Tuesday 8 May 2012

Odd hominems

Taking Liberties has found a deliciously paranoid document entitled 'Tobacco front groups and third party lobbying tactics' which was published (online) by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health and written by ASH. It is one of their sporadic attempts to portray anyone who has ever criticised any element of tobacco control as being a 'front group' for Big Tobacco, but they have really pushed the boat out on this one.

Many of the listed groups obviously have 'financial ties' to the tobacco industry because, er, they are the tobacco industry. I'm not sure anyone ever doubted whether the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, the  European Cigar Manufacturers’ Association or the Tobacco Manufacturers Association were involved in the tobacco business, but ASH helpfully list them all the same. Sinclair Collis is included because it...

Made a submission to the 2008 Department of Health consultation on tobacco control

Well it would, wouldn't it? It is the country's biggest supplier of cigarette vending machines. Or rather, it was until the government banned vending machines. It banned them after consulting with stakeholders in the 2008 Department of Health consultation on tobacco control to which Sinclair Collis—very a much a stakeholder—responded. ASH have put on the old deerstalker and picked up the magnifying glass to reveal that the company is a "wholly owned subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco", a shameful secret that Sinclair Collis cunningly conceals by hiding it in plain sight on the homepage of their website...

Sinclair Collis is the UK's largest cigarette vending operator, a wholly owned subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco PLC. 

Others entries in ASH's hit list are more peculiar. The British Retail Consortium is included because it was, apparently, "one of the stakeholders identified in PMI’s “Project Clarity”", whatever that means. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is included because "Imperial Tobacco includes the CBI among organisations with which it engages". The European Roundtable of Industrialists is in the list because "BAT was a member until 2010". I guess BAT aren't members any more but, never mind, let's call them a front group anyway.

This is mental. ASH's list includes some of the biggest trade organisations in the country. They've been around for donkey's years and between them they represent the vast majority of British businesses. ASH are classing them as 'tobacco front groups' because their members include, or used to include, one or two cigarette companies. 

And it gets worse...

The Federation of Small Businesses and Scottish Grocers Federation are both listed because they were "lobbied by PMI to oppose Government’s tobacco control proposals". Not that they lobbied themselves, you understand. They were lobbied by PMI (Philip Morris International) and are therefore engaged in this vast conspiracy.

Unite are included! Yes, that Unite, the massive trade union that represents over 3 million workers. They are on a list of 'tobacco front groups' because they are "linked to the TWA". The TWA is the Tobacco Workers Alliance (also listed)—a trade union which quite obviously has "links" to the tobacco industry since that's the industry its members work in.

As lame as all this is, the document reaches a scurillous low in a section entitled 'Astroturfing', which ASH helpfully defines as:

‘Astroturf’ refers to “apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, and political interests or public relations firms”.

Do bear that definition in mind as you read which groups are included under that banner. From the same section:

Big Tobacco also funds groups to influence public opinion online. Amongst these is Liberal Vision which acknowledges itself as “in strict legal terms … a wholly-owned subsidiary” of Progressive Vision. Progressive Vision ran a summit with the TMA on illicit tobacco smuggling in January 2011.

And only ASH is allowed to run summits about illicit tobacco smuggling. That's the full extent of ASH's evidence that Liberal Vision is an astro-turf group paid "to influence public opinion online". Rather tenuous, no?

But I too, a mere individual, am somehow an astro-turf group as well...

Chris Snowdon’s blog, Velvet Glove Iron Fist has removed its claim not to receive tobacco industry funding.

Yeah, about two years ago, and it was never on my blog, it was on this now dormant website. When Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (my first book) came out, I included a brief note on the 'about the author' page saying I didn't work for Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and wasn't involved in any anti-smoking groups. This was probably too defensive and unnecessary even then, but after I wrote The Spirit Level Delusion, The Art of Suppression and numerous articles and papers about alcohol, happiness economics, food, drugs and the rest, it looked downright weird. And so, although it was still true, I replaced it with a more conventional and extensive biography. Absence of denial is not evidence of guilt, you ASH muppets.

Snowdon was part of an “impressive line up” of invited speakers at the industry’s Global Tobacco Networking Forum in Bangalore in 2010.

Yes indeed. I gave a talk about the history of the anti-smoking movement in a session called 'A View From Outside', ie. as an outsider speaking at a tobacco industry event. And, as is conventional at conferences, I didn't get paid for speaking, so what we have here is someone giving up their time to speak at an industry event which is rather different to someone being paid "to influence public opinion online".

He was billed as an adjunct scholar of the tobacco industry funded Cato Institute

No, I wasn't. I've never had the honour of being invited to be an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the simplest fact-check would show that I was billed as an adjunct scholar at the Democracy Institute. To be quite honest, I've never really known what an adjunct scholar is, but I do know that I've never received any money for being one.

