In their own immodest words RAND Europe is an "independent think tank that serves the public interest by improving policymaking and finding public-private solutions to shared problems". Hmmm, I think we'll be the judge of that.
Yesterday in Brussels I took part in a four-hour meeting that seriously questioned RAND's most recent report Measuring the Impacts of Revising the EU Tobacco Products Directive. If only the authors had been present!
Superficially impressive, the 345-page report was the target of fierce criticism from almost everyone in the room with the obvious exception of the EC officials who were chairing or recording our comments and were, nominally, impartial.
True, most of us represented some form of tobacco interest group from cigarette manufacturers to a German-based flavouring company but the message was clear: RAND had apparently ignored the acres of evidence sent to them by the groups represented at yesterday's meeting in favour of the evidence provided by the tobacco control lobby.
The most powerful criticism of the RAND report came from a representative of Philip Morris. I hope to have a copy later today and I will share some of it with you. Backed up with hard evidence, it was one of the most incisive - one might almost call it gripping - denunciations of a report I have ever heard, but hats off to all the companies and organisations present for fighting their corner. (There were around 20 of us in total.)
My own contribution was short and sweet. I criticised RAND's stakeholder engagement policy, pointing out that not a single consumer group had been contacted to participate in the report. (I told the meeting that a representative of RAND had been present when I had been asked to leave a previous meeting in Brussels in March 2008 so the company was well aware of Forest's existence and the fact that we wanted to play a full role in EU policy-making.)
I also criticised the scope of RAND's impact assessment which focussed on the impact of further tobacco regulations on health, economics and employment within the tobacco and retail sector but ignored other areas. I also objected to the fact that RAND talk about the "social cost of tobacco" as if this is entirely negative.
What is missing from the RAND report, I said, is an impact assessment of further regulations on adults who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit. What about the impact on their lifestyle? And why no assessment of the impact on people's freedom of choice or issues such as personal responsibility?
What the EU Directive amounts to, I said, is a campaign of denormalisation. What about an assessment of the impact of denormalisation on ordinary men and women who are committing no crime but are merely consuming a legal product?
I suggested that RAND should have conducted an impact assessment of tobacco control policies in Ireland. Ireland, I said, introduced the first comprehensive smoking ban in Europe, has the highest tobacco duties in Europe, and was one of the first countries to introduce a display ban. The result? Smoking rates have gone up!!
Anyway, it was a good meeting and everyone had an opportunity to make their points, which they duly did. Whether it changes anything, I have my doubts.
Very timely article by Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club on Spiked today: Meet the Spaniards fighting to stub out authoritarianism.