PMI IMPACT: Controlling research. Controlling policy?

This article was written by Allen Gallagher & Karen Evans-Reeves, Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath

In 2016, Philip Morris International (PMI) launched PMI IMPACT — a funding initiative pledging US$100 million for projects “dedicated to fighting illegal trade and related crimes”. [1] In its first funding call last year, public organisations, law enforcement, private entities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were all encouraged to submit proposals focusing specifically on the illicit tobacco trade in the European Union (EU).

Submitted proposals were judged by an expert panel, consisting of seven individuals with very close links to various United Nations agencies. PMI IMPACT is not the first research funding initiative from the tobacco company. In 2000, the company launched the PMI External Research Program (PMERP), which administered grants to scientists for research on multiple topics, including non-tobacco causes of cardiovascular diseases and genetic susceptibility to cancers.

Such initiatives are tied to the tobacco industry’s long history of producing misleading research, beginning with its attempts in the early 1950s to discredit the then newly-proven causal link between smoking and lung cancer. [2] Calls for new research on a particular topic carry with them the underlying suggestion that pre-existing research is flawed or lacking.

PMI IMPACT can be seen as another attempt at controlling the discourse around science, this time around illicit trade research, and its outcomes, thereby influencing policy outcomes.

The illicit tobacco trade is one of several policy areas where the tobacco industry is attempting to not only gain access to the policy process, but also to take part in this process as a valued expert and stakeholder.

However, given the industry’s historic complicity in the illicit trade, [3] its questionable pre-existing research [4] on the topic and its repeated use of illicit trade as a counter argument to the further regulation of its products, [5] its motives in launching PMI IMPACT are arguably spurious. In 2004, PMI paid the EU $1.25 billion to settle claims over the company’s involvement in tobacco smuggling, and committed to produce an annual ‘Project Star’ report about illicit tobacco in the EU. [6] These reports were created by the global accountancy firm KPMG and have been widely criticised by academics. [7] Operation Henry data, produced by the UK Government’s Trading Standards Institute revealed that in 2014 72% of illicit cigarettes seized in the UK were genuine smuggled brands without UK Duty being paid. [8] In the past, when genuine brands have been smuggled like this, the tobacco industry has been accused of being complicit by failing to control their supply chain. [9]

Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:

  • Share your stories of the exploitation caused by tobacco using #ActOnTobacco
  • Write to PMI — @InsidePMI and ask them what they are doing to prevent the sumggling of illicit tobacco products
  • When reading research related to the tobacco industry, always question where the research comes from and who paid for it
  • Contact your pension provider to ask them if they invest in the tobacco industry. If so, ask them to disinvest.

Notes

[1] PMI, PMI Impact homepage, Available from: http://www.webcitation.org/6iJBhMKiD (archived PMI Impact page accessed 27 April 2017)

[2] http://archive.tobacco.org/Documents/980126minnesota.html A. M. Brandt, Inventing conflicts of interest: A history of tobacco industry tactics, American Journal of Public Health, 2012, 102(1), 63–71

[3] Rowell A, Evans-Reeves KA. Tobacco industry rallies against illicit trade — but have we forgotten its complicity? The Conversation, 16 March 2015. Available from: https://theconversation.com/tobacco-industry-rallies-against-illicit-trade-but-have-we-forgotten-its-complicity-38760 [Accessed 27 April 2017]

[4] Gilmore AB, Rowell A, Gallus S et al. Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report. Tobacco Control, 2014; 23(e1): e51–61. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/e1/e51 [Accessed 27 April 2017]

[5] Rowell A, Evans-Reeves KA, Gilmore AB. Tobacco industry manipulation of data on and press coverage of the illicit tobacco trade in the UK Tobacco Control, 2014,23(e1):e35-e43. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2014/03/10/tobaccocontrol-2013-051397.full [Accessed 27 April 2017]
Evans-Reeves KA, Hatchard J, Gilmore AB, ‘It will harm business and increase illicit trade’: an evaluation of the relevance, quality and transparency of evidence submitted by transnational tobacco companies to the UK consultation on standardised packaging 2012. Tobacco Control, 2015,24(e2):e168-e177. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/24/e2/e168 [Accessed 27 April 2017]

[6] Philip Morris International Inc., Philip Morris Products Inc., Philip Morris Duty Free Inc., et al. Anti-contraband and Anti-counterfeit Agreement and General Release. European Commission. 9 July 2004
 Gilmore AB, Rowell A, Gallus S et al. Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report. Tobacco Control, 2014; 23(e1): e51–61. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/e1/e51 [Accessed 27 April 2017]

[7] Scollo M, Zacher M, Durkin S, et al. Early evidence about the predicted unintended consequences of standardised packaging of tobacco products in Australia: a cross-sectional study of the place of purchase, regular brands and use of illicit tobacco. BMJ Open;4:e005873. Available from: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/8/e005873 [Accessed 27 April 2017]

[8] Trajectory. Turning point: Insights into illicit tobacco in the UK.SICPA. July 2016.

[9] Select Committee on Public Accounts, Minutes of evidence questions 540–559, examination of Mr Gareth Davis, Mr Bruce Davidson and Mr John Dibble, 19 June 2002. Available from: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmpubacc/143/2061915.htm [Accessed 27 April 2017]

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