"Dirty tricks used by cigarette companies to derail UK health policies that could save the lives of thousands of Britons every year are laid bare in a report, The Smoke Filled Room, published by ASH today."
"Big Tobacco," ASH complains, "is currently concentrating its efforts on fighting bans on cigarette vending machines and point-of-sale displays in all shops."
Shock horror - tobacco industry lobbies government!!!
The report, published to coincide with World No Tobacco Day (May 31), claims that "Big Tobacco hoodwinked MPs into signing an Early Day Motion against point-of-sale displays by bombarding them with postcards purporting to be from worried shopkeepers ..."
Hoodwinked? Bombarding? Purporting to be from worried shopkeepers? Serious allegations. Here's what the Tobacco Retailers Alliance has to say in response:
ASH claim that the Tobacco Retailers Alliance is a ‘mere subsidiary’ of the TMA and a ‘front organisation’ for the tobacco industry, but fail to mention the Alliance’s 26,000 members, all of whom are independent retailers. The Tobacco Retailers Alliance is funded by the TMA, and offers free membership to independent retailers who sell tobacco products. The Tobacco Retailers Alliance is clear about its source of funding.
Ken Patel, national spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and a newsagent from Leicester, said: “ASH have always been bullies but this report is stooping to a new low. I am an independent retailer and I campaign tirelessly to protect the business that I have spent half my life building. To suggest that we are a ‘front group’ for the tobacco industry is a disgraceful attack from a bunch of professional lobbyists who should know better.”
“ASH do not hesitate to target retailers and I think they consider independent shopkeepers more vulnerable to attacks, as we are less equipped to defend ourselves from baseless accusations. I have never worked for the tobacco industry, I am not paid by the tobacco industry, and contrary to what ASH might suggest I am quite capable of thinking for myself. Independent retailers are not stupid – we run successful small businesses after all. To suggest we are a front organisation is beyond insulting.”
The report alleges that many retailers’ MPs were unaware that the Save Our Shop campaign was the brainchild of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and were ’outraged’ to find out. However, the campaign was launched in the House of Commons on 4th November at a reception hosted by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance with some 23 MPs in attendance, contradicting ASH’s claims.
Debbie Corris said: “This is typical of ASH – they want to discredit the masses of support retailers have from the public and in particular from our customers. How dare they?! As an independent business we are perfectly entitled to campaign against proposals like the display ban that would directly impact on our businesses.”
“I have to question whether it is appropriate for a so-called ‘charity’ that receives so much Government funding to discriminate against legitimate, hard-working businesses in this way.”
Needless to say Forest gets a mention in Appendix 2 where it lists so-called "front groups":
The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest). This smokers’ rights group is funded by UK based tobacco companies and has lobbied the EU Commission and UK government. While Forest portrays itself as the independent voice of smokers, Phillip Morris described the organisation as the tobacco industry’s “investment … into smoker mobilisation”.
Well, we've never hidden the fact that we get most of our money from tobacco companies, so nothing underhand or secretive about that. And why shouldn't we lobby the EU Commission and the UK government? It's a free country. (Well, I thought it was until I read this report.)
Independent voice of smokers? That's a matter of opinion, I guess, but, yeah, I do think Forest is independent. And here's some evidence: for three years (2002-2004) one tobacco company declined to donate to Forest because - in 2001 - I refused to drop our battle with Customs & Excise over the treatment of cross-Channel shoppers who were exercising their legal right to buy cheaper tobacco abroad and bring it into the UK for their own personal use.
Forest, I maintained at the time (and I haven't changed my opinion), represents the consumer not the tobacco industry. Defending an important point of principle cost us around £200k over three years and two members of staff were made redundant as a result. If that's not independent, what is?
As for Philip Morris, Forest hasn't received a penny from PM since 1997 and if I remember correctly (this was before my time) the sum donated to Forest by PM in 1997 was £20,000. Some "investment"!!
Anyway, here's our response to The Smoke Filled Room: How Big Tobacco Influences Health Policy in the UK:
NEWS RELEASE 31st May 2010
FOREST CONDEMNS ASH REPORT AS "HYPOCRITICAL", "LAUGHABLE" AND "ABSURD"
The smokers' lobby group Forest has dismissed as "hypocritical", “laughable” and “absurd” a report by the anti-smoking group ASH that highlights the alleged influence of big tobacco on health policy in the UK.
Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "This is the most breathtakingly hypocritical report I have ever read. No-one has more influence on health policy in the UK than anti-smoking groups such as ASH.
"It's alright for the tobacco control movement to lobby ministers, manipulate public consultations and boast of having conducted a 'confidence trick' on politicians , but as soon as the tobacco industry and groups like Forest dare to lobby parliament or voice their opinion that is somehow unacceptable and underhand.
"The anti-smoking lobby is funded largely by public money. Groups such as Forest don't have the benefit of public handouts. Instead we invite donations from the private sector, notably tobacco companies which are the obvious source of funding for a group that represents tobacco consumers.
"There are millions of people in the UK who choose to smoke in full knowledge of the heath risks, and they have every right to be represented in the political process.
“The tobacco industry also has every right to defend the interests of those who sell and consume its products. In a free society anything else would be a travesty of justice.
"The tobacco control movement has a vision of a smoke free world in which theirs is the only voice that people are permitted to hear. Debate must be prohibited and all opposition silenced. Sounds pretty Orwellian to me.”
He added: “In the past decade the government has banned all tobacco advertising and sponsorship. Smoking is banned in all enclosed public places, and the previous government was planning to ban the display of tobacco in shops and prohibit cigarette vending machines. For ASH to complain about the influence of big tobacco on health policy is laughable and absurd.”
Note to editors:
 "It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition." Smoke and Mirrors, article by Deborah Arnott and Ian Wilmore of ASH, 19 July 2006, Guardian
As for the rest of the report, I'll let you draw your own conclusions. You can download it from the ASH website HERE.
PS. Nice cover!
Patrick Basham, a name and face familiar to several readers of this blog, is featured at some length in the report. I wonder how Patrick will react to being the very first name highlighted in Appendix 1, subtitled "The Front Men, Moles & Advocates"!!
My guess is, he'll laugh.