Is Big T Money ‘Bad’?

Posted 23rd May 2019 by Dave Cross
A paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has caused a flurry of worry about tobacco companies influencing politicians and the parliamentary process. In particular, links between the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Conservative politicians has come under the spotlight – but is it fair attack people if they haven’t received money directly from tobacco companies?

Before considering the BMJ piece, the concept of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’:

The video above considers some numbers: “Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people, and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on, the maths shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected to 44^6, or 7.26 billion people - more than are alive on Earth today.”

From a point where two random people could be connected in six steps, the number has fallen as social media has expanded and, as Neil deGrasse Tyson points out, the number now lies between 4 and 5.

In the BMJ’s “Think tanks should come out of the shadows”, the authors “reveal a worrying network of links between the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK think tank, and leading Conservative politicians”.

ASH UK expressed concern, writing: “[It] revealed that no fewer than 25 serving Conservative MPs, including several leadership candidates, are connected to the free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) which receives funding from the tobacco industry. MPs listed include Dominic Raab, David Davis and Owen Paterson.”

“The BMJ says the IEA is responsible for a series of attacks on public health initiatives including policies aimed at reducing childhood obesity. Between them, IEA trustees Neil Record and Sir Michael Hintze, have given a total of £166,000 in cash or hospitality to 30 MPs and £4.3 million to the Conservative party since 2002.”

“While the IEA keeps its funding sources private, British American Tobacco has confirmed that it funds the IEA. In the past, the organisation has also taken money from the gambling, alcohol, soft drinks and sugar industries.”

The IEA has long argued for a relaxed and supportive approach to vaping, and supported vaping as a harm reduction tool long before Public Health England appreciated the potential. The BMJ's own illustration confuses private and corporate donations, a sizeable proportion coming from individuals in a private capacity. Is it possible that these individuals hold opinions and have the wealth to make donations in the same way you might send £5 to Children In Need?

Labour’s Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “It stinks,” and added, “The Institute of Economic Affairs should come clean on who funds it, and Conservative politicians should publically distance themselves from the tobacco industry.”

The IEA has commented that the report “predates its current senior staff by a decade and said the BMJ does not have a monopoly on the health and lifestyle economics debate. The report also implies that the IEA funds – directly and indirectly – members of parliament.

“The IEA talks to MPs across the political spectrum, as do all other think tanks. This isn’t a ‘funding link’. The IEA does not give money to any political efforts, and we consider these suggestions to be slanderous. The BMJ’s insinuation is that we only purport a free market analyses because we are paid to. This is categorically untrue.”

British American Tobacco’s Simon Cleverly stated: “We support like-minded organisations on issues that are important to our business and our consumers.”

Philip Morris pledged to donate £63-million every year for 12 years to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW). FSFW has a rigorous system in place to prevent Philip Morris from being able to influence what it does with the funds. FSFW funds Knowledge Action Change (KAC) to produce the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report and other activities.

Planet of the Vapes attended the launch of the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report and consumed many appetisers and a small quantity of wine. It’s possible that the small amount of alcohol and food consumed may have held a value similar to an event ticket given to MP Caroline Noakes.

Does this now mean that the articles written in our news section now carry a bias towards Philip Morris or promote its products? Are we now in the pay of Big Tobacco? Of note, a representative of ASH UK was also at the report launch. Does this mean Britain’s leading anti-tobacco organisation is tainted by Big Tobacco money?

Vapers have often been accused of being in the pay of Big Tobacco by anti-vape organisations and individuals, something that is simply not true. The IEA is honest about its libertarian values and earnest in arguing for a free vaping market. If we accept that vaping offers at least a 95% reduction in harm compared to smoking, does it matter from a public health perspective where the money comes from? Why not share your opinions on the forum [link].

 

Resources:

  • Think tanks should come out of the shadows” by Rebecca Coombes – [link]
  • Foundation for a Smoke-Free World – [link]
  • Knowledge Action Change – [link]
  • ASH UK – [link]
 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker