10A.5Mechanisms of influence—mobilising support from the industry and those with shared aims

Last updated: May 2018     

Suggested citation: Freeman, B., Barnsley, K., & Winstanley, M. 10A.5 Mechanisms of influence—mobilising support from the industry and those with shared aims. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2018. Available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-10-tobacco-industry/10a-5-the-mechanisms-of-influence-mobilising-suppo      

10A.5.1 Manufacturers and growers associations

For many years the tobacco industry has recognised that it needs to present a unified front against tobacco control coalitions. In the late 1970s, at the instigation of Imperial Tobacco in the UK and Philip Morris International, a coalition of tobacco company executives from major companies operating in the UK, the US and Europe was formed with the shared purpose of defending the tobacco industry against attack and championing the ‘social acceptability’ of smoking. To this end, the manufacturers agreed to co-operate in perpetuating the ‘controversy’ over smoking and health and to maintain that there was no proven causal link between smoking and lung cancer.1 This industry group, which operated under conditions of utmost secrecy, was to become known as the International Committee on Smoking Issues and, in 1981, INFOTAB. Its brief soon extended beyond orchestrating the international smoking and health controversy. INFOTAB acted as a ‘hub’ for the industry’s national manufacturing organisations, tobacco companies and leaf dealers, facilitating the exchange of information and expertise. Up until it ceased operation in 1990‒91, INFOTAB provided its membership (including the Australian national manufacturing organisation: the Tobacco Institute of Australia) with:2


  • up-to-date information databases
  • media monitoring
  • relevant publications and reports
  • pro-industry scientific findings
  • resources and programs ready to implement
  • reports on tobacco control activities
  • responses to public health activities
  • litigation updates.


In 1992, a new organisation—the Tobacco Documentation Centre (formerly operating under the name International Tobacco Documentation Centre)—was established and continued to fulfil some of the former roles of INFOTAB, chiefly information sharing,3 before ceasing operation in 2014.4 A second organisation, Agro-Tobacco Services, was set up in the same year to co-ordinate and support the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (discussed below). Agro-Tobacco Services was subsequently replaced by a UK-based public relations firm called Hallmark Marketing Services.3

The International Tobacco Growers’ Association was founded in 1984, ‘with the objective of presenting the cause of millions of tobacco farmers to the world’. Among its activities, the International Tobacco Growers’ Association facilitates contact among its members, shares non-competitive information, represents its membership to national and international policy-makers, and defends tobacco farmers against national and international anti-tobacco growing campaigns.5 

Despite its claims of independence from the manufacturing industry, internal industry documents show that the International Tobacco Growers’ Association has been used as a lobbying front for the international tobacco companies, representing its combined interests and ‘managing’ tobacco issues in representations to the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and other bodies.3, 6, 7

The International Tobacco Growers’ Association’s website stoutly defends tobacco farmers against environmentalists’ claims that tobacco farming has caused deforestation (see Section 10.15). The association also discusses its connection with the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Foundation and its commitment to combating child labour (see Section 10.14).

Tobacco Institute of Australia

 The now inactive Tobacco Institute of Australia (TIA) was the main locus for tobacco industry lobbying in Australia from its inception in 1978 until the late 1990s.2 Established as a national manufacturers’ association in response to growing negative publicity about smoking, the TIA was jointly funded by the tobacco companies operating in Australia at the time with a charter to ‘promote understanding of the tobacco industry in Australia’.8 The TIA did this chiefly by representing its member companies to the public, the government and other authorities and by negotiating policy issues on behalf of its constituency. In effect, the TIA’s major roles were to lobby against tobacco control measures, to present a united public face of the Australian tobacco industry wherever needed, and to sow seeds of doubt and denial about the health effects of smoking and other matters of ‘controversy’. Through its alliance with INFOTAB and other national manufacturers’ organisations (particularly the US Tobacco Institute),2 the TIA and its membership were also kept abreast of tobacco issues worldwide.

In its first six years, the TIA’s work was primarily involved with networking and promoting tobacco industry views on smoking and health, advertising and children, secondhand smoke, and the tobacco industry’s financial importance. Its second phase, from 1983 until 1989, was marked by aggressive advocacy, mostly under the stewardship of chief executive officer John Dollisson. The TIA’s court case (and eventual bruising loss) against the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations brought this chapter to a close, after which the TIA entered five difficult years of transient leadership, fractured support and apparent demoralisation. In the TIA’s final phase, from 1994 to 1997, it was staffed by lawyers and its approach to public affairs became more disciplined and proactive.2

In its heyday, the TIA ran high-profile media campaigns to promote its views, the main focus being secondhand smoke. In 1985 the TIA lodged a four page ‘advertorial’ spread in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The advertisement purported to represent the facts about passive smoking and in layout it appeared to be a feature article typical of the weekly. The TIA’s association with the advertorial appeared in small print at the end of the piece, ‘inserted in the interests of fair and open discussion by the Tobacco Institute of Australia Ltd’. The information on passive smoking provided in the advertisement was at odds with mainstream medical and scientific findings reported at the time. In response to complaints, the TIA’s advertisement was deemed by the Advertising Standards Council to be misleading in presentation (in that it was inadequately identified as paid advertising material) but no ruling was made on its content, this being outside the Advertising Standards Council’s remit. 

Two half-page newspaper advertisements were devised and lodged by the TIA in July of the following year, again defending the industry against claims regarding secondhand smoke. The advertisements appeared in 14 newspapers across Australia. The advertisements selectively quoted a number of sources, including the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society, giving the impression that these bodies did not support the view that passive smoking is harmful to health. Among other things, one of the advertisements declared that ‘there is little evidence and nothing which proves scientifically that cigarette smoke causes disease in non-smokers’.9 Again, in response to complaints made to the Advertising Standards Council and the Trade Practices Commission, the TIA was reprimanded. The issue was subsequently taken up by the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations, which brought a case against the TIA in the Federal Court, on the grounds that the newspaper advertising was misleading or deceptive and therefore in contravention of Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974. In a groundbreaking decision handed down by Justice Morling, the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations won the case, and the TIA lost an appeal it subsequently brought against the decision. AFCO v. TIA resulted in a landmark decision of international significance, in which a link between passive smoking and disease among non-smokers was accepted by a court of law.9 And in an outcome disastrous for the TIA, the so-called Morling decision gave legal impetus to the surge towards smokefree workplaces. 

Tobacco Information Centre

The Sydney-based Tobacco Information Centre was established in December 1996 by Rothmans of Pall Mall (Australia), WD & HO