A guest blog by Andy Rowell, research fellow at the Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath, and editor of TobaccoTactics.org
- Landmark TPD debated in Europe this week.
- Multi-million-pound lobbying campaign inflicted on Brussels by tobacco industry.
- This week is crunch time in Brussels for public health.
European Parliament MEPs will debate the landmark Tobacco Products Directive, seen by public health advocates as a crucial measure in reducing the harm from tobacco across the EU.
For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been monitoring the activities of the tobacco industry under a ground-breaking academic project at the University of Bath, which has been part funded by Cancer Research UK. Instead of just focusing our output on academic journals we have also developed a wiki, called TobaccoTactics.org, which has more timely access to our research findings.
Tobacco is unique. No other product kills one in two of its long-term users. If someone invented the cigarette today, it would never make it onto a supermarket shelf. It is now over 60 years since the link between cancer and smoking was first discovered, but millions of us remain addicted.
The reason for this, in part, is one of the most sophisticated and well-funded public relations campaigns ever undertaken by an industry. The tobacco companies set out to deny the scientific evidence of the harmfulness of their product and the addictiveness of nicotine. The object is always to try to sow confusion and doubt and delay action.
Such tactics have again been evident in the multi-million-pound lobbying campaign the industry has inflicted in recent months on Brussels. New leaked documents from Philip Morris International (PMI) reveal the extent of this campaign, which targeted the three pillars of Brussels decision-making: the European Parliament, the European Commission and European Council.
PUSH OR DELAY
The documents reveal that by mid-2012, the overall strategic objective of PMI’s lobbying campaign was to either “Push” (i.e. amend) or “Delay” the Directive and “block” the proposals coming from the relevant Directorate on health, DG Sanco, which was in charge of the proposals. To this end, PMI employed a two-fold technical and political strategy to ensure it received as many “negative opinions” from other Commission DGs as possible, as well as to try and ensure a political commitment from other business-friendly Commissioners to oppose what PMI was labelling as excessive legislation. PMI identified key messages to push in its lobbying campaign, especially in relation to the Inter-Service Consultation between the directorates, arguing there was a need to “break” into the “silo” of the European Commission. The main lobbying messages used by the company were that the TPD proposals lacked “legal basis”, “evidence”, “logic” and a “market analysis”.
“TRIGGER NEGATIVE OPINIONS”
Just as PMI had done fighting proposals on Point of Sale and Plain Packaging in the UK, the tobacco giant was keen to highlight the “illicit trade problem”, despite its historical involvement in smuggling. For more information on this see TobaccoTactics.org on smuggling. The company set out to “trigger negative opinions” amongst other Commissioners or their senior advisors, known as their cabinet, and set out to get other “high-level influencers” to directly engage with the Commissioners. The tobacco companies such as PMI have a history of using so-called third party techniques in their lobbying campaign, using other organisations or people to influence the debate on the industry’s behalf.
The reason is simple: the use of third parties removes the message from the interested messenger. Moreover, the tobacco industry is such a discredited voice that it has to look for someone else to be its ventriloquist dummy. The public or a politician may be sympathetic about a corner shop going out of business, but they would have less sympathy towards an industry which kills its long-term customers and whose profits stretch into billions.
LED BY THIRD PARTIES
The documents reveal that PMI’s anti-TPD lobbying campaign, via social and traditional media, would be “led by third parties”. The tobacco giant identified tobacco growers, small and medium-sized businesses, other trade organisations, unions, suppliers, intellectual property organisations, employers’ associations and even consumer associations to front its campaign for it.
And just as the industry used retailers against Point of Sale Display Ban and Plain Packaging in the UK, so they have been central to PMI’s lobbying campaign in Brussels. PMI outlined how the retailers would lobby other parts of the Commission and “promote events to gain visibility” for the campaign. As well as retailers based in Brussels, national retailers associations across the EU were also brought in to help, too.
Another key constituency to front the campaign were tobacco growers and processors. PMI organised meetings between tobacco growers’ unions, such as UNITAB, the European Association of Tobacco Growers and Fetratab, the European Federation of Tobacco Processors, with key officials at the Commission, including a meeting with the Cabinet of the European President Manuel Barroso.
The leaked documents also outline in detail PMI’s strategy in the European Parliament. This time, the tobacco giant undertook direct lobbying as well as indirect. By mid-2012, nearly a third of MEPs had been lobbied by PMI, some 233 MEPs in total. Some MEPs by then had met the tobacco giant four to five times, with meetings happening on a regular basis. Almost half of the European People’s Party and European centre-right groups met with PMI’s lobbyists, the documents show.
At the parliament, the company also focused its lobbying efforts on two influential committees, ENVI and IMCO. The ENVI committee – Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – was tasked with overseeing the TPD through the Parliament. PMI set out to “Break ENVI’s full control on the dossier.” Heads of national delegations were lobbied, as were the “political heavyweights” from each political party. The company sought to “secure political agreement though top level contacts”.
EXCLUDING MENTHOL FLAVOUR
PMI also set out to lobby the Council, in order to create a “blocking majority” against any public health measures it deemed “extreme”. One of these measures is the banning of certain flavours including menthol. PMI’s objective was “exclude” menthol from the TPD. It wanted to get different member states with “significant menthol segments to oppose a menthol ban in TPD at the Council”.
In order to do this it wanted to “neutralise” lead countries in the menthol debate, such as Germany. The use of language such as this is indicative. Here we have a transnational company effectively planning to politically nullify the most powerful EU country. This multi-million-euro lobbying campaign raises all kinds of issues, two of which are deeply important for public health and the political process. The fact that PMI has had such extensive access to the Commission and hundreds of MEPs is clearly a breach of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 5.3 of the Convention requires signatories to protect their health policies “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”. This clearly has not happened in this case.
VIOLATION OF TOBACCO CONTROL CONVENTION
Last week, 11 public health and transparency NGOs wrote to President of the European Parliament to argue these meetings constitute “a serious violation” of the Convention.
“We are deeply concerned about the astounding level of access to MEPs by tobacco lobbyists which has been exposed in the leaked Philip Morris International documents,” they wrote.
PMI has also voluntarily signed up to the EU’s Transparency Initiative and is meant to accurately record how many lobbyists and how much money it is spending lobbying in Brussels. The documents reveal that PMI has been using a significant number of lobbyists and consultants. One spread-sheet outlines that 161 employees and consultants were engaged in lobbying concerning the TPD. By mid-2012, the documents also reveal, PMI had spent €1.25 million on consultancy and expenses fighting the proposals.
TPD MAY BE PUT BACK YEARS
In contrast, PMI only declares nine lobbyists in its entry to the EU Transparency Register. For the whole of 2012, the company estimated that its lobbying spend had been €1 million–€1.25 million. Behind the scenes we know the lobbying will continue right up to any vote. Via the documents we only have a small snapshot of how widespread and pervasive PMI’s lobbying campaign has been. PMI’s key aims are to reduce the size of health warnings and ensure menthol cigarettes are not banned. If the industry can delay the vote at the Parliament and also at the council again, the whole Directive may be put back years. So, just as it has done many times before, the industry will have delayed action, whilst the profits keep rolling in.