Still, it's appropriate that I'm included because people not getting money for doing things is very much the theme of this document, which reaches a new low when discussing the quite obviously grass-roots organisations of FORCES, Freedom2Choose and TICAP.

FORCES, an acronym for ‘Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking’ claims to be independent of any commercial body but is “aligned with those who fight the antismoking movement”.

Quite obviously they are aligned with those who fight the antismoking movement. We can work that out from the name.

Through its criticism and opposition to tobacco control campaigns FORCES is aligned to the tobacco industry.

What weasel words are these? If you've got some evidence that FORCES is "primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations" then spit it out.

Previously secret documents released in court demonstrate that under the leadership of Gian Turci, FORCES sought the support of Philip Morris and Rothmans Ltd.

But they didn't get it, did they? So here we have the tobacco industry refusing to give money to a group with whom they are "aligned". Perhaps FORCES should seek support from ASH so that when ASH refuses, we can call them a tobacco industry front group as well.

The slurs continue...

The UK-based Freedom2choose lobby group, which was set up originally to oppose the smokefree legislation, says it is a grass-roots organisation that is independent of the tobacco industry. However, some people associated with it have links with Big Tobacco.

I'd be fascinated to know who these people are but, alas, ASH choose not to name them. If I was more cynical man I would say that this is because they haven't got one shred of evidence to back up their claim. Perhaps the fact that most of their members purchase cigarettes is considered a sufficient "link with Big Tobacco".

Freedom2choose is allied to The International Coalition Against Prohibition.

And TICAP don't get money from the tobacco industry either. This is just a great list of astro-turf groups. It's a Who's Who of everybody who has never received industry funding.

One of the founders of TICAP was Gian Turci. According to TICAP Turci was a member of the Executive Committee of Freedom2choose.

Cool. So the guy who (allegedly, but is dead so can't defend himself) asked for tobacco funding but didn't get it was "allied" to two organisations which have never asked for tobacco funding and have never got it. With this awesome collection of astro-turf groups, combined with the might of the CBI, Unite, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Grocers Federation, the Leicester Asian Business Association, the UK Travel Retail Forum (?!), Liberal Vision and my good self, it's a miracle that any anti-smoking legislation has ever been passed.

At this rate, it can only be a matter of time before members of ASH start accusing each other of being front groups and instigate a purge.

There is some heavy irony here. Not only is ASH (and Smokefree SouthWest and D-MYST and so on) an astro-turf group for the Department of Health, but the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health is itself a front group for ASH. It was formed in 1976 by ASH's then director David Simpson as a way of briefing politicians and persuading MPs to raise Early Day Motions and Private Member's Bills. It was originally known—more accurately—as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Action on Smoking and Health, but they later dropped the 'Action on', presumably to make it look a bit less like the mouthpiece of a special interest group. ASH continues to provide all briefing materials and pays for all expenses. The group's secretariat is Deborah Arnott, the current director of ASH.

Wheels within wheels, indeed.


Carl V Phillips said...

That is hilarious. You have to love any list that includes both Chris Snowdon and Unite.

--Carl V Phillips of TobaccoHarmReduction.org, CASAA, and Populi Health Institute, all of which are apparently accurately recognized by ASH as not being tobacco industry front groups

Carl V Phillips said...

oops, sorry -- I wanted to post this link to a story on the same theme in the US. Anyone interested in this topic should read it, and especially the great reader comments that follow.


Dick Puddlecote said...

It's not often an ASH document has those opposed to them laughing like a drain, but this one had it all. The word desperate just doesn't cover it. I was going to have some fun myself but you covered much of the hilarity already.

The best surely has to be F2C and its fabled individuals in the pay of Big T (ASH have clearly never met them), along with someone who died two years ago once allowed his name to be used as an Honorary Board Member. Its good to know that they're worried by F2C though. Who knew? ;)

Anonymous said...

From Dave Atherton of F2C

I really can not think what ASH were thinking of when they produced that. At best it seems paranoid and at worst from their point of view seems to 'normalise' the role of tobacco in the business and trade union community.

M'learned friends inform me that F2C do not have a case for libel. However I do not think that it should go without comment to ASH and others.

When I was on Radio5 with Nicky Campbell, ASH by omission admitted that smokers pay their way. She tried to give a figure for tobacco revenues. As Baroness Thatcher used the word ASH is 'frit.'

Steve K said...

That is hilarious. I hope to one day too be considered a front for big tobacco. It will make me feel my work is validated somehow :)

Anonymous said...

I rather fear that All Party Parliamentary Groups may be confused in the public mind with Parliamentary Select Committees. The latter have real status and authority. Newsbites referring to the former may imply the standing of the Select Committees, which is not the case. I am worried that access by pressure groups to the All Party committees may give acces to Parliament itself. Do any members of the Ash hierarchy hold Parliamentary passes? These are invaluable to any lobbyist. Chris Snowdon's comments are truly enlightening. The trouble is that Ash's piece is aimed at people who do not use their heads.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Lleweton: Do they have parliamentary passes? O billy-o, yes. They're on first name terms with security.

dearieme said...

