In 2012, Philip Morris International (PMI) funded a series of reports by academics at Transcrime, a collaborative Italian research centre on transnational crime between the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan and the University of Trento.
Transcrime was founded in 1994 by Professor Ernesto Savona with just four graduate students. The group has since grown in number thanks to “several important projects on transnational crime it carried out for the European Union.”
Transcrime refers to itself as:
…an independent academic centre. It pursues an autonomous research agenda, which may be developped also [sic] through contracts and funding by private and public local, national and international institutions. The source of funding is always made public through Transcrime's website.
Work on Behalf of the Tobacco Industry
In 2011, Transcrime accepted money from PMI to fund three PhD studentships in Criminology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (See image for the titles of the projects).
The following year, the research organisation produced three reports at the request of PMI.
In each of the reports Transcrime claimed that it had initially decided to do the research and that PMI merely provided the funding. The following is an example from the EU report:
- As a concerned stakeholder in the fight against the illicit trade in tobacco products, Philip Morris International (PMI) welcomed the initiative of Transcrime to conduct research on this important and relevant area. PMI agreed to contribute financially to the research. However, Transcrime retained full control and stands guarantor for the independence of the research and its results.
By hiring academics with a respected track record, PMI attempted to bring credibility to their arguments against the further regulation of tobacco. The assumed independence of the research gives traction to the suggestion that tobacco control regulation will exacerbate illicit trade. Independence is assumed because, utilising third party techniques the tobacco industry has failed to mention that the reports were commissioned by the company when presenting them as evidence.
Transcrime Cited in Industry Responses to UK Plain Packaging Consultation
Both British American Tobacco (BAT) and PMI referred to the May 2012 UK Transcrime report in their submissions to the UK consultation on plain packaging but did not disclose the source of funding.
BAT used the report to argue that plain packaging would lead to those already switching to cheaper brands to buy illicit instead and that counterfeiting would increase:
…a recent report by Transcrime (the Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan and the University of Trento) states: Just as an increasing number of consumers have downgraded among legitimate brands, so there is the risk that, with the introduction of plain packaging, the switch to cheaper illicit tobacco will be facilitated.
As the Transcrime Report points out: Experts from the carton-making industry recently declared that ‘pictorial health warnings pose no real barrier to counterfeiters: they can be produced (and reproduced) using low-cost printing techniques from equipment readily available in the market and four basic printing colours.
BAT references Transcrime but does not disclose that the report is funded by PMI.
PMI include a special box in its consultation submission to discuss Transcrime’s research, highlighting the importance of the research group within the European Commission.
Utilising the Illicit Trade Argument
While Transcrime insisted that its reports were in no way influenced by its funding, it is noteworthy that the results of its research reiterated PMI’s arguments that plain packaging would lead to an increase in illicit trade and harm small businesses.
One of the industry’s tactics is to increase the salience of the illicit trade argument to dissuade government from implementing further tobacco control regulations. The industry and its allies frame their illicit trade argument as one of the “unintended consequences” of new regulation.
Researchers at the University of Bath produced a critique of Transcrime’s reports. They analysed the quality of the evidence presented by Transcrime to support its unintended consequences arguments.
CounteringTranscrime’s suggestion that consumers would have difficulty distinguishing between legitimate and counterfeit packs if plain packaging was introduced, the researchers found that:
- …the organisation [“Transcrime”] dismissed evidence from a peer-reviewed plain packaging study, which suggested that smokers can easily identify branded packs that are counterfeit because of colour variations, poorer quality printing, cheaper cardboard and inferior cellophane that tends to stick to packs.
Another way to popularise the illicit trade argument is to over-estimate or exaggerate the scale of the problem and suggest that regulation will make the situation “even worse”. In line with this strategy, Transcrime suggested that illicit trade was on the increase in the UK. However, the researchers presented contradictory evidence:
- Government figures indicate a significant decline in the UK illicit cigarette market from 21% (as a percentage of the total market) in 2000/2001 (when the investment first began to take effect) to 10% in 2009/2010 (the last year for which figures are available).
The Bath researchers concluded:
Transcrime’s work does not add anything substantive to the existing evidence on the impact of regulation on the trade and, on the basis of the available data, arguably overstates the risks of regulation and taxation in shifting consumption from legitimate to illegitimate markets. PMI’s financial support to Transcrime is part of a wider strategy aimed at generating research and data on the illicit trade which underpins arguments that potentially overstate the criminogenic effects of tobacco control in countries with effective tobacco regulation, and relatively low (Norway and Australia) or declining (UK and Canada) levels of illicit trade.
For more information see Countering Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging: It will Lead to Increased Smuggling
Industry Complicity in the Illicit Trade
While the tobacco industry argues fervently against the illicit trade in tobacco products, historically tobacco companies have been found to be complicit in the smuggling of their own products. For further details of why and how the industry has been involved in smuggling please visit the following pages:
Transcrime is Regarded as Respected Source of Evidence
Despite its relationship with PMI, Transcrime was invited to present its tobacco industry funded research to the House of Commons in June 2012. This could be interpreted as Transcrime facilitating the tobacco industry’s access to policy makers, which is in direct conflict with the goals of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires governments to protect public health policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Other Meetings & Events
The following events, detailed on Transcrime’s” website illustrate the organisation’s dual role as a respected source of evidence by policy makers in the EU on the one hand and as a paid consultant for PMI on the other.
9 July 2012 The European Commission nominated Savona member of the “Policy Needs for Data on Crime Expert Group” for the forthcoming five years. Together with other five internationally renowned experts, Professor Savona will be consulted for the definition of Community policies allowing policy makers to have a better comprehension of the impact and effects of Community interventions on the criminal phenomena.
1-2 October 2012 Savona and Calderoni met with PMI executives in Lausanne “to discuss the research activities developed by Transcrime.”
15 May 2013 (Brussels) Calderoni participates in the Stakeholder Workshop "The EU's Illegal Tobacco Market" organised by Euractiv with the support of PMI. Representatives from KPMG and Interpol, who also have a relationship with PMI, were in attendance.
23 July 2013 (Dublin) During the event hosted by Grant Thornton, Prof Savona and Dr Calderoni presented The Factbook on the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products 3 - Ireland. For the event, Grant Thornton produced a report Illicit trade in Ireland: Uncovering the cost to the Irish Economy, which was supported by PMI, Transcrime and a number of other groups with known links with the Tobacco industry: Anti-Counterfeiting Group and the British Brands Group.
- G. Fooks, S. Peeters, K. Evans-Reeves, Illicit trade, tobacco industry-funded studies and policy influence in the EU and UK, Tobacco Control, 2012, accessed August 2013
- Transcrime, About Us, accessed August 2013
- Transcrime, History, accessed August 2013
- Transcrime, Projects 2011, accessed August 2013
- F. Calderoni, E. U. Savona, S. Solmi, Crime proofing the policy options for the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive: Proofing the policy options under consideration for revision of EU Directive 2001/37/EC against the risks of unintended criminal opportunities, Transcrime, January 2012, accessed August 2013
- BAT, UK standardised packaging consultation: Response of British American Tobacco UK Limited, 8 August 2012, accessed August 2013
- Transcrime, Plain packaging and illicit trade in the UK: Study on the risks of illicit trade in tobacco products as unintended consequences of the introduction of plain packaging in the UK, a report for PMI, May 2012, accessed August 2013
- J. Padilla & N. Watson, A critical review of the literature on generic packaging for cigarettes, a report for PMI, LeCG, 2010, accessed August 2013
- PMI, Standardised tobacco packaging will harm public health and cost UK taxpayers billions: A response to the Department of Health consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products, August 2012, accessed August 2013
- B. C. Alamar, L. Mahmoud, S. Glantz. Cigarette smuggling in California fact and fiction. 2003. San Francisco: Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. The report can be found here
- C. Moodie, G. Hastings, L. Joossens, Young adult smokers’ perceptions of illicit tobacco and the possible impact of plain packaging on purchase behaviour, European Journal of Public Health, 22(2);251-53, accessed August 2013
- Transcrime, Contributes & News, 2012 Timeline, accessed August 2013
- EurActiv, supported by Philip Morris International, The EU's illegal tobacco market: The problem, the consequences and effective solutions, Stakeholder Workshop: Brussels, 15 May 2013, accessed August 2013