Monthly Archives: December 2010

Canada: Tobacco lobbying preceded label retreat

Dec 10, 2010

Health Canada’s abrupt decision in September to back down from expanding warning labels on cigarette packages came after tobacco company lobbyists waged a co-ordinated, sometimes secretive lobbying campaign, CBC News has learned. Health Canada’s abrupt decision in September to back down from expanding warning labels on cigarette packages came after tobacco company lobbyists waged a co-ordinated, sometimes secretive lobbying campaign, CBC News has learned.

An analysis by CBC News of lobby registry filings and other documents reveals tobacco executives and their paid lobbyists communicated dozens of times with key government ministries and their policy advisers, including the Prime Minister’s Office.

The big three tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco Canada, JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., lobbied a combined total of 53 times in just over two years, according to the registry. When other industry associations and smaller tobacco companies are factored in, the number of “communications” jumps to 82. One communication on Sept. 9, between JTI-Macdonald and the Prime Minister’s Office, took place just five days before the decision to cancel the program became public.

The expanded warning label program was set to increase the size of the warnings on cigarette packages, contain a variety of different graphic images and include a 1-800 Quit Line on all tobacco products.

But in September, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said plans to update warnings on cigarette packages had been halted, and the government’s new focus would be on fighting the sale of contraband cigarettes. The decision to drop the program at the last minute has confused observers who had been told by senior officials at the Ministry of Health that the updated warning labels would be rolled out on May 31 – World No Tobacco Day.

The CBC News investigation also reveals that in several cases, lobbyists hired by tobacco companies have close ties to the Conservatives. In addition, Perrin Beatty, a former Conservative health minister who in the early 1990s made Canada a world leader on cigarette warning labels, registered as a lobbyist for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Beatty told CBC News he never personally lobbied on the file, but his organization spoke with officials in Ottawa to oppose the plan to increase the size of warning labels to 75 per cent from 50 per cent. The Chamber of Commerce was one of many organizations lobbying against the measure this summer, lobby registry documents show.

“I think it would be a shock to Canadians if lobbying was actually behind the decision to delay these warnings,” said Dave Hammond, a University of Waterloo professor who consulted on the tobacco warning labels for Health Canada. “It’s all about preventing youth from picking up smoking.”

Between July 2008 and September 2010, tobacco companies and their lobby firms met 15 different federal departments, including seven times with the Ministry of Health and four times with the Prime Minister’s Office on several different topics.

The lobby registry does not provide specific details about what was discussed. However, the majority of lobbying activity relates to the issue of contraband cigarettes, which critics argue was part of a campaign on the part of the tobacco industry to change the focus away from the idea of expanding warnings on cigarette packages.

“They use contraband as a blunt weapon to try and beat down anything else that might be effective,” Hammond said.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined a CBC News request for an interview. In a statement, the office said: “Our government meets regularly with companies, NGOs, and industry associations on a broad range of topics. For the past two years the vast majority of these meetings, including those with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, have focused on the economy.”

Conservative connections

CBC News has learned that Canada’s three major tobacco companies employed lobbyists with strong Tory ties. Duncan Rayner was the director of operations for the Conservative Party of Canada and played a central role in drafting the agreement that led to the merging of Canada’s two conservative parties. Rayner, who now works for the firm Temple Scott, lobbied on behalf of Imperial Tobacco. Lobby registry records show he communicated as many as 19 times on several different topics, including contraband tobacco. He also lobbied several government departments, including the office of the minister of health. Citing client confidentiality, Rayner declined to discuss his lobbying efforts.

Ezra Levant, another former Tory insider, also registered as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. In 2002, he stepped aside as a federal candidate for the Conservative Party in a Calgary riding so Stephen Harper could run there. Levant registered as a lobbyist for Rothmans, Benson & Hedges for a year, in 2009. According to the lobby registry, Levant communicated on two occasions, in March 2010, on the topic of international trade. He also registered to deal with the issue of an anti-smoking hotline. “I de-registered … I am no longer a lobbyist, I no longer have any interest in the file,” he told CBC News. “I no longer follow the matter.”

Perrin Beatty, as president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, registered on behalf of the chamber, which lobbied against increased warnings on cigarette packages. Beatty told CBC News that one of his staff lobbied Ottawa  on this topic and not himself personally. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce was also part of a national coalition against contraband tobacco whose other members include the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council.

Records show that in 2009 and 2010, Beatty’s organization lobbied the government a total of 27 times on the topic of intellectual property, including five occasions with government ministers and four with the Prime Minister’s Office.  At some point during this process, Beatty told CBC News, the chamber was informed that the plan to update the warnings would likely be put on hold. “The response [we] received was that it was unlikely it was proceeding this year,” he said. Also registered to lobby on tobacco for Rothmans and the Canadian Convenience Store Association was Eric Duhaime, a former adviser to Stockwell Day from their time in the Canadian Alliance.

Rothmans also hired Crestview Public Affairs, a lobby company founded in 2004 by Mark Spiro, a Conservative insider and former campaign manager for Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. Around the time the health minister told her provincial counterparts she was quashing the new labelling initiative, Crestview Public Affairs made a flurry of new registrations on tobacco-related topics. Spiro was not involved in the lobby efforts, but three of his staff registered on the tobacco file – one for Rothmans and two for the Canadian Convenience Store Association. Former staffer Kaylie Wells first registered in 2008 on the file but left the firm in 2009.

Secretive process

While a CBC News analysis of the lobby registry reveals the existence of a longstanding campaign, many of the details are still shrouded in secrecy. “[The tobacco industry] has a lot of clout and influence,” said Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “So it’s not hard to speculate about whether they put pressure on the government to make some changes all of a sudden, but we don’t know any of the details about that that are public.” Some argue the lobby registry itself requires so little information that the public may never know about all the meetings that happen between lobbyists and government officials. “There’s no way of knowing conversations that take place over golf games or cocktail parties or people who float between one world and another,” said Cynthia Callard of Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada. “So it’s very difficult for outsiders to know exactly what’s going on.” For example, there are no records of what actually was said in the dozens of meetings that took place between government officials and the tobacco industry, only vague descriptions of the topics discussed, like “intellectual property” or “contraband cigarettes.” There is also no indication if the meetings resulted in any action or decisions on the part of the government or if any written material changed hands.

Despite dozens of phone calls to government officials who were lobbied and to the tobacco lobbyists themselves, no one would talk about the details of the lobbying.

“We’ve had promises going back 20 years to bring lobbying out of the shadows and require lobbyists to describe all the details of their activities,” said Duff Conacher with Democracy Watch. “And here we are 20 years later and lobbying in  the shadows and disclosing only vague information about your lobbying activities is still legal.”

The contraband argument

All of this means the public is still largely in the dark about what exactly persuaded the Harper government to back down on labelling and make contraband its priority. Jim Rondeau, the Manitoba minister of healthy living, was at the closed-door meetings where Health Canada announced it was backing down from updating warning labels. “The question was asked ‘Why’ multiple times,” Rondeau said. “The response was they were going to focus on contraband.” Beatty had been making that suggestion for months. He argued contraband should be Health Canada’s priority, not cigarette warning labels. “Every second cigarette that is smoked in Ontario, according to studies that have been done, is a contraband cigarette,” Beatty said in an interview. “The figure is about 40 percent in Quebec. This is a direct threat, not just to law enforcement, but it’s a threat to the health of Canadians as well.” Indeed, Beatty and others argue that larger warning labels might actually lead to an increase in contraband tobacco sales. “There is a significant share of the market that it is being fuelled by organized crime,” he said. “Do we want to make it easier for organized criminals by eliminating the ability of other people to offer brands in competition?”

In letters to three federal ministers, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce describes the contraband problem as “booming” and likely to make up as much as 50 percent of the market by this year. However, the sale of contraband tobacco may actually be on the decline in Canada, according to statistics from Health Canada. Its numbers show a decline in contraband cigarette consumption beginning in 2009. That same year, name brand tobacco sales in Canada rose 3.9 per cent. Moreover, in its third quarter report for 2010, Tobacco giant Philip Morris International, appeared to confirm those numbers, telling shareholders the sale of legal cigarettes in Canada was up 4.2 percent “mainly reflecting government enforcement measures to reduce contraband sales.”

Hammond, the professor, wonders why the government could not pursue both initiatives at the same time. “I think when people look around for an answer of why these things have been delayed, there’s no public health argument, reason from an evidence stand point, I think it’s logical to ask, what is the oppositional force to these things?” Hammond said. “Let’s make no mistake. This is still a very strong, powerful industry that remains very profitable in Canada.”

Callard, with Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, said the worldwide tobacco industry has a history of working behind the scenes to make its point.  “By and large they threaten, they bully, they cajole, they seduce and they purchase support and they’ve done that for decades,” she said. “So it’s no surprise that they’ve been successful this time and it’s sadly no surprise why they’re successful.”


Source: CBC News (December 9, 2010)

India: New warnings delayed again

Dec 8, 2010

Cigarette manufacturers got a year’s breather after the Union Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to defer the move to implement new, scarier pictorial warnings on cigarette and bidi packs till December 2011.

The decision means cigarette packs will continue with the current pictorial warnings – a scorpion on bidi packs and a cancer-affected lung on cigarette packs – for another year. Also, the interregnum will give the industry time to pressure the government against implementing harsher images.

Sources said the Cabinet supported the Health Ministry’s proposal to defer implementation of the new warnings by a year – gory pictures of a cancer-affected mouth – in the backdrop of protests by the tobacco industry. Two major manufacturers had stopped production from December 1, resulting in losses worth crores of rupees every day in excise tax.

The Union Health Ministry decided to go to the Cabinet after a GoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee informally met Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad last month and disapproved the new picture.

The new warning was cleared by the Health Minister earlier this year after a survey revealed that existing warnings were not making the desired impact.

A GoM set up in 2008 had approved the current warnings with the condition that they be replaced with scarier images of a cancer-affected mouth from December 1, 2010.