How do I go about getting a subvention from Big Tobacco? I'd quite like one. Though I think that the smoking of cigarettes is a foul habit, dangerous to health, I think that ASH and the mindset it incorporates is fouler yet. That must be worth a bob or two, mustn't it?

Lysistrata said...

Dick Puddlecote said:
"The best surely has to be F2C and its fabled individuals in the pay of Big T (ASH have clearly never met them)..."

'Fabled'? Dick, we are now legendary.

Previously best known and loved for our typing errors, now we are two separate gorillas*...

(*It's an old Bonzo Dog band reference, FTIO your younger readers.)

Anonymous said...

I wish that 'Big Tobacco' would refund my donations and membership fees that I pay to f2c. PLUS the money donated to the group for things like stamps etc.
Yes...we buy our own stamps !! Some funding there from 'Big Tobacco' when members have to but their own stamps to send letters to politicians etc.
Pathetic smear on REAL grass root movemnets.

Anonymous said...

Typo alert
'buy their own stamps'
Proof that I am a long standing f2c member still making typos !!

Anonymous said...

I think that a bit of C.S. Lewis is appropriate here:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Michael J. McFadden said...

In 2005 Dave Kuneman and I carried out two studies, one of which was a large-scale "Instant Heart Attack Reduction" study in response to Glantz's "Great Helena Heart Miracle" and one showing the disastrous economic impact of smoking bans on state economies.

As a result we (well, actually just David... ::sniffsniff::) earned a spot in the "Tobacco Industry Database." The spot tried to trash our work on three or four counts, and of those, the only one with even a shred of credibility was the one where Dave was described as a "former tobacco industry researcher."

How solid was that criticism? Well, 20 years earlier Dave had worked for a while as a flavoring chemist for a soda company making "7-Up." At one point during his employment there the soda company was bought by RJ Reynolds as part of its efforts to diversify into non-tobacco areas.

THAT was the full extent of any connection to "Big Tobacco" that either of us had -- but that was the strongest argument the Antis could find on which to criticize our research.

Amazing, eh?


Jonathan Bagley said...

Chris, you should demand that ASH publish a correction and apology on its home page; just as they were made to publish a correction and apology for what they said about Allen Carr's quit method. If you don't, they will get it into every media appearance you take part in with them; and the vast majority of the public will assume it is true.

Sheila Martin said...


Please open and read this Kansas Watchdog article, "Congratulations, You Are Part of Big Tobacco".
"If you oppose smoking bans for any reason — property rights, individual liberty, you like smokers — you’re now apparently part of Big Tobacco.

That’s how the American Cancer Society sees it, anyhow.

With the Kansas House poised to vote Friday on a bill to allow smoking in bars again, the local ACS chapter issued an action alert, urging Kansans to “Help turn back new assaults from Big Tobacco.”

One of the main problems with this call to arms is that Big Tobacco has nothing to do with House Bill 2690.

State Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, the bill’s sponsor, told KansasWatchdog that ACS doesn’t know what it’s talking about."

We are fighting back in Kansas USA!

C.A.G.E. said...

I agree with Jonathan that a retraction and apology should be demanded. CAGE was also smeared in the same way and we demanded either proof of the tobacco funded allegations or a retraction and apology. We got the retraction (albeit they hence listed us as an organization ''‘’that behaves like tobacco industry fronts’’ under the category of hospitality industry group (we have absolutely nothing to do with the hospitality industry. I guess in their moneygrabbing mindset, it is impossible for them to fathom that anyone without a financial interest can be involved in this fight) but the apology never came. http://cagecanada.blogspot.ca/2009/02/right-thing-to-do-nsra-style.html


Anonymous said...

Wheres my bleeding check then!


Going into 6 years and no payday yet...........

Leg-iron said...

Lysistrata - two separate gorillas - Mr. Apollo, I believe?

Lyn said...


Regarding this:

"Not only is ASH (and Smokefree SouthWest and D-MYST and so on) an astro-turf group for the Department of Health, but the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health is itself a front group for ASH."

Isn't it about time the tables were turned and these facts made crystal clear at every opportunity? At least then more people would start to understand that in fact ASH and their stooges are actually spending vast sums of taxpayers money inapppropriately.

As for:

"ASH continues to provide all briefing materials and pays for all expenses."

But they are handsomely recompensed from all the funding they obtain from government (which means the taxpayer)! Another point worth making whenever any pro smoking person is speaking to or in a debate with the media, surely?

Unknown said...

"At this rate, it can only be a matter of time before members of ASH start accusing each other of being front groups and instigate a purge."

That wouldn't actually surprise me. Several centuries of evidence tells us that when witchfinders finally run out of harmless old ladies to accuse, torture and incinerate they start burning each other.