Healthcare Blog

Imperial Tobacco Caught Misleading Shareholders, UK

July 12, 2017

Tobacco companies have a long history of misleading politicians and the public but a new report from Action on Smoking and Health reveals that companies trying to block new health regulations are also misleading shareholders. [1]

The report called "Tobacconomics" shows how shareholders at the Imperial Tobacco Annual General Meeting were repeatedly told that Ireland's tobacco tax revenue had fallen by half a billion pounds - almost half - after Ireland banned tobacco displays in 2009 when official Irish Government statistics show that revenue actually increased by almost 50 million euros (£44.5m) [2] The report demonstrates that this is not an isolated error but part of a consistent pattern intended to block global health policy.

Other examples in the report include claims that England's smokefree law in 2007 had harmed England's licensed trade yet official statistics show that the number of licensed premises increased by around 5% [3] in the year following implementation of the legislation. This "dodgy data" is then fed into the industry's lobby machine.

In another example, BAT commissioned a report which claimed that tobacco display bans were linked to a 2% increase in youth smoking in Canada. This was picked up by a lobbyist who said he was not funded by a tobacco company. The claim was then recycled by a retailers' group receiving lobby support from BAT and ultimately was used by MP Philip Davies in parliament and in political blogs. However, in the period when Canadian display bans were introduced, official statistics show not a single year when the proportion of teenage smokers increased.[4]

The Tobacconomics report quotes a tobacco industry executive saying:

"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 Action on Smoking and Health said:

"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 said:

"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.'"


[1] Tobacconomics. How Big Tobacco uses dodgy data to 'throw sand in the gears' of global health policy. London, ASH, 2011. See here.
[2] p10
[3] p7-8
[4] p13-14