Anti-smoking lobby embroiled in dirty tricks campaign scandal

Corruption behind the government’s public consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products

by The Commentator on 19 October 2012 12:11


The UK Department for Health has published e-mails showing that the state-funded UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (CTCS) has engaged in a dirty tricks campaign in an attempt to influence plain-packaging legislation for tobacco products.

The plain packaging campaign supports the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products sold in the UK and was “created to help raise awareness of the need to reduce the 340,000 children who try smoking for the first time every year” plus “highlight the truth behind tobacco packaging”.

An example of a standardised packet of cigarettes would consist of no branding, a uniform colour and a standard font and text for any writing on the pack.

A UK-wide public consultation was launched from April to August 2012 by the Department of Health to invite people to give their views on standardised cigarette packaging in the UK. 

The campaign is supported by a range of charities and government subsidised ‘health bodies’.  

In correspondence with the (then on-going) pro-plain packaging campaign, Deborah Arnott, Chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) sent an email to the Department of Health on 10th August 2012 revealing the tactic of deliberate multiple duplications of signatures on charity petitions, insisting that they 'seriously doubt' that there would be 'cross-checking'.

“I understand that you have been copied into an email from a junior member of the UKCTCS which was circulated to the UKCTCS list encouraging sign up to the various websites supporting plain packs stating, ‘You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money’s worth!’

This revelation shows that government funded groups are engaging in dishonest campaigning in order to affect UK legislation. UKCTCS have actively encouraged fraudulent submissions of signatures in favour of the government’s public consultation to make tobacco companies apply plain packaging to all cigarettes sold in the UK. 

Arnott’s email to the DoH considered the UKCTCS email “inappropriate and ill-advised” and showed that had it not been for ASH's “concern” that “organisations are collaborating to identify multiple responses, and multiple signing is not appropriate”, the matter may have not been corrected.

Looking at the date in which Arnott’s email was sent it does present a classic case of too little, too late, as this happened to be the same day the public consultation ended: 10 August 2012.  It is unclear as to how long the original email encouraging duplicate signatures was circling for and how many people who received the email and acted on it before it was picked up by ASH and amended.

What is extraordinary about this revelation is that the UKCTCS is more or less comprised of a host of government led or government funded institutions. Their website states that it is “part of a £20 million investment into public health research, funded by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC)”.  The UKCRC Partners include; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Department of Health, Higher Education funding council for England and Wales (HEFCE, HEFCW), National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) plus several others governmental bodies across Wales and Scotland.

Government spending on anti-smoking campaigns is now spiralling out of control. In 2011/2011, the NHS spent £88.2 million on ‘Stop Smoking’ services. Expenditure on smoking cessation services has reached astronomical levels since the first year it was introduced wherein it spent £21.5 million pounds (2000/01).

The original email by the UKCTCS is likely to have been sent to the following organisations: Smokefree South West, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK, British Thoracic Society, The British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, Deborah Hutton Campaignt, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Fresh, Faculty of Public Health, NHS Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training, National Heart Forum, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Smokefree Lincs, Royal College of Midwives, Solutions 4 Health, Swercots, Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre and Tobacco Free Futures.

Press officers at ASH were unavailable for comment at the time of publishing.

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