Sunday

19th Feb 2017

Big tobacco distorted EU treaty, scientists say

  • EU commission staff were unaware that BAT was linked to the campaign, the study says (Photo: EUobserver)

One of the biggest tobacco manufacturers in the world led a group of chemical, food, oil, pharmaceutical and other firms in a successful long-term lobbying strategy to shape European Union policy making in their favour, a new study says.

After trawling through some 700 internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT), academics at the University of Bath and University of Edinburgh say they have found evidence that the cigarette giant in the mid-1990s teamed up with the European Policy Centre, the prominent Brussels think-tank, to create a front group to ensure that the EU framework for evaluating policy options emphasised business interests at the expense of public health.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

According to the study, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal and funded by the Smoke-Free Partnership and Cancer Research UK, BAT constructed a policy network of a series of major corporations, including Shell, Zeneca, Tesco, SmithKline Beecham, Bayer and Unilever, to mount a multi-year lobby campaign aiming at shaping the EU's impact assessment system.

There are a number of impact assessment systems, which are tools for evaluating potential legislative changes, each emphasising different aspects of the ramifications of a government choosing a particular law over another. Some place great weight on environmental or health impacts, while others on the financial fall-out sustained by industry.

Impact assessments as a whole, which work by assigning monetary values to both the costs and benefits of a particular policy, are criticised by the study authors because costs to business are relatively easily quantifiable, while other, more fundamental impacts - such as lives lost or harmed - are much less so.

The form of impact assessment pushed in this period by BAT and its front group - and the one ultimately embraced by the EU via changes to the EU Treaty in the Treaty of Amsterdam - was so desired, according to the survey, because they believed that it would hamper the introduction of public smoking restrictions and those against tobacco advertising.

The scientists uncovered BAT documents that revealed that senior managers had learnt that this form of impact assessment had been successfully used by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in the US for the same purposes.

BAT asked a UK consultancy, Charles Barker, to work out the advantages of pushing such an approach at the UK and EU levels, the study says. According to the scientists, the firm warned BAT that they would need to tread carefully, lobbying through a "front" organisation and enlisting other "big industry names" in support, in particular the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The aim of BAT's campaign was to make its preferred form of assessment legally binding within EU policymaking by securing changes to the EU Treaty.

One internal document highlighted by the study reads: "In no country in the world are governments required, in practice, to justify their actions through effective cost-benefit analysis, underpinned by rigorous risk assessment. An opportunity to promote such a requirement was identified in the European Union (EU) ...British American Tobacco and BAT Industries recognised that a broad coalition of like-minded companies might be able to persuade member states into amending the Treaty, imposing a binding requirement for cost benefit analysis and risk assessment."

In order to win such a change, from 1996 onwards, say the scientists, BAT "relied heavily" on the European Policy Centre (EPC), while also sometimes working with the Weinberg Group, a consultancy firm that had been involved with Philip Morris.

The EPC then went on to form the front group, the "Risk Assessment Forum" on behalf of the tobacco company and its allies, with both BAT and the EPC working to recruit other companies to join the Forum, the new research says.

The UK was regarded by BAT as the EU member state most committed to its preferred impact assessment as it was the country that ultimately submitted the change to the treaty for consideration by other governments.

As a result, the UK presidency of the EU in the first half of 1998 was viewed as a "window of opportunity" in which BAT, the EPC and the Weinberg Group, with support from other companies, organised a conference on the subject. One keynote speaker at the conference was Steve Milloy, executive director of the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, described by the authors of the study as having been linked to Philip Morris' campaign to rubbish scientific findings it did not like.

Ultimately, BAT's campaign was successful, helping to secure the treaty amendment it sought, and, due to working through a major think-tank and setting up a front group, managing to avoid the perception that big tobacco was behind the policy shift. The authors of the study interviewed European Commission staff who revealed no awareness that the tobacco industry had been behind the campaign.

BAT for its part said in response to the publication of the study: "The EU invites all interested parties to submit their views before making new policies and we are happy to share our views, as we believe the best policies are the ones which take into account a range of positions."

"The authors of this report seem to be suggesting that only people who agree with their own point of view should be allowed to voice an opinion," said BAT spokeswoman Kate Matrunola.

Hans Martens, the chief executive of EPC said that the events referred to in the study occurred before he joined the organisation in 2002: "I do not know what might have been happening in the years before I joined."

Mr Martens said that at the time, EPC, then called Belmont EPC, was a consultancy, "I suppose that is where the activities originally took place."

He said that when he took over, the Risk Forum was still in operation, but he shut it down. "It only had corporate members, and therefore I decided to stop its activities because everything we do is multi-constituency-based, which means that we have different stakeholders involved.

"If a subject does not have a broader interest, we don't do it. [This] is our policy since 2002."

"[EPC] is truly independent organisation. It operates on the basis of multi-stakeholder engagement and we do not represent any of the members' interests at all," he continued. "BAT is one of the members, but not very active in EPC, and they do not get any special favours, as no other member organisation does."

"I am quite upset about the allegations as they do not reflect what EPC stands for today."

Think-tanks throughout the European capital have consistently refused to join the European Commission's lobby registry, arguing that think-tanks do not engage in "lobbying." The EPC, however, was the first think-tank to sign up.

EU commissioner pleads innocence

The EU health commissioner at the centre of a tobacco lobbying scandal has spoken out to newspapers and on TV to protest his innocence.

EU ready to challenge US border tax

The EU is willing to fight any attempt by the Trump administration to impose border tax on imports, says trade commissioner Jyrki Katainen.

Opinion

Unfair EU-Canada trade deal is wrong response to Trump

The EU-Canada trade deal, which is to be voted on in the European Parliament next week, cements the inequalities, political exclusion and favours to corporations that feed far-right groups in Europe.

Visual Data

EU farming policy: The damage done by 20 years of inertia

The EU Commission will ask the public later this week how the common agricultural policy should be overhauled. Data from the past two decades reveals a catalogue of missed chances and failed reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Migrants storm Spanish enclave of Ceuta
  2. Spain's princess fined for tax fraud, husband sentenced
  3. EU to invest millions in energy infrastructure
  4. Dutch data watchdog forces online vote aides to up security
  5. EU allows Lithuania to ban Russian tv channel
  6. Finland announces increase in defence spending
  7. Ex-PM Blair says Brits should 'rise up' against Brexit
  8. Nato chief says facts to prevail over fake news

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  5. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  8. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  9. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  10. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  11. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  12. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  3. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  4. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics
  6. Dialogue PlatformWhy the West 'Failed to Understand' Turkey
  7. European Jewish CongressInternational Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony
  8. European Free AllianceCatalan Independence Referendum: A Matter of Democracy
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsKyrgyzstan: No Justice for Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
  10. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  11. World VisionEU Urged to Do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  12. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children