoria during the mid-1980s in response to concerns about secondhand smoke. Smokers were told that 'by supporting FOREST you can support the interests of all smokers in Australia. You can have your say with State and Federal Governments, transport operators, advertisers, newspapers, radio and television and, through FOREST, you can let them all know you are tired of being pushed around...'.52 Fair Go began in New South Wales in the late-1980s with the brief of countering bans on smoking in New South Wales trains, before moving on to a broader canvas of smokers' concerns.51 The Tobacco Smokers Freedom Movement emerged in Western Australia in 1993, offering cigarettes at discount prices and stating its intention to lobby on behalf of smokers' rights.52 The extent of the relationship between the tobacco industry and these Australian groups was never clarified, but overseas experience demonstrates that the tobacco industry was directly involved in the establishment of and ongoing practical support for smokers' rights organisations.53
Internationally, smokers' rights groups are deemed to have offered little in the way of lasting assistance to the tobacco industry, never capturing the membership or even the interest of smokers on a significant scale. Only a small number of groups appear to remain active, none of these in Australia.53 However, FOREST in the UK is a vocal opponent of all tobacco control legislation and is presently active with an up-to-date and modern website.xiii
Tobacco retailers constitute an obvious and readymade lobbying base for the industry to use to promote the industry view. First, they have an obvious interest in protecting their income stream against potential threat. Second, in their frontline position selling tobacco, they are able to provide information and promote industry views within the community. Third, their business profile gives the tobacco industry access to all levels of government.
From the earliest days of the smoking and health 'controversy', tobacco traders have been armed with the means to pacify nervous smokers. An investigation of trade journals (the Australian Retail Tobacconist and its state-specific predecessors) dating back to 1950 shows that these magazines included articles providing industry guidance on how retailers could reassure their customers. Retailers were also advised how to keep their products attractive to the 'youthful novice' smoker and young women smokers.54 The authors of this research contend that today's tobacco trade journals may continue to perform the role of promoting industry views and providing counter arguments to tobacco control measures.54
Prior to bans on advertising at point of sale, it was usual for tobacco companies to provide retailers with display cabinets, advertising material, support merchandise, and functional fittings such as outdoor awnings, hours of opening signs, and so forth. With increased restrictions on advertising in the media, the function of 'point of sale' advertising at retail outlets became ever more critical. The tobacco companies competed for dominance on the shop floor and in display units by offering financial and other incentives to retailers to give prominence to their brands.55 The central importance of the retail outlet as a conduit for communication with customers in the wake advertising bans is discussed in Chapter 11, Section 11.9)
Tobacco retailers have been rallied to support the industry against the encroachment of tobacco control regulation in regard to tobacco advertising, smoking restrictions and tax increases on tobacco products.54 In 2008, Philip Morris canvassed retailers in New South Wales to solicit their support in opposing bans on tobacco displays at point of sale. As well as providing information (in several languages) about why retailers should feel concerned about further restrictions, Philip Morris urged retailers to express their views to relevant state politicians and offered further information and assistance if needed.56
In 2010 the Alliance of Australian Retailers was formed to fight the Federal Government's plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products.xiv During the Federal election campaign in August 2010, it was revealed that the Alliance of Australian Retailers was launching a counter mass media campaign with the goal of stopping the plain pack legislation.57 Ads featuring portrayals of concerned retailers saying that plain packaging wouldn't work and would damage their business appeared in newspapers, on television and radio.xv The campaign was funded by the major three tobacco companies. Days after the launch of the campaign major retailers withdrew their support. The Australian Association of Convenience Stores withdrew its support after being forced to do so by national grocery retailer Coles. Coles, which chairs the board of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, forced the board to withdraw the retail group and its members, including Caltex, Shell and BP, from the campaign, after being misled on the nature of the ads.58 Woolworths revoked its membership of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores over the campaign and demanded that its $15 000 in annual fees be returned.59
On 10 September 2010, ABC Lateline revealed, through leaked internal documents, emails and contracts, the full extent of tobacco industry influence on the Alliance of Australian Retailers campaign.60 On the day the alliance was formed it received funds from Imperial Tobacco Australia: $1 million, British American Tobacco Australia: $2.2 million and Philip Morris Limited: $2.1 million. It was further revealed that in May, before the formation of the alliance, Philip Morris's Australian corporate affairs manager Chris Argent was seeking advice from the lobbying and public relations firm, the Civic Group. Philip Morris was seeking advice and assistance for a campaign to stop plain packaging laws during the federal election.
The tobacco industry has vigorously opposed restrictions on smoking because it limits opportunities to smoke, so reducing consumption, and further denormalises smoking behaviour, so discouraging uptake and influencing smokers to quit.61-64 The introduction of smoking restrictions in most Australian workplaces during the 1980s and 1990s was a major blow for the tobacco industry. In recent years, attention has moved to thwarting smoking restrictions in entertainment venues such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other licensed venues, and gambling environments. The tobacco industry has made strong allies of the hospitality industry in Australia65, 66 and internationally67, 68 chiefly through fostering fear that smoking bans will adversely affect their profitability if not their survival (an industry argument that is not supported by the evidence68).
During the 1990s a former chief executive officer of the Tobacco Institute of Australia became the national executive director of the Australian Hotels Association, and since that time the Australian Hotels Association has actively supported the tobacco industry in opposing smoking restrictions and bans and challenging the scientific evidence on secondhand smoke.66 Key points made by the Australian Hotels Association include arguments claiming that smoking bans:
In preparation for strict smoking restrictions introduced in Victoria in 2007, all three tobacco companies operating in Australia struck financial deals with several individual Melbourne hoteliers to assist with development of open air facilities where smoking could be permitted, in exchange for the exclusive right to sell their own brands.69
For recent news items and research on this topic, click here (Last updated October 2016)
iv However Healthy Buildings International remains a commercial entity and on its website it continues to downplay the contribution of secondhand smoke to indoor pollution. See: http://www.hbi.com.au/smokepol.html
xi To read, view and hear a collation of public statements made by tobacco industry executives and officers from the TIA dismissing the impact of smoking on health, visit http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/site/supersite/resources/docs/gallery_leaders.htm and http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/site/supersite/resources/docs/diary_of_denial.htm
xii For a full account of this court case as well as transcripts of the judgement, see Everingham and Woodward (ref).
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