Imperial Tobacco

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Background

Imperial Tobacco is a transnational tobacco company that is headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom (UK). It is the fourth largest tobacco company in the world, after Philip Morris (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT), and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and excluding the Chinese National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC).[1]

Its parent company, Imperial Tobacco Group was rebranded to Imperial Brands in February 2016, and consists of five companies: Imperial Tobacco, ITG Brands, Tabacalera, Fontem Ventures, and Logista.[2]

The company has no relationship to Imperial Tobacco Canada, which is a subsidiary to BAT.

In 2016 Imperial Tobacco operated in 160 countries, selling cigarettes, Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigarette paper, and cigars.[3] Its main brands are Davidoff, Gauloises Blondes, JPS, West, Fine, News, Winston, Bastos, Lambert & Butler and Parker & Simpson.

The company’s key markets are the Unites States (US), Germany, Australia, Spain and the UK.[4] Imperial used to be the UK’s cigarette market leader, but lost that position in 2015 to JTI.[5]

Employees: Past and Present

In May 2010 Alison Cooper became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Imperial Brands.

A full list of the company’s leadership team can be accessed at Imperial’s website.

Other persons that currently work for, or have previously been employed with, the company:

Roberto Ascoli | Arthur van Benthem | Ken Burnett | Helen Clatworthy | Fernando Domínguez | Robert Dyrbus | Gareth Davis | Louise Day | Kevin Freudenthal | Roberto Funari | David Haines | Michael Herlihy | Nikos Mertzanidis | Peter Middleton | Almos Molnar | Susan Murray | Iain Napier | Matthew Phillips | Walter Prinz | Michiel Reerink | Richard Ross | Berge Setrakian | Alessandro Tschirkov | Mark Williamson | Titus Wouda Kuipers | Colin Wragg | Malcolm Wyman | Waldemar Zegar

Affiliations

Memberships

In 2017, Imperial Tobacco was a member or supporter of the following organisations:

Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA)[6][7] | Associate Parliamentary Corporate Responsibility Group | Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers | Euraffex/ European Affairs Expertise[8] | European Cigar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) | European Rolling Papers Association (ERPA)[8] | European Smoking Tobacco Association | European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) | Industry and Parliament Trust (see Rosemary Brook)[9] | Kangaroo Group | MARQUES | Public Affairs Council[8] | Tobacco Industry Platform | Tobacco Manufacturers' Association | Wirtschaftsrat[8]

The company used to be a member of:

British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium (in 2013/14) | BusinessEurope (in 2013/14) | European Smokeless Tobacco Council (appears defunct in March 2017) | Institute of Business Ethics (in 2011)[10]

Consultancies

Imperial Brands has worked with the following public relations companies:

Think Tanks

In May 2012, the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) at the University of Bath asked Imperial Tobacco to disclose which think tanks the company was funding, and had funded over the last few years. The company replied that it did "not wish to participate in your research".[19]

In response to a specific query made in 2014 in regards to Imperial Tobacco’s engagement with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a UK-based right-wing think tank, Imperial's Head of Regulatory Science, Steve Stotesbury, replied: “We [Imperial Tobacco] have been supporters of the IEA for many years, stretching back well over a decade”.[20]

Imperial Tobacco also held historical links with the Democracy Institute, a think tank based in the UK and US. In 2006 the company funded a book published by the Democracy Institute, which argued there was no evidence that graphic health warnings on tobacco, food, and alcohol packaging would work.[21]

Controversial Marketing Strategies

Targeting Women and Girls

In 2011, the tobacco industry introduced cigarette packs to the market that were specifically designed to attract female consumers.

