Forest

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Since 1979, the tobacco industry has created or planned smokers’ rights groups in at least 26 countries worldwide. Organised and predominantly funded by tobacco companies, these front groups typically aim to maintain ‘controversy’ about second-hand smoke, negate the work of public health lobbyists and shift the focus of debate away from the industry and onto smokers.[1] [2]

Forest is a British based smokers’ rights group. Founded in 1979, the name is an acronym for 'The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco'. Forest has a website and its director, Simon Clark is an active blogger for the cause at Simon Clark - Taking Liberties. Other online Forest initiatives such as The Free Society and the Hands off Our Packs Campaign are discussed below.

  • This page is about the present-day Forest; for more on its historical reliance on tobacco funding, the influence of the industry and Forest's aim to develop into “an aggressive and intemperate adversary” - see the TobaccoTactics page on the History of Forest, and the page on its director Simon Clark.


Forest and its Funding

Historically, Forest has received almost all its funding from four major tobacco companies (Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, now owned by Japan Tobacco International).[3][4][5]

In January 2000, Forest's director Simon Clark told the House of Commons Select Committee on Health that 96 per cent of its total £250,000 budget came from the tobacco industry,[6] although no more recent breakdown is given by Forest.

Forest's website now carries a disclaimer that "Forest is supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies). The views expressed on this or any other Forest-affiliated website are those of Forest alone."[7]

As UK Debates Plain Packaging, Forest’s Income Doubles

In 2010, Forest’s accounts show that the organisation received £175,000 in funding. [8] In November that year, the UK Government announced it would consider introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products. The following year, 2011, the Tobacco Control Plan for England included a commitment to a public consultation on plain packaging.[9] That year, 2011, as the government announced its commitment to plain packaging, Forest’s income rose to £237,000.

The UK Government's consultation on plain packaging lasted from April 2012 until August 2012. Forest’s accounts reveal that for the year of the plain packaging consultation its income increased to £346,000, nearly double the amount it had received just two years previously.[10] That year, 2012, Forest admitted to the Financial Times that it received some £330,000 in corporate tobacco funding, which equates to roughly 95 per cent of its income. [11] In 2013, BAT acknowledged it had granted funding support for the Hands Off Our Packs (HOOP) campaign.[12]

Aims

The group describes itself as a media and political lobbying group working to protect the interests of those who smoke and consume tobacco.[13] The group's website banner reads, "Voice and friend of the smoker". Its current aims closely map the historical objectives of major tobacco companies’ public affairs strategies. According to the Forest website, key priorities include:

  • counteracting the “denormalisation” of tobacco
  • preventing further restrictions on the sale and consumption of tobacco
  • lobbying politicians to amend public smoking bans
  • building support among smokers
  • highlighting the increasingly intrusive nature of Big Government in the lives of private individuals.[14]

Forest Positions Echo Those of the Tobacco Industry

Against Tax Rises

Reiterating positions taken by tobacco manufacturers and their trade association, the TMA, Forest is against duty rises on cigarettes.

  • In March 2012 Forest attacked the Chancellor's decision to increase tobacco duty by five per cent above inflation as "a smugglers' charter", and an "attack on all law-abiding smokers who support Britain's retailers by purchasing their cigarettes at home".[15]
  • Forest had used the same line in March 2011, arguing that the increase in tobacco duty "penalises law-abiding consumers".[16]

Against Plain Packaging

  • In January 2012, Forest announced a new campaign and website Hands Off Our Packs, to "give opponents of plain packaging of tobacco a chance to have their say".[17] The website included an anti-plain packaging petition. At the close of the first UK public consultation on plain packaging, Forest announced that 235,000 people had signed in opposition. However, questions have been raised regarding the legitimacy of the signatures (see The figures just don't add up).
  • In February 2013, at a crucial time in the plain packaging debate, with the Department of Health's report on the consultation expected to be released in the spring 2013, Forest created a new campaign, Say No to Plain Packs. Simon Clark stated in his Taking Liberties blog on the 5th February 2013 that Forest "needs YOUR help to tell YOUR member of parliament that they should oppose plain packaging." On the HOOPS webpage a news release stated:
"Hands Off Our Packs, the campaign set up and run by the smokers group Forest, has launched a new website that it hopes will encourage thousands of people to tell their local MP about their opposition to plain packaging of tobacco...At a click of a button a template letter will be sent to their MP."[18]
Clark stated:
"It has now been six months since the consultation closed and we have still to hear anything from the Department of Health. It is time that we helped put MPs in the picture."
Image 1. Hoops interactive banner on the Liberal Democrat Voice website, 10 June 2014
  • In May 2014, after the release of the Chantler Report revealed it is "highly likely" that standardised [plain] packaging would help decrease the incidence of smoking in children, Forest launched a follow up campaign called No, Prime Minister. This campaign invited its followers to send a pre-written email to the Prime Minister to "make your feelings [against plain packaging] known." [19]
  • On 10th June, 2014, in anticipation of the UK’s next phase of Consultation on plain packaging, Forest launched a 72-hour online advertising campaign across the political advertising network MessageSpace (see Image 1). The campaign was explicitly aimed at creating more opposition to plain packaging during this next phase of deliberation. The campaign secured "total exposure on websites and blogs including Guido Fawkes, ConservativeHome, Labour List, Liberal Democrat Voice, Left Foot Forward, UK Polling Report, Political Betting and Newsbiscuit."[20] It is not known how much Forest paid for such widespread advertising of its campaign, however it is known that Forest is directly supported by major tobacco companies (see above), who have actively opposed plain packaging legislation.
Image 2. Forest Campaign Advertisements in The House(left) and Total Politics (right) July 2014



Forest has been lobbying and campaigning against plain packaging throughout the consultation period. Shortly after the draft regulations were published by the UK Government, director Simon Clark protested the measures, attesting plain packaging to be “another step towards the infantilisation of Britain.” [21] Clark went on to say:
"The impact of plain packaging on retailers and consumers could be extremely damaging. Evidence suggests that standardised packaging could lead to the UK being flooded with fake cigarettes."
Throughout the end of June and start of July, Forest also promoted their No, Prime Minister campaign online via banners displayed on Politics Home and placed full page advertisements campaigning against plain packaging in The House magazine (circulated among Members of Parliament and civil servants) and Total Politics (available to the public). See Image 2 for copies of these advertisements.
  • For more information on Forest's 'Say No to Plain Packs' campaign targetting MPs and the 'No, Prime Minister' campaign see Hands Off Our Packs.


Promoting Misleading Data on Plain Packaging in Australia

To mark the second anniversary of the introduction of plain packaging in Australia on 1 December 2014, Philip Morris and BAT widely disseminated what was described as an “independent analysis of the plain packaging legislation”.[22] The report, entitled The plain truth about plain packaging: An econometric analysis of the Australian 2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, was sent to media outlets by Philip Morris as independent proof that “there is no evidence that plain packaging for cigarettes is working.” [23]

Despite being repeatedly promoted by the industry as independent research, one of the report’s authors, Professor Sinclair Davidson, who has been outspoken against plain packaging,[24] is a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs,[25] described as “a right-wing think thank that has received considerable funding from Big Tobacco over the past 10 years.” [23]

Image 3. HOOPs Ad banner on Conservative Home website, December 2014

Simultaneously, BAT disseminated data by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), insisting that it showed the rate of smoking in 12-17 year-olds had increased by 32% from 2.5% in 2010 to 3.4% in 2013.[23] Although The Sydney Morning Herald quoted AIHW’s head of tobacco and other drugs unit reiterating that it was made clear in the report that the sample size was too small and therefore the results were “not statistically significant”, the industry and its associates have continued to promote it as evidence in Australia and the UK.[26]

In the UK, Forest launched an online ad campaign promoting the aforementioned findings (see Image 3) that featured on a variety of political websites including ConservativeHome, Labout List, Liberal Democrat Voice, Liberal Vision, Left Foot Forward, PublicNet and UK Polling Report. Labour List withdrew the advert before it was released. [27]

On his blog, Clark wrote:

“New evidence, says Forest, suggests plain packaging will not reduce the number of teenagers who smoke.
Instead of declining since the introduction of plain packaging, youth smoking rates have gone up. According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, youth smoking rates have increased by 36% in the period 2010-2013.”[28]

Clark has promoted this 36% increase from 2.5% in 2010 to 3.4% in 2013 despite the fact that the survey producers described the increase as statistically insignificant due to sample size limitations (see above). Therefore the presentation of an increase in youth smoking is factually incorrect and disingenuous.

Forest also quoted an October 2014 report created by KPMG to suggest illicit tobacco in Australia is going up. This report was commissioned by BAT, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco and employed methodology that has been criticised as fundamentally flawed. [29]

Despite the lack of credibility and rigour of this evidence, Forest promoted this information as ‘evidence’ that plain packaging isn’t working and used it in the anti-plain packaging campaigns it ran around the second anniversary.

Against the Smoking Ban

In 2009 Forest launched the Save Our Pubs & Clubs: Amend The Smoking Ban campaign. In August 2011, TV chef and publican and Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson launched an e-petition calling upon the government to review the smoking ban.[30] Simon Clark has conceded that he asked the chef to submit one. "On Thursday August 4 the Government launched its new e-petition website. As most readers know, I'm not a fan of petitions in general," he wrote. "Nevertheless I spoke to Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson and he agreed to submit a petition entitled 'Save Our Pubs and Clubs – Amend The Smoking Ban'."[31]

Yet if you click on the British Government's e-petition website you only see Worrall Thompson's name, without any mention of Forest or his role as its patron. To the unsuspecting British public this appears to be just a celebrity chef putting in a petition, not a pro-smoking organisation. [32]

In March 2011, Forest also called for amendments to the Scottish smoking ban ahead of the fifth anniversary of the smoking ban there. [33]

Against the Display Ban

On 9 March 2011, Forest attacked the British Government’s decision to ban the display of tobacco products in shops, arguing it would "damage the retail trade, encourage organised crime and discriminate against law-abiding consumers". Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “If the Government’s tobacco control plan goes ahead Britain will become a smugglers’ paradise." [34]

By arguing Britain would become a "smugglers' paradise," Clark was using similar language to his argument against tax rises, which he had described as a "smugglers' charter".

Against the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision

On 29 July 2013, Forest launched a new campaign, No Thank EU, to fight against the proposed EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision. The new TPD proposed:

  • an increase in the size of health warnings on tobacco products to 75% of the front and back of the pack;
  • the prohibition of ‘characterising flavours’ including menthol;
  • a ban on slim cigarettes;
  • the maintenance of the sales ban on snus in countries other than Sweden;
  • licences for e-cigarettes containing nicotine above a certain nicotine threshold.

The Forest campaign promoted five reasons to oppose the proposals which echo well-rehearsed industry arguments against tobacco regulation. (see images below)[35]

Affiliations with Other Pro-Smoking Groups

Forest also runs The Free Society, which advocates "on behalf of those who want less not more government interference in their daily lives".[36] It is part of a wider libertarian network that includes the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs. The Free Society co-hosts events with other liberal-minded groups including the Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute, Democracy Institute, Manifesto Club, Liberal Vision and Privacy International.

In June 2011 for instance, Privacy International published a report on smoking and privacy, produced and paid for "at the request" of pro-smoking group Forest.[37] Musician and Forest supporter Joe Jackson wrote the foreword for this report. Read more about this at the Privacy International page.

