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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003