Imperial Tobacco launched its Richmond SuperSlims, promoted as “the first superslim brand in the value-price cigarette sector”.[22] At the time, The Grocer retail magazine reported that the pack was embossed with a "stylish pink design", and that it was "clearly designed to appeal to female smokers".[22]

It is worth noting that plain packaging legislation introduced in Australia in late 2012, and in the UK in May 2016, does not address the size of the cigarette stick and its use as a marketing vehicle to target specific consumer demographics. The legislation bans slim cigarette packs, but not slim individual cigarette sticks.[23][24]

  • For more information on tobacco companies' efforts to market its product to female consumers, go to Targeting Women and Girls.
Image 1. Screen grab of Peter Stuyvesant packaging Australia September 2012. Screengrab from the Telegraph, http://www.webcitation.org/6Afiop1PT (archived webpage)

Pre-empting Plain Packaging Legislation in Australia

In September 2012, a few months before plain packaging legislation was introduced in Australia, Imperial Tobacco Australia changed the packaging of its Peter Stuyvesant cigarette pack to show a ripped pack exposing plain packaging underneath (see image 1).[25][26] The accompanying slogan said “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”.

The Australian Health Minister criticised Imperial’s marketing campaign, saying that “diseased lungs, hearts, and arteries are the reality of what is happening on the inside to a smoker”.[25]

Complicity in Tobacco Smuggling

Imperial Tobacco has claimed that tobacco control legislation, in particular plain packaging, might lead to unprecedented levels of illicit tobacco trade. The company has made these claims in its Submission to the 2012 UK Consultation on standardised packaging and its Submission to the 2014 UK Consultation on standardised packaging. In 2016, ahead of the introduction of plain packaging in the UK, Imperial Brands launched a ‘Suspect it? Report it!’ anti-illicit trade campaign.

In January 2017, Imperial Tobacco collaborated with the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) to “educate independent retailers and UK smokers about the growing trade in illegal tobacco”.[27] The collaboration saw 50,000 packs branded with Imperial’s ‘Suspect it? Report it!’ campaign distributed to retailers, containing infographics, posters and stickers.

In contrast to Imperial's campaign, which portrays the tobacco company as the victim of illicit trade, there is strong historical evidence of Imperial Tobacco’s complicity in facilitating the smuggling of their own cigarettes. For example, genuine Imperial Tobacco brands accounted for more than half of the 17 billion cigarettes smuggled into the UK in 2002.[28] The company claimed ignorance when it was questioned about over-supplying countries notorious for smuggling at the Commons Public Accounts Committee, to which Imperial Tobacco’s chief executive was told: “One comes to the conclusion that you are either crooks or you are stupid, and you do not look very stupid.”[29]

Internal documents from Gallaher (now part of JTI), released through litigation, refer to Imperial Tobacco's “highly aggressive" smuggling activities in the 1990s, blaming Imperial’s smuggling for Gallaher's weakening position in the UK market.[30]

Tactics to Subvert Tobacco Control Campaigns and Policies

Imperial Tobacco has strongly opposed tobacco control legislation and regulations, including plain packaging in Australia and the UK, and the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) in the European Union (EU). The company has used a variety of strategies and tactics to influence tobacco control policies, and subvert existing regulations.

Discrediting Science and Scientists

The tobacco industry has long tried to undermine science and legitimate anti-tobacco messages from scientists to get around, weaken, or discredit tobacco control legislation. According to one tobacco executive, "doubt" was the best means "to compete with a body of fact and establish controversy”.[31]

In 2011, Imperial Tobacco strongly criticised a study commissioned by the UK Department of Health,[32] which concluded that England’s smoke-free 2007 legislation had positive benefits for public health. The study also concluded that the legislation had no obvious negative impacts on the hospitality industry, contrary to claims made by the tobacco industry.[33]

Imperial Tobacco criticised the three-year review as being "lazy and deliberately selective", and furthermore accused the study’s author, Professor Linda Bauld, of having a conflict of interest due to her links to the charity Action for Smoking and Health (ASH).[34]

  • For further information on Imperial Tobacco’s attempts to discredit Professor Bauld, and the subsequent hate campaign by others that followed, visit our page on Professor Linda Bauld.