Supporters

Forest says on its website that it "is proud to have been supported by the late, great Auberon Waugh and fellow journalist Jeffrey Bernard who wrote the foreword to The Forest Guide to Smoking in London (1997). It also lists the following high profile supporters:

  • Chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson
  • Artist David Hockney
  • Musician Joe Jackson
  • Inventor Trevor Baylis
  • Screenwriter Ronald Harwood
  • Businessman Ranald Macdonald.[38]


TobaccoTactics Resources

Notes

  1. Smith, E.A. and R.E. Malone, ‘We will speak as the smoker’: the tobacco industry's smokers' rights groups, The European Journal of Public Health, 2007. 17(3): p. 306-313, accessed March 2012
  2. Kennedy, G.E. and L.A. Bero, Print media coverage of research on passive smoking, Tobacco Control, 1999. 8(3): p. 254-260, accessed March 2012
  3. Evans, G. 1982. Letter from Geoffrey to Michael Scott regarding new arrangements between Forest and tobacco companies. Bates numbers: 303695982-303695984
  4. Ely, R. 1989. Forest, Bates numbers: 301151283-301151284
  5. Anon, undated, Draft Forest Budget, Bates numbers: 301151360-301151362
  6. House of Commons, Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence, 20 January 2000, accessed 20 April 2011
  7. Forest, Disclaimer, website homepage, accessed October 2016
  8. Abbreviated Unaudited Accounts for the Year Ended 31 December 2011 for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco Limited
  9. Department of Health, Healthy lives, healthy people: a tobacco control plan for England, 9 March 2011
  10. Abbreviated Unaudited Accounts for the Year Ended 31 December 2012 for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco Limited
  11. Christopher Thompson, "Big Tobacco Hits out at 'Big Mother'", Financial Times, 7 April 2012, p4
  12. Simon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
  13. Forest, Smoking in Public Places: Forest Submission to GLA, 2001, 14 April 2011, accessed March 2012
  14. Forest, Key priorities, 3 April, 2011, accessed March 2012
  15. Forest, Forest slams increase in tobacco duty, accessed 21 March 2012
  16. Forest, Increase in tobacco duty "penalises law-abiding consumers", 24 March 2011, accessed March 2012
  17. Forest, Forest to petition government against plain packaging, 30 January 2012, accessed 31 January 2012
  18. Forest, Email your MP about plain packaging, HOOPS webpage, 11 February 2013, accessed February 2013
  19. Forest, Plain packaging? No, Prime Minister, accessed June 2014
  20. Forest, Forest Launches Online Ad Campaign Against Plain Packaging, accessed June 2014
  21. Forest, The Government has finally published draft regulations on plain packaging of tobacco and announced a final consultation with a closing date of August 7, 2014, June 2014, accessed July 2014
  22. Philip Morris International, Plain packaging: The “Scream Test” theory debunked, Just The Facts website, 1 December 2014, accessed December 2014
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 M. Hawthorne, V. Desloires, Big Tobacco distributes report bullying plain packaging laws, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 November 2014, accessed December 2014
  24. S. Davidson, How’s that plain packaging policy working? II,Catallaxy Files website, 6 June 2014, accessed December 2014
  25. Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), People and Associates: Sinclair Davidson,IPA website, accessed December 2014
  26. C. Snowdon, Plain packaging- What happened next?,IEA Website, 1 December 2014, accessed January 2015
  27. S. Clark, Plain packaging doesn’t work! New evidence goes online, Taking Liberties blog, 4 December 2014, accessed December 2014
  28. Simon Clark, Memo to the Prime Minister from Down Under, Taking Liberties blog, 1 December 2014, accessed December 2014
  29. A. Gilmore, A. Rowell, S. Gallus, A. Lugo, L. Joossens, M. Sims Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: A review of the PMI funded Project Star report, Tobacco Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051240
  30. Forest, TV chef launches e-petition to amend smoking ban, 25 August 2011, accessed March 2012
  31. Simon Clark, The Leader of the House of Commons and the smoking ban e-petition, 15 August 2011, accessed March 2012
  32. HM Government e-petitions, Petitions
  33. Forest, Time to rethink Scotland's smoking ban, says Forest, 24 March 2011, accessed March 2012
  34. Forest, Forest attacks Government's tobacco control plan, 9 March 2011, accessed March 2012
  35. No Thank EU, 5 Reasons to say NO, accessed October 2013
  36. The Free Society, The battle against Big Government – join the debate!, 19 May 2010, accessed 11 June 2011
  37. Simon Davies, Civil liberties: up in smoke, Privacy International, June 2011, accessed 11 June 2011
  38. Our supporters, Forest website, undated, accessed 12 May 2012