Source: The Indian Express (December 8, 2010)

India: Tobacco majors stop work over warning pics

Dec 3, 2010

The Union health ministry has notified that all tobacco product packages in India will, with immediate effect, have to carry pictorial health warnings depicting a cancer-stricken mouth.

Putting to rest all doubt that government had changed its mind, Union health ministry confirmed to TOI on Thursday that as per original notification, the earlier warning of an infected lung and a scorpion sign will be replaced by gory image of a cancer-stricken mouth from December 1.

Uncertain over what pictorial health warnings had to appear from December 1 on all tobacco packs, two of India’s largest cigarette manufacturers, ITC and Godfrey Phillips India, stalled production at all units on Thursday.

An ITC spokesperson said, “Units making cigarettes are shut because of the ambiguity in pictorial warnings to be carried from December 1 onwards”. Tobacco Institute of India director Udayan Lall said “companies making cigarettes and bidis have been forced to close down production due to the uncertainty regarding the warning”. He said the companies had written a letter to the ministry seeking clarity on the issue. The ministry, however, confirmed the notification to carry photo of a cancer-stricken mouth is in force.

The cigarette companies were hoping that new warnings would get deferred in Cabinet meeting held last Wednesday. However, no such thing happened. This automatically means the notification is in place and tobacco packs have to carry new warnings . Stopping production is just a ploy by the companies to buy time. They are hoping that in next Cabinet meeting on Thursday, the matter will come up and the GoM will change the warnings, a ministry official said.


Source: The Times of India (December 3, 2010)

EU Proposes End to Branded Cigarettes

Dec 3, 2010

The European Union is proposing a full-scale ban on branded cigarettes, forcing tobacco companies across the continent to sell their products in generic, plain packaging.

Under the new rules, packs would carry nothing more than a health warning and the name of the brand, both in a standardized format with a specified typeface.

Since cigarette advertising was outlawed across Europe in 2003, packaging — known as “the silent salesman” — has been the only way for cigarette manufacturers to keep their brands in the spotlight.

Opponents of the move have until Dec. 15 to make their case heard, with a decision expected in February. Even if the EU decides in favor of plain packaging, it could take another five years before the law comes into effect — especially if the tobacco companies carry out their threat to make a legal challenge against the ruling.

Andrew Lansley, the U.K. secretary of state for public health, believes that plain packs would de-glamorize the habit and stop young people from taking up smoking. But the Tobacco Manufacturers Association said, “We do not believe any plans for plain packaging are based on sound public policy, nor any compelling evidence.”

The International Advertising Association has written to the EU to argue against the prohibition of on-pack cigarette branding. Erich Buxbaum, VP and area director for Europe, said, “All brands are registered trademarks. This could lead into a vast legal process — companies will sue the EC. They pay a lot of money every year for their trademarks.”

Imperial Tobacco, manufacturer of cigarette brands including Davidoff, JPS, Gitanes and Gauloises Blondes, called plain packs “unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified.” In a statement the company said, “Governments that consider introducing plain packaging risk breaching a range of legal and treaty obligations relating to intellectual property rights, international trade and European Union law.”

Anne Edwards, director external communications, Philip Morris International, said, “To date every country that has considered plain packaging has rejected it due to lack of evidence and associated [intellectual property] issues. Even in Australia … the government’s own intellectual property body, IP Australia, recently advised … that plain packaging ‘may not be consistent with Australia’s intellectual property treaty obligations’ and ‘would make it easier for counterfeit goods to be produced and would make it difficult to readily identify these counterfeit goods.'”

The counterfeit issue was also raised by Mr. Buxbaum, who claimed that 10% of all trade in Europe is in counterfeit goods. Illicit cigarettes, he said, deny significant revenues to European governments, most of which claim 50% of the sale price in tax, and — according to the IAA letter — “come with no guarantee about the ingredients and product safety.”

However, Action on Smoking and Health, a campaigning public-health charity in the U.K., said it has heard all these arguments before.

Martin Dockrell, the organization’s director of research and policy, said, “The tobacco companies used the same arguments against the tobacco advertising ban. They still retain their rights over their logos — but it doesn’t mean they can use them however they like. They can’t use them on billboards and soon they won’t be able to use them on packaging.”

Mr. Dockrell said that unbranded packs would not lead to an increase in smuggling. He argued that branded and unbranded packs are equally easy for counterfeiters to replicate.

As well as the introduction of unbranded packaging, the EU is also considering a ban on in-store cigarette displays and on cigarette vending machines.

The IAA has chosen to concentrate its efforts on a protest against the packaging ban. Mr Buxbaum said, “I don’t want to become a spokesman for the tobacco industry. I am concentrating on the packaging issue because plain packaging would kill branding.” The IAA has no tobacco companies as members in Europe, although it does have a couple in the U.S.

Independent of the EU, the English parliament voted last year in favor of a ban on the display of tobacco products in shops in England. Larger shops will have to comply by 2011, while smaller shops will have until 2013. However, a change of government in May means that the new legislation is not guaranteed to go ahead.


Source: Advertising Age (December 1, 2010)