Using Freedom of Information Requests to Counter Health Campaigns

In February and March 2011, acting on behalf of Imperial Tobacco, Bell Pottinger, persistently requested access to research data that supported an anti-RYO tobacco health campaign run by a regional charity.[35][36]

  • For more information on Imperial's vexacious Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, go to the FOI: SmokeFree South West page.

Fabricating Support through Front Groups

Imperial Tobacco has used front groups to oppose tobacco control legislation. Front Groups are organisations that purport to serve a public cause while actually serving the interests of a third party, and obscuring or concealing the connection between them.[31]

For example, Imperial Tobacco Australia (in collaboration with PMI and BAT) financed the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) to oppose the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.[37] The AAR claimed to represent the owners of local corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations, but did not reveal that it was financed by tobacco companies and run by tobacco company executives and a public relations company.[38] The purpose of the AAR was to argue that plain packaging would cause economic damage to small Australian retailers.

Image 2. Imperial Tobacco cover of The House magazine in plain packaging, June 2012

Corporate Political Advertising

In June 2012, Imperial Tobacco attempted to influence UK Members of Parliaments’ (MPs) views on the plain packaging debate by running an anti-plain packaging advertising campaign in The House magazine, a magazine designed for MPs (see image 2).[39] The company did not reveal itself as the funder anywhere on the front page advertisement.

Hospitality for UK Members of Parliament

In 2014, Imperial Tobacco gifted Wimbledon tennis tickets to MPs Aidan Burley, Mark Field, and Mark Pritchard.[40]

Imperial Tobacco also provided hospitality to MPs in the 1990s, including:[41]

  • Jacqui Lait MP and her husband attended the 1999 Scotland v England rugby match courtesy of Imperial Tobacco
  • MPs attended a 1998 and 1999 Lords v Commons Clay Pigeon Shoot at Highclere Castle sponsored by Imperial Tobacco
  • Conservative MPs Ian Taylor and John Townsend attended the 1997 rugby international England v New Zealand at Twickenham, courtesy of Imperial.
  • In 1995, Imperial gifted a lunch and two tickets for the Men’s Singles final at Wimbledon to Liam Fox, at the time the MP for North Somerset

Our page on Tobacco Industry Hospitality for UK Members of Parliament provides more detail on gifts and hospitality provided to MPs by Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies.

Direct Lobbying of Decision Makers: Access to Confidential Information

Political lobbying is legal in most countries, and an acknowledged part of the democratic process. In the financial year 2014-2015, Imperial Tobacco reported to have spent €400,000 - €499,000 lobbying EU institutions, employing five fulltime equivalent staff in its Brussels office.[8]

Lobbying disclosure records by Conservative Members of European Parliament (MEPs) show, that in 2011 and 2013 Imperial Tobacco met with UK MEPs Giles Chichester, Ashley Fox, Emma McClarkin, and Anthea McIntyre to discuss the revision of the TPD.[42][43][44]

Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies were given several opportunities to share their views on the TPD review with the European Commission’s Health directorate, DG SANCO, and Health Commissioner John Dalli.[45][46] But Imperial Tobacco also lobbied other directorates on the TPD. In 2011, Bell Pottinger tried to broker access to officials in DG Trade and the Secretariat General on its behalf (for more details see Bell Pottinger and Tobias Ghersetti pages). In July and September 2012, Imperial Tobacco attended meetings with DG ENTR (Enterprise and Industry) as part of a delegation with CECCM,[47][48] and in October 2012 the company directly met with DG Trade.[49]

With the exception of DG SANCO, EU officials were not systematically transparent about their contact with Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies.[50] Some meetings only became public knowledge due to FOI requests. For more information on the lack of transparency around the TPD review process, go to our page on EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision.

Documents released by the UK Department of Health reveal that Imperial Tobacco had access to confidential information from the European Council concerning the TPD.[51] Despite the Department of Health asking the company to explain how it came into possession of this confidential information, Imperial refused to disclose its source.

Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

Image 3. Love Where You Live website, April 2012

To help rehabilitate its image as a responsible business that "acts with integrity and lives its values"[52], Imperial Tobacco ran a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These initiatives not only attempt to rehabilitate the company's image, but also make it easier for the company to gain access to decision makers.

To make it easier for smokers to smoke whilst travelling, yet be seen to comply with smoke-free legislation, Imperial Tobacco launched its Smoking Allowed campaign in 2011, aimed at providing smoking shelters across UK airports.[53] Apart from supporting smokers, Simon Clark, the director of Forest, suggested that the campaign also “challenges the Orwellian ‘denormalisation’ of smoking”.[54]

In 2013, Imperial Tobacco co-founded the Love Where You Live campaign in the UK, aimed at encouraging individuals, companies and local groups to clean up after themselves (image 3).[55] The campaign gave Imperial Tobacco the opportunity to partner with government, who supported the project. More information on this CSR initiative can be found on the page CSR: Imperial and Love Where You Live.

Intimidating Governments with Litigation or Threat of Litigation

Imperial Tobacco has legally challenged tobacco control regulations in the UK, EU and Australia, including:

  • The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) ACT 2010. The company argued that the ban on tobacco display and cigarette vending machines falls outside the legislative scope of the Scottish Parliament.[56] This challenge was dismissed by the Supreme Court in December 2012, but delayed the introduction of the display ban by 2 years.
  • The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (Australia). Imperial Tobacco unsuccessfully challenged the legality of standardised packaging legislation in Australia. For more information, go to Australia: Challenging Legislation.
  • The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 (UK). Imperial first threatened with litigation against the UK Government in 2012, if the Government were to implement plain packaging legislation.[57] Following the passage of the legislation in March 2015, Imperial Tobacco and others launched a legal action, which it lost in May 2016 (the day before the legislation was due to come into force).[58][59]
  • The 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Imperial Tobacco formally supported a legal challenge brought by PMI and BAT to invalidate the TPD as a whole, or various provisions within it. This legal challenge was dismissed in the European Court of Justice in May 2016.[60] More details can be found on the page TPD: Legal Challenges.

Next Generation Products

To improve the tobacco industry’s sustainability, tobacco companies are investing in tobacco and nicotine products that, unlike cigarettes, could have growth potential in developed markets. These products are often referred to as Next Generation Products (NGPs), and are often linked to tobacco companies’ harm reduction strategies.

Imperial Brands’ first foray in NGPs was from 2005 to 2008, when the company invested in Swedish snus as part of its so-called “total tobacco approach”.[61]

Although Imperial Brands continues to hold snus interests, the focus of its NGP investment switched to e-cigarettes in 2012, with the establishment of its new subsidiary, Fontem Ventures. This new company's sole focus is to help promote and develop NGP products.

Fontem Ventures sells e-cigarette Blu, which it acquired in July 2014 through the merger between US tobacco companies Reynolds and Lorillard. The company reported that Blu held a 16% UK market share in 2016, making it the number two of the UK market.[62]

In 2014 and 2015 Imperial also sold the Puritane e-cigarette through pharmacies, but a check in 2017 suggested that this product was no longer available.

Overall, Imperial Brands’ NGP strategy is focused on building a presence in four key markets: US, UK, France, and Italy.[62][63]

Once consumer acceptance is achieved, the company plans to expand to other markets.[63]

