A tobacco company that employed David Cameron’s chief strategist was today accused of spending up to €1.25m (£1m) on wooing MEPs to vote against a stringent new European directive on the sale of cigarettes.
Under plans to be debated in Strasbourg on Monday, menthol and “slim” cigarettes would be banned across the EU while all packs would have to carry health warnings over three quarters of the packaging. But following intense lobbying from Philip Morris International (PMI), the makers of Marlboro, right-wing MEPs have tabled a series of amendments that would gut the directive of its most far-reaching proposals.
PMI has a contract with the lobbying firm Crosby Textor Fullbrook (CTF) that is partly owned by Lynton Crosby – the Conservative’s chief election strategist. CTF said it could not comment on whether it had been involved in the European lobbying campaign.
At a briefing in Brussels, Green MEPs revealed details of what they said were internal documents from PMI that showed the extent of their lobbying operation. A company spreadsheet showed that it used 161 employees and consultants in lobbying, and that in the year to June 2012, the lobbyists claimed around €1.25m in expenses for their meetings with MEPs. It also revealed that by 22 June last year, 233 MEPs – 31 per cent of the total – had met PMI at least once. In a separate spreadsheet, several MEPs were listed as having seen PMI four or five times.
The slides also show how PMI targeted farmers’ organisations, retail bodies and trade and business associations to garner support.
German MEP Rebecca Harms said: “It is important for politicians to get information by the affected industries when deciding on legislation. But the amount of lobbying on the tobacco directive... shows that this goes beyond information and turns into intense lobbying pressure.”
PMI’s wish-list of main legislative changes includes removing a ban on menthols, having health warnings only at the bottom of packs, with a reduced size. Among the MEPs to have scripted pro-tobacco text is Poland’s Jolanta Hibner, who tabled an amendment to remove the ban of menthol.
She told the website euobserver.com that menthol was a commonly used food additive. “It is widely used in products like toothpaste, and there are no proofs of its harmfulness,” she said. Poland is one of the biggest producers and consumers of menthol cigarettes. She added: “I did not have any meetings with representatives of the tobacco industry.”
Critics claim menthol is a facilitator to get young people to smoke because it reduces the coughing reflex. PMI, which says it generates some €14.6bn in tax revenue in the EU, has cornered more than half of the menthol cigarette market.
In a statement PMI said: “We report our activity on the EU Transparency Register, where we have reported estimated costs between €1m to €1.25m for representing PMI’s interests to EU institutions in 2012. This figure includes staffing costs, travel expenses and publicly disclosed membership of relevant business associations. ”
PMI added that CTF advises Philip Morris Ltd in the UK “on a range of matters”.