July 28, 2013

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

PMI provides the strongest evidence yet that plain packaging would cut cigarette consumption

Based on Mike Daube's rule that "you can measure the effectiveness of your program by the response it provokes," Philip Morris International's exceptionally comprehensive and aggressive political campaign against plain packing in the UK shows that plain packaging is a very important thing to do.

On Saturday July 27, The Guardian used leaked PMI documents to "reveal how the world's largest tobacco company sought to kill the [UK] government's plans to introduce standard packs for cigarettes, using a sophisticated lobbying campaign that targeted key politicians and civil servants who it believed were supportive of its views."

Steps included:

  • Hiring the Conservative party's election strategist, Lynton Crosby, who has extensive tobacco industry connections, to help PMI make its case against plain packaging.
  • Swamp the Department of Health's consultation exercise on plain packs with supporting arguments, the company boasted that it had the "potential" to help generate more than 18,000 responses, including 6,000 from its recruited group of smokers, 950 from industry, 10,050 from its "retail group", 40 from think tanks
    and 1,000 from a trade union, believed to be Unite.
  • Claim that plain packs would make the illicit trade in tobacco worse
  • Argue that the UK government should "wait and see what happens in Australia [for two or three years] before walking into the unknown with no evidence it will reduce smoking".
  • Conduct polls in each of the Tories' 19 most marginal seats for their views on government policies to downplay the importance of action on smoking and the need for "education" rather than plain packaging.
  • Created an "extraordinarily detailed" spreadsheet listing the position PMI believed every single MP, special adviser and cabinet minister, as well as
    several strategically important civil servants, held on the issue of plain packs.
  • Produced an assessment of which way MPs would vote if the proposal went before parliament. It concluded that 214 would oppose the measure, and 303 would back it, while 107 were listed as waverers.
  • Discussed bringing in third parties such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Transcrime thinktank and the Taxpayers' Alliance. Law firm DLA Piper, a lobbying consultancy called Pepper Media, and the blue-chip PR firm Finsbury were also employed to make PMI's case.
  • Suggested a number of "go-to reporters" also be targeted.
  • Commissioned "Independent" research attacking the evidence base for plain packaging.
  • Pledged support for the Hands off Our Packs campaign, which presented itself as a grassroots initiative organised by smoking enthusiasts
  • Even the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has fronted for Big Tobacco in the US for decades, got involved.

None of these strategies are new, but the fact that PMI is bringing out all of them at once shows that it knows that plain packaging would have a big impact on smoking.

One of the most interesting conclusions reported in the Guardian story was, "But with a parliament broadly in favour of the plan, PMI and the tobacco
lobby were aware of the need to ensure that the measure never made it beyond the consultation stage. The internal documents show how PMI intended to push the
"one in, one out" argument when lobbying the BIS. Under this approach, 'no new UK legislation which imposes costs on business or civil society organisations
can be brought in without the identification of existing regulations of an equivalent value that can be removed.'"

This point shows how important (and anti-democratic) Cameron's decision to pull the plug on plain packaging was.  Health advocates need to take off the gloves and force Cameron to put plain packaging back on the rails.

Other countries with conservative governments, such as New Zealand, who are using the Australian case as an excuse for delay, need to be pressured to get offtheir behinds and start moving plain packaging forward.  If many countries do it at once, it will strengthen Australia's effort.

Here in the US, the FDA needs to keep these tactics in mind as it considers the deluge of comments that the tobacco companies generate.

Everyone should read the full Guardian article, which is available here.



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