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Notes

  1. Euromonitor International, Company Shares (Global-Historical Owner) Retail Volume % Breakdown, World 2010-2015. Available from www.euromonitor.com (by subscription), accessed February 2017
  2. C. Guibourg, Imperial Tobacco is rebranding to Imperial Brands, City A.M., 5 February 2016, accessed February 2017
  3. Imperial Brands, Annual Report and Accounts 2016. Delivering Against Our Strategy, Imperial Brands website, accessed February 2017
  4. A. Cooper, Introduction Slides, Imperial Brands Investor Day 8 June 2016, Imperial Brands website, accessed February 2017
  5. Euromonitor International, Company Shares (Global-Historical Owner) Retail Volume % Breakdown, United Kingdom 2010-2015. Available from www.euromonitor.com (by subscription), accessed February 2017
  6. L. Barras-Hill, Imperial Tobacco’s Cords joins APTRA board, Frontier Magazine, 24 November 2014, accessed February 2017
  7. Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association, Board Members, 2017, accessed February 2017
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 European Commission Transparency Register, Transparency Register: Imperial Brands PLC, last updated 19 April 2016, accessed February 2017
  9. Industry and Parliament Trust, Supporting organisations, Industry and Parliament Trust website, undated, accessed January 2012 & February 2017
  10. Institute of Business Ethics, Email reply to TobaccoTactics editor 21 February 2017 10:00, subject: RE: Query about IBE membership Imperial Brands
  11. S. Millicheap, Leaked email to MSP dated 10 January 2017 16:19, subject: E-Cigarettes, accessed January 2017
  12. PRCA Public Affairs Register June to August 2010, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  13. PRCA Public Affairs Register March - May 2011 (Agency), PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  14. PRCA Public Affairs Agency Register March - May 2012, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  15. PRCA Public Affairs Agency Register March - May 2013, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  16. PRCA Public Affairs Agency Register March - May 2014, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  17. PRCA Public Affairs Agency and In-House Register March - May 2015, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  18. PRCA Public Affairs Agency and In-House Register December to February 2016, PRCA website, accessed February 2017
  19. A. Parsons, Imperial Tobacco, Email to Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath, 25 May 2012
  20. S. Stotesbury, Head of Regulatory Science, Imperial Tobacco, Email to Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath, 25 March 2014
  21. J. Luik, A Picture of Health? Why Graphic Warnings Don’t Work, The Democracy Institute, 2006, accessed March 2017
  22. 22.0 22.1 H. Gilbert, "Now Imperial offers the ladies a stylish new cigarette brand", The Grocer, 6 August 2011, p25
  23. Department of Health, Tobacco Packaging Guidance, March 2017, accessed March 2017
  24. J Hoek, P. Gendall, C. Eckert, J. Louviere, Dissuasive cigarette sticks: the next step in standardised (‘plain’) packaging?, Tobacco Control 2016; 699-705
  25. 25.0 25.1 S. Gardiner, Plain package row: tobacco company resorts to ‘sick joke’, 12 September 2012, accessed September 2012
  26. J. Pearlman, Australian tobacco accused of ‘sick joke’, 12 September 2012, accessed September 2012
  27. NFRN, NFRN and Imperial Tobacco team up to fight illicit tobacco, 13 January 2017, NFRN website, accessed March 2017
  28. K. Evans-Reeves, A. Rowell, Tobacco industry rallies against illicit trade- but have we forgotten its complicity, 16 March 2015, The Conversation, accessed March 2017
  29. Select Committee on Public Accounts, Minutes of Evidence Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-559), 19 June 2002, http://www.parliament.uk, accessed March 2017
  30. Unknown, International Trading – opportunities for Gallaher, undated, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: GA00025, accessed March 2017
  31. 31.0 31.1 World Health Organization, Tobacco Industry Interference A Global Brief, 2012, accessed March 2017
  32. L. Bauld, Impact of smokefree legislation: evidence review, Department of Health, March 2011, accessed March 2017
  33. Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, Three Years on – industry calls time on a complete smoking ban, 1 July 2010, TMA website, accessed March 2017
