Smoke and mirrors: how the tobacco industry hides behind lobbyists

PR firms and lawyers campaign without revealing clients' identity

The tobacco industry is covertly using third-party companies to lobby against smoking restrictions and to gain access to health documents held by public organisations.

Public relations companies and law firms are working on behalf of anonymous multinational tobacco companies without declaring who their clients are, according to an investigation by The Independent.

The third parties have refused to confirm they are working on behalf of tobacco firms when they make freedom of information requests from universities and other public bodies, even though the third parties are demanding more openness from their targets.

The public relations company Bell Pottinger and the London law firm Clifford Chance have both requested information from public organisations without making it clear they are working on behalf of tobacco firms.

The Irish PR company Hume Brophy has also carried out a lobbying campaign against the Government's ban on cigarette displays in shops on behalf of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents without stating that the campaign was being funded by the tobacco industry.

The Independent has established that Alex Deane, a former chief-of-staff to David Cameron, played a key role in attempts to use the freedom of information law against one public organisation involved in promoting awareness against the health dangers of roll-up tobacco. Mr Deane is a director of Bell Pottinger which earlier this year requested documents from a health-awareness organisation funded by the NHS, the Bristol-based Smoke Free South West, following a campaign it ran against roll-up tobacco, which is popular in that part of the country.

Soon after this informal request, Smoke Free South West received a formal freedom of information request for the same documentation from Big Brother Watch, a right-of-centre libertarian group founded by Mr Deane.

Neither Bell Pottinger nor Big Brother Watch declared to Smoke Free South West that they had held discussions with one another or with Bristol-based Imperial Tobacco, which is listed as one of Bell Pottinger's clients in the PR firm's website, and makes Golden Virginia rolling tobacco and Rizla cigarette papers.

Mr Deane was not available for comment yesterday; Bell Pottinger said he was on holiday. David Petrie, the Bell Pottinger executive who sent the email requests to Smoke Free South West, did not return calls. Daniel Hamilton, a director of Big Brother Watch, refused to confirm or deny that his organisation had been in contact with Bell Pottinger or Imperial Tobacco over the FOI request to Smoke Free South West. "We don't work on behalf of other groups. We only work on behalf of ourselves... We've got no formal links with anyone in the tobacco industry," Mr Hamilton said.

This week, The Independent revealed that tobacco companies had demanded access to confidential university research papers on teenagers' attitudes to smoking, as well as meetings within the Department of Health between government officials and experts on smoking and health.

Stirling University, which carries out research on behalf of the Health Department and Cancer Research UK, said Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, was attempting to access thousands of confidential interviews with British teenagers.

The FOI request was initially made in 2009 through the London law firm Clifford Chance, which tried to keep the identify of its client confidential. However, under the Scottish Freedom of Information Act, which is slightly different to the English Act, a third party must name the client it is working for – in this case Philip Morris.

A spokeswoman for Clifford Chance said she could not comment on whether the law firm was carrying out any further freedom of information requests on behalf of tobacco companies. Under the English FOI Act, third parties can work on behalf of anonymous clients.

Hume Brophy, the Irish public relations company, admitted it was a mistake to conduct a parliamentary lobbying campaign against cigarette displays in shops without making it clear it was paid for by the tobacco industry. In a letter to Stephen Williams MP, John Hume, a partner in the company, said that it will not happen again.

Martin Dockrell of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health said that the tobacco industry's use of "front" organisations was nothing new.

"Big Tobacco's dirty little secret is how they get others to do their dirty work," Mr Dockrell said. "Some front groups are pretty much wholly owned subsidiaries; some appear to be independent but tobacco companies pay the bills and pull the strings."

Former Cameron crony leading the fight for the smoking lobby

Profile

Alex Deane served as David Cameron's chief of staff when Cameron was shadow education secretary from 2004-2005. A Tory activist since 1995, Mr Deane is now a director of Bell Pottinger, the public relations firm set up by Lord Bell, the Tory peer. He was a founding director of Big Brother Watch, a right-of-centre libertarian pressure group that opposes state-controlled surveillance and what it sees as intrusions into civil liberties. He has opposed CCTV cameras, DNA databases, council surveillance and data chips in dustbins. Big Brother Watch also stoutly defends the rights of smokers to smoke in public places.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution