Tobacco companies using 'misleading' data to distort impact of health regulations

In collaboration with Adfero

Tobacco companies are misleading shareholders in an effort to distort the impact of public health regulations on revenues and block global health policy, a new report by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has found.

The charity's 'Tobacconomics' report reveals a number of instances of tobacco companies using dodgy data to support their arguments against new health regulations.

According to the report, shareholders at the Imperial Tobacco annual general meeting were told that Ireland's tobacco tax revenue fell by half a billion pounds after the nation's ban on tobacco displays came into effect in 2009.

In reality, official Irish government statistics show that revenue increased by almost €50 million (£44.5 million).

Meanwhile, claims that England's licensed trade was harmed by the introduction of smoke-free legislation in 2007 are not borne out by the figures.

Official statistics show that the number of licensed premises actually increased by around five per cent in the year following the implementation of the ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

A third example in ASH's latest report concerns British American Tobacco (BAT), which commissioned a report that supposedly found a link between tobacco display bans and a two per cent increase in youth smoking in Canada.

However, the proportion of teenage smokers in Canada has never increased in the years during which display bans were in effect.

Despite the lack of evidence to support the claims made by the BAT report, it has been cited by lobbyists, a retailer's group receiving support from BAT, and English MP Philip Davies, who has campaigned against tobacco display bans.

ASH says that its report highlights the consistent pattern of "shady dealings" employed by tobacco companies to hinder global health policies and protect their profits.

It quotes a tobacco industry executive, who said: "The economic arguments often used by the industry to scare off smoking ban activity were no longer working, if indeed they ever did. These arguments simply had no credibility with the public, which isn't surprising when you consider that our dire predictions in the past rarely came true."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, commented: "We are used to tobacco manufacturers misleading politicians and the public. This is the industry that denied, despite the evidence of their own research, that smoking caused cancer, or that nicotine was addictive.

"They are experts in using dodgy data to block health policies; they have almost elevated it to a science. We call it 'tobacconomics'."

Professor Anna Gilmore, a tobacco researcher at the University of Bath, added: "Industry funded analysts produce unbalanced and misleading reports which get recycled by lobbyists and front groups and in due course crop up in the speeches of industry-friendly politicians.

"Thus essentially bogus claims become accepted as 'fact'."

Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK's tobacco control manager, said: "This report illustrates why the government must protect health policy from vested interests by denying the tobacco industry any role in developing health policies.

"With its own credibility in tatters the industry funds other groups to lobby for its interests, so we welcome the government's announcement that that anyone who lobbies them on tobacco policy has to be transparent about their links to tobacco companies."