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« Pride of Britain hotelier supports smoking ban review | Main | Independent? You're having a laugh! »

Hold the front page!

Day three of the Independent's investigation ('Big Tobacco Exposed') is a bit of a damp squib.

Yesterday we were promised some earth shattering revelations – "How the industry used front organisations to gain access to research".

What we got (Smoke and mirrors: how the tobacco industry hides behind lobbyists) was the 'news' that three companies – legal firm Clifford Chance and PR companies Bell Pottinger and Hume Brophy – had submitted Freedom of Information requests without revealing that their clients were, respectively, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN).

Does this make Bell Pottinger, Hume Brophy and Clifford Chance front organisations for Big Tobacco? Er, no.

Is the NFRN, which receives a small amount of income from the tobacco industry (representing less than five per cent of its total income), a front organisation? No.

Was anyone misled into thinking that Bell Pottinger, Hume Brophy and Clifford Chance wanted the information exclusively for themselves? Only if you are entirely ignorant of the way that PR companies and law firms operate.

The only other revelation in today's Independent (circulation 176,681 and falling) was the information that "right-of-centre libertarian group" Big Brother Watch had also made an FoI request on a tobacco-related issue and that Alex Deane, a director of Bell Pottinger, is a former director of Big Brother Watch.

Does this make Big Brother Watch a front organisation for Big Tobacco? Hardly.

What it demonstrates is that BBW, like a growing number of think tanks and pressure groups, is so concerned by the creeping erosion of civil liberties (represented very clearly by the tobacco control movement) that it wants to do something about it.

If that makes BBW a front organisation for Big Tobacco then an awful lot of groups (and people) are going to be tarred with the same brush.

Some, however, are only too happy to promote the fiction that we're all pawns of a multi-million pound tobacco industry:

Martin Dockrell of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health said that the tobacco industry's use of "front" organisations was nothing new.

"Big Tobacco's dirty little secret is how they get others to do their dirty work," Mr Dockrell said. "Some front groups are pretty much wholly owned subsidiaries; some appear to be independent but tobacco companies pay the bills and pull the strings."

PS. I should add that it was announced yesterday that Dan Hamilton is leaving Big Brother Watch at the end of next week to join – Bell Pottinger!

Conspiracy theorists will have a field day. I'm surprised that ASH, and the Independent, didn't mention it. Perhaps that was a step too far, even for tobacco control and their fellow travellers.

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  • Response
    Well, well, well. It looks like the Big Pharma front groups are trying to cover their arses by using their pet journalist at a second rate paper to sprinkle false accusations

Reader Comments (1)

The fact is that 'morality' and opinion don't matter any more in this case. The information Commissioner has said divvy up and that's it.

Poor souls. The real world must have come as a bit of a shock to them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 19:13 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

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