by Carl V. Phillips
In a recent paper, Anna Gilmore and “researchers” at the University of Bath’s anti-tobacco QUANGO — a group known for not understanding the basics of either the epidemiology or the economics they write about — has demonstrated that they might actually have learned something about how public policies are debated in free societies. Of course, the spin they put on it is that such debate and freedom are obstacles to be thwarted.
They reviewed (in a faux systematic way, though their methodologic failures are hardly the real problem, so are not worth addressing) publications and documents about the tobacco industry’s responses to proposed regulations in order to create a taxonomy of the types of arguments made. Their tweet about this actually misrepresented it, since it was not actually a study of “extent”:
(Tobacco Research @BathTR) Extent of tobacco industry’s lobbying tactics unveiled by new paper today – http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2014/02/06/tobacco-industry-lobbying/“
My take on it, I think, better sums it up:
(Carl V Phillips @carlvphillips) MT @BathTR Extent of tobacco control industry’s complete lack of anything useful to do unveiled by new paper today – http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2014/02/06/tobacco-industry-lobbying/
But that this is a colossal waste of resources really understates what we can learn about the tobacco control industry from this. The authors comment:
This systematic review has identified common tactics and arguments that the TI [tobacco industry] uses to prevent the implementation of regulation, and has shown that they are repeatedly used across different jurisdictions. Policymakers need to be aware of these in order to understand how the TI may try to manipulate the regulatory environment in their own interests, and public health advocates can use this information to prepare effective counter strategies. The recent failure of the British government to pursue plain packaging legislation highlights the importance of such knowledge.
The tobacco companies have a diverse repertoire of tactics and arguments they repeat time and time again to prevent policies which protect the public from its deadly products. Governments around the world need to wise up to when the industry is lying and protect policy development from the vested interests of the tobacco companies.
Significantly the paper found that the same tactics and arguments are being used across multiple jurisdictions, showing that the tobacco industry is repeating its activities in high, middle, and low income countries around the world. This suggests that the tobacco industry believes that what works best to influence policy-makers in developed countries will have a similar effect on policy-makers in developing countries. Importantly the paper also identifies a broader range of corporate tactics and arguments than previous studies have suggested.
My god! What kind of “lying” “tactics” are they using to influence policy makers “across multiple jurisdictions”?
It turns out that companies’ arguments fall into four categories:
- That a proposed policy will have negative unintended consequences – for example for the economy or public health.
- That there is insufficient evidence that a proposed policy will work.
- That there are legal barriers to regulation – including that it infringes the legal rights of a company.
- That a proposed regulation is unnecessary because the industry does not market to young people and / or adheres to a voluntary code.
Yes, that’s right. The companies are daring to point out how anti-THR measures hurt people’s health and how that cigarette restrictions fuel the black market. They bring up inconvenient truths about how most current tobacco control industry proposals are not based on any evidence. They try to assert their legal rights.
It is difficult to imagine what kind of devious tacticians could figure out how to make such arguments in both high- and low-income countries. And these companies must not really be in competition with each other — they must really be some kind of coordinated monolith — for them all to be employing the same off-the-wall arguments.
But seriously, setting aside item 4, which you may or may not buy, that list of “tactics” is basically a list of the cogent arguments that should be considered before imposing a regulation on consumers (and have no doubt that the proposed regulation of “the TI” has far more impact on consumers than on companies). If the regulators actually cared about people, the industry would not even need to make these arguments because they would be part of the initial analysis. In most cases, these concerns would carry the day if regulations were rational and not driven by lobbying.
But since they are driven by lobbying — the lobbying by the enormously wealthy tobacco control industry — it falls to the tobacco products companies to be the voice of rational public policy. Yes, this does mean that we depend on corporations to support rationality, consumer interests, and the rule of law by pushing back again those who are paid by tax dollars (the regulators themselves and the TCI lobbyists).
Make no mistake, the industry is not the consumer’s best friend in the world (that would be CASAA, in case you are wondering). Companies that sell cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and/or e-cigarettes frequently propose or support regulations that would give them a competitive edge at the expense of consumers — in the form of restricting options or raising prices. But it is clear that industry interests are mostly aligned with consumers’, and both are sharply contrast with the interests of the non-stakeholders who presume that they should own the policy process and resent the intrusion of the actual stakeholders.
But equally remarkable is the extent to which some vapers and e-cigarette companies seem to take the TCI’s side of this policy debate, endorsing consumer-harming, evidence-free, illegal regulations of cigarettes, and lambasting the industry’s push-back against them. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding of history. I am not talking about a rewind to “First they came for the Socialists…” history (though that is a relevant lesson too). I am just talking about the 15 years since public health morphed into the tobacco control industry and its imitators in other sectors. Each restriction on consumer choice and reduction of consumer welfare paves the way for the next one. The more outlandish the accepted restriction is, the more outlandish the next proposal can be.
And even if a supporter of tobacco harm reduction is oblivious to history, just look again at that list of the “tactics” that the TCI resents. Anything seem familiar about those?