  34. Imperial Tobacco, The Bauld truth - The Impact of Smokefree Legislation in England: A critique of the evidence review using publicly available information, June 2011, accessed March 2017
  35. D. Petrie, Email to Lorenza Fernandez, 14 February 2011
  36. D. Petrie, Email to Lorenza Fernandez, 1 March 2011
  37. ABC News, Leaks reveal $9m tobacco blitz, 11 September 2010, accessed March 2017
  38. A. Davies, Big Tobacco hired public relations firm to lobby government, 11 September 2010, The Sydney Morning Herald, accessed March 2017
  39. The House, Parliament’s Magazine, Dods, No.1419, Vol 36, 14 June 2012
  40. House of Commons Publications, Register of Members’ Financial Interests – 9 February 2015 report, 9 February 2015, accessed February 2017
  41. Unknown, The UK Tobacco Industry and the Register of Members’ Interests of the House of Commons: Health Committee, 5 May 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 325118382-325118400, accessed February 2017
  42. Conservative Europe, Lobbying Contacts Report 1st January-30th June 2011
  43. Conservative Europe, Lobbying Contacts Report 1st July-31th December 2011
  44. Conservative Europe, Lobbying Contacts Report 1st January-30th June 2013
  45. DG SANCO, Minutes of Meeting Between Commissioner Dalli and Representatives of the economic stakeholders active in tobacco products on 7 March 2012, accessed March 2017
  46. DG SANCO, Minutes of Meeting on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) with cigarette manufacturers 27 November 2013, accessed March 2017
  47. DG ENTR, Email to DG ENTR colleagues, 12 July 2012 6:45PM, Subject: Réunion CECCM 12/07 9h30-10h30, released under freedom of information request 2013-5964
  48. DG ENTR, Email to DG ENTR colleagues, 5 September 2012, Subject: Meeting report- Tobacco industry 05/09 10h00-10h30, released under freedom of information request 2013-5964
  49. F. Bernandini, Email to DG Trade colleagues, 15 October 2012 15:03, Subject: Flash report meeting Imperial Tobacco 12 October 2012, released under freedom of information request 2013-3874
  50. S. Peeters, H. Costa, D Stuckler, M. McKee, A. Gilmore, The revision of the 2014 European tobacco products directive: an analysis of the tobacco industry's attempts to ‘break the health silo’, Tobacco Control, 2016,25(1):108-117
  51. R. Ross, Subject: European Tobacco Products Directive & Plain Pack, 9 April 2013, accessed March 2017
  52. A. Cooper, message from our CEO: Our values, our responsibility, Imperial Brands website, undated, accessed February 2017
  53. Tobacco Journal International, Smoking allowed – at an airport in the UK!, 2 January 2012, accessed February 2017
  54. S. Clark, Welcome to ‘Smoking Allowed’, 12 November 2011, Taking Liberties blog, accessed February 2017
  55. Staff writer, Keep Britain Tidy launches 'Love Where You Live' ads, 20 September 2011, The Drum, accessed February 2017
  56. ASH Scotland, Timeline of legal challenges against tobacco legislation in Scotland, updated December 2012, accessed March 2017
  57. City & Finance Reporter, Imperial Tobacco will take legal action against the Government if it implements plain packaging for cigarettes, The Daily Mail: This is Money website, 15 July 2012, accessed March 2017
  58. A. Ram, Tobacco giants launch UK packaging challenge, 8 December 2015, The Financial Times (by subscription), accessed April 2016
  59. Imperial Tobacco v Secretary State for Health Judgement, Royal Courts of Justice, Case no: CO/2601/2015, Mr Justice Green, 19 May 2016, accessed March 2017
  60. A. Glahn, ENSP welcomes the European Court of Justice’s decision to reject challenges against the Tobacco Products Directive, 2 December 2016, European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention website, accessed March 2017
  61. S. Peeters, A. Gilmore, Transnational tobacco company interests in smokeless tobacco in Europe: Analysis of internal industry documents and contemporary industry materials, PLoS Medicine, 2013,10(9):1001506
  62. 62.0 62.1 A. Van Benthem, Quality Growth- Our Assets and Strategy in E-Vapour Script Imperial Brands Investor Day 8 June 2016, Imperial Brands website, accessed February 2017
  63. 63.0 63.1 M. Phillips, Quality Growth- New Consumer Experiences. Imperial Brands Investor Day 8 June 2016. Available from: http://www.imperialbrandsplc.com/Investors.html, accessed February 2017