The Observer newspaper in the UK has this weekend published a story centered on tobacco giant Philip Morris and it's relationship with Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby regarding plans to introduce plain standardised packaging in the UK.
The story which published on Saturday 27 July, read:
Documents circulated within Philip Morris International (PMI) last February and March, marked "for internal discussion and illustration purposes only", show how the owner of the Marlboro brand drew up an astonishingly detailed attack plan to "ensure that PP [plain packaging] is not adopted in the UK".
This goal explicitly contradicts big tobacco's public position, presented to the government, that there was a need to assess how the measure had been received in Australia, where unbranded packs were introduced last year, before a decision was made on whether it should be copied in the UK.
The tobacco lobby fears that if the UK were to introduce plain packaging, other countries would not be far behind, and it has spent millions of pounds seeking to derail the proposal. PMI's role in lobbying government is now under acute scrutiny after it emerged that last November that it hired the Conservative party's election strategist, Lynton Crosby, who has extensive tobacco industry connections, to help it make its case against plain packaging. Crosby has denied having any conversations with the prime minister about plain packaging.
The PMI documents reveal that, in a bid to swamp the Department of Health's consultation exercise on plain packs with supporting arguments, the company boasted that it had the "potential" to help generate more than 18,000 responses, including 6,000 from its recruited group of smokers, 950 from industry, 10,050 from its "retail group", 40 from thinktanks and 1,000 from a trade union, believed to be Unite.
The internal documents reveal how, over the past year, PMI sketched out a timeline for rolling out its key messages. These included the claim that plain packs would make the illicit trade in tobacco worse and the need for the UK government to "wait and see what happens in Australia [for two or three years] before walking into the unknown with no evidence it will reduce smoking".
The latter message was echoed by the government when it announced that it was abandoning the plan to introduce plain packs. The Department of Health's statement said: "The government has decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured before we make a final decision."
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