Australian retailers group created to conceal origin of Big Tobacco’s opposition to plain packaging.
The recent UK government consultation on plain packaging has seen a strong response from seemingly grassroots movements opposed to plain packaging legislation, including smokers’ rights groups and retailers. For instance, the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, run by industry-funded smokers’ rights group FOREST, submitted 235,000 signatures against the introduction of the proposed legislation. However, documents leaked in Australia show that, in Australia at least, the industry did more than provide a contribution to a third-party group. In fact, the industry was directly involved in the creation of and the day-to-day activity of an apparent third party group.
Leaked tobacco industry documents from 2010 detail how Philip Morris Limited (PML) and an Australian public relations company, The Civic Group, created the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) in 2010. The purpose of the AAR, as documented by email correspondence between The Civic Group and PML, was to act on behalf of the tobacco industry to ‘seek a change in policy such that there is [sic] no introduction of ‘generic packaging’ into the Australian market.” The President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Professor Mike Daube, commented that these documents “are possibly the most devastating tobacco industry leak ever in Australia.”
The documents reveal that in 2010 the director of Corporate Affairs at PML, Chris Argent, and the director of The Civic Group Jason Aldworth set up the AAR to influence public opinion and policy makers, which included strategies to discredit those that advocated the introduction of plain packaging.
In response the Civic Group’s initial campaign proposal, Argent requested more detail on how the campaign could influence government, “Please note that contrary to the proposal the Coalition’s resolve is not strong. It is at best neutral. Please provide representative examples of the messages that might be delivered to Labor and the Coalition through the Government relations component of the campaign. Who will deliver these messages?” Furthermore, they outlined a detailed plan on how messages should be delivered and who should deliver them. In correspondence with the Civic Group, Argent asked “What messages will PML communicate in its own voice versus using third-party’s?”
Once the AAR was created, Argent was involved in the day-to-day running and management of the AAR. Emails were exchanged between the Civic Group and Argent on how the AAR should respond to media requests and what should be said to the media. It was agreed that in response to any queries regarding the funding of the Civic Group and the AAR campaign, finite amounts should not be disclosed.
In fact, to set up and manage the AAR, the Civic Group was given over $5 million by the three leading tobacco companies in Australia. British American Tobacco Australia paid $2.2 million, PML paid $2.16 million, and Imperial Tobacco paid just short of $1.1 million.
The leaked documents are now housed in a central repository of tobacco industry documents, available on the online Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.