The PM, his pro-smoking aide, and a dirty war over cigarette packaging

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

MPs accuse Cameron adviser of conflict of interest over links to tobacco industry. Steve Connor reports

The independence of a Government adviser on red tape appointed by David Cameron has been called into question as details emerge of a possible covert attempt by the tobacco industry to undermine the proposed introduction of plain cigarette packets with no branding or company logos.

Anti-smoking campaigners have voiced concerns that Mark Littlewood, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has been appointed as an "independent adviser" to the Government's Red Tape Challenge, which they believe might allow him to influence policy on plain cigarette packets.

Mr Littlewood is well known for his robust views on anti-smoking legislation and in the past his institute has received funding from the tobacco industry – although it refuses to say whether this is still the case.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for reassurances that Mr Littlewood will not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his "clear conflict of interest".

"He clearly has a pro-tobacco agenda and has campaigned for a number of years against regulation of the tobacco industry. He could not, therefore, fulfil the remit of an independent adviser to the Government," said the committee chairman, Stephen Williams MP, in a letter to Mr Cable.

Jean King, director of tobacco control for Cancer Research UK, said: "For any organisation to promote a report saying that plain packaging can't and won't work without making clear that the authors are tobacco industry apologists is unacceptable. The IEA must come clean and confirm whether or not it continues to be funded by the tobacco industry."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking organisation ASH, said: "Mark Littlewood is not independent, he has nailed his colours to the mast by supporting the tobacco industry-funded campaign against plain packs, just as he did its campaign to bring smoking back to our pubs."

Mr Littlewood was unavailable but the IEA said that the scope of his involvement in the Red Tape Challenge did not include plain cigarette packaging, although Mr Littlewood has publicly opposed its introduction.

In a statement to The Independent, the Department for Business said that Mr Littlewood would not be involved in any tobacco-related matter.

Tomorrow, Mr Littlewood's IEA will host the launch of a controversial report arguing that plain cigarette packets are illegal and will do nothing to improve the health of smokers or non-smokers. The authors of the report, called The Plain Truth, have strong financial ties to the tobacco industry.

One of them, John Luik, a Canadian philosopher, is reported to have received tens of thousands of dollars from tobacco companies. He has also been accused twice in the past of fabricating details of his professional qualifications. The second co-author, Patrick Basham, has worked for private American think-tanks that have been part-funded by cigarette firms. Campaign groups believe that their report launched tomorrow at the IEA marks the start of a covert attempt by the tobacco industry to undermine the Government's public consultation on plain packaging, which is expected to be announced within weeks.

They point out that tobacco companies have a history of using third parties with no obvious links to the cigarette industry to influence public opinion.

In its publicity for the launch of The Plain Truth, the IEA makes no mention of the fact that Dr Luik has received substantial funding from the tobacco industry and that Dr Basham has worked for two American think-tanks that have accepted money from cigarette companies.

Neither does it mention that Dr Luik was dismissed from two academic institutes in Canada for misrepresenting his professional qualifications. He was dismissed in the 1980s from Nazarene College, Winnipeg, and discharged in 1990 from Brock University, Ontario, where he taught applied professional ethics, for fabricating his qualifications. In 2001, it emerged that Dr Luik was paid a six-figure sum by the tobacco industry to edit a book on plain cigarette packaging. He has accused anti-tobacco research of being "fraudulent" and has questioned whether cigarettes are addictive.

Responding to email enquiries, Dr Luik said: "I always find it interesting that the only issue in which ad hominem attacks are raised is the tobacco issue and from the anti-tobacco movement. This says a lot about their inability to engage in arguments solely on the basis of logic and evidence. In any instance, I neither engage in ad hominem argument nor respond to it."

Dr Luik said that he received funding from the tobacco industry, along with several other sources of finance, but added: "Such funding could compromise my research if the funder determined the research agenda or if the funding were contingent on producing findings that were pre-determined by the funder. Fortunately, I have been given non-contingent funding which has allowed me great liberty to pursue a research agenda of my choice."

However, tobacco industry documents dating to the 1990s revealed that draft copies of one of Dr Luik's academic papers on second-hand smoke were circulated among the industry for comments prior to final publication

Dr Basham, meanwhile, has worked for the Fraser Institute in Vancouver and the Democracy Institute in Washington, which have both received funding from the tobacco industry. While at the Fraser Institute in 2000, the institute wrote a letter to British American Tobacco pointing out that Dr Basham was willing to carry out research on risk and regulation in return for funding.

"What we are proposing is a high-calibre centre that will involve senior analysts, and will use a variety of resources and tools, to provide the factual information that will seriously counter the risk activists and their misleading and misguided propaganda," the letter said.

Dr Basham said that he is not a consultant and does not accept project-specific funding. He said he has never felt under pressure to write a report that would please the tobacco industry and insisted that the source of his funding has never influenced his conclusions in relation to any tobacco-related matter.

"There is minimal evidence to give any indication that a plain-packaging ban would do anything to advance public health. In fact the evidence that there is would suggest that it would be counter-productive," Dr Basham said.

"There is also the small problem of a plain packaging ban being illegal, according to international treaties that the UK and others have signed," he added. Anti-smoking organisations, however, said that citing the illegality of plain packaging is a standard tobacco industry line, and is disputed by independent legal experts.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

    They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
    A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

    Dropout generation failed by colleges

    £800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
    Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
    Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

    Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch