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 the following companies: Imperial Tobacco, ITG Brands, Logistic, Tabacalera, and Fontem Ventures (and within it e-liquids manufacturer Nerudia).[2][3]

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.[4] 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.[5] Imperial used to be the UK’s cigarette market leader, but lost that position in 2015 to JTI.[6]

Employees or Board Members: Past and Present

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

Over the course of 2019, Imperial Tobacco underwent significant changes in leadership. On 3 October 2019, it was announced that Alison Cooper, Imperial Tobacco’s Chief Executive since May 2010, would step down “once a suitable successor is found”.[7] The announcement came after the company issued a profit warning that reduced the company’s anticipated revenue growth.[8]

At the start of the year, Imperial Tobacco had announced that it was seeking a new Chairman to replace Mark Williamson.[9] On 5 November 2019 the company announced that Williamson will be succeeded by Thérèse Esperdy, effective 1 January 2020.[10]

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

Roberto Ascoli | Drago Azinovic | Arthur van Benthem | Ken Burnett | Sue Clark | 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)[11][12] | Associate Parliamentary Corporate Responsibility Group | Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) | Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers | Euraffex/ European Affairs Expertise[13] | European Cigar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) | European Rolling Papers Association (ERPA)[13] | European Smoking Tobacco Association | European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) | Industry and Parliament Trust (see Rosemary Brook)[14] | Kangaroo Group | MARQUES | Public Affairs Council[13] | Tobacco Industry Platform | Tobacco Manufacturers' Association | Wirtschaftsrat[13]

The company was also a member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT).[15] The ECLT has a partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations (UN) agency, focussed on issues related to labour such as international labour standards, social protection and unemployment.[16]

Imperial Tobacco 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)[17]

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".[26]

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”.[27]

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.[28]

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”.[29] 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".[29]

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.[30][31]

  • 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).[32][33] 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”.[32]

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”.[34] 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.[35] 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.”[36]

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.[37]

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”.[38]

In 2011, Imperial Tobacco strongly criticised a study commissioned by the UK Department of Health,[39] 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.[40]

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).[41]

  • 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.[42][43]

  • 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.[38]

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.[44] 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.[45] 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).[46] The company did not reveal itself as the funder anywhere on the front page advertisement.

Hospitality for UK Politicians

In 2014, Imperial Tobacco gifted Wimbledon tennis tickets to Members of Parliament (MPs) Aidan Burley, Mark Field, and Mark Pritchard.[47]

Imperial Tobacco also gifted Wimbledon tickets to Lord Pendry in 2005, 2008 and 2012.[48][49][50]

In the 1990s, the tobacco company provided the following hospitality to MPs:[51]

  • 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 Politicians provides more detail on gifts and hospitality provided to MPs and peers 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.[13]

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.[52][53][54]

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.[55][56] 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,[57][58] and in October 2012 the company directly met with DG Trade.[59]

With the exception of DG SANCO, EU officials were not systematically transparent about their contact with Imperial Tobacco and other tobacco companies.[60] 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.[61] 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"[62], 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.[63] Apart from supporting smokers, Simon Clark, the director of Forest, suggested that the campaign also “challenges the Orwellian ‘denormalisation’ of smoking”.[64]

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).[65] 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.[66] 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.[67] 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).[68][69]
  • 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.[70] More details can be found on the page TPD: Legal Challenges.

Interfering with democratic processes

As Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco have come onto the market, new tobacco industry tactics are emerging to challenge current tobacco control regulations around the world. In February 2019, a campaign was launched under the European Union Commission’s “Citizen’s Initiative” with the name “Let's demand smarter vaping regulation!”. This campaign proposes removing article 20 of Tobacco Products Directive 2014/40/EU, which “requires EU Member States to introduce restrictions on the advertising of electronic cigarettes”[71] The European Citizens’ Initiative is a democratic tool meant to benefit individuals, or groups of individuals, by bringing to the Commission’s attention a proposal for legal acts. There are rules in place which prohibit companies or organisations from proposing this process. However, there are no specific rules against tobacco company employees using the initiative as individuals. [72] Sponsors of the ‘smarter vaping regulations’ initiative include Valerio Forconi, head of EU corporate affairs and registered lobbyist for Imperial Brands, and Dustin Dahlmann and Mosè Giacomello, members of German and Italian vaping industry/ trade associations. [73]

The “Let's demand smarter vaping regulation!” campaign seeks to

“replace with bespoke scientific, evidence-based legislation in line with the functioning of the internal market that distinguishes vaping products from tobacco & pharmaceutical products; (…)Vaping policy should (…)ensure smokers and vapers have clear information and access to tobacco-free less harmful alternatives.” [73]

The first funding it received in October 2018 was €10,000 from the Brussels office of Imperial Brands[74] The website was launched in April 2019 with the intention of gathering one million signatures in one year, from at least 7 EU countries. This would then require the European Commission to consider the request to remove article 20.[73][72] The website, promoted by Imperial Brands, created a grassroots campaign to differentiate them from traditional tobacco products.[75] Furthermore, the website brings together different organizations across the world, lobbying for looser regulations for vaping products.

The following are organizations listed as supporters of the ‘Let's demand smarter vaping regulation!’ campaign which have also provided funding or are linked with tobacco companies:

  • France Vapotage : a vaping industry association, which lists Fontem Ventures and Nerudia (an Imperial brand) as members [76]
  • BfTG (2015), a German e-cigarette-business association that states to be ‘100 percent tobacco-free and independent of the tobacco industry!’ [77] This organization has provided €8000 funding towards the website of the initiative and Dustin Dahlmann, president of BfTG is listed as the main representative of the Citizens’ Committee of the initiative.[74]
  • Vapitaly(2015), a yearly event that gathers companies, consumers and vaping shops to network in a conference hall in Italy. This organization provided in April 2019, the biggest portion of the funding up to date, towards sustaining the website of the initiative: €16.000 [74] In addition, Mose Giacomello, president of Vapitaly, is another of the main representatives of Citizens’ Committee of the campaign.[74]

Next Generation Products

For an overview of Imperial Tobacco's investment in Next Generation Products, including snus and e-cigarettes, go to Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco.

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Link

TCRG Research

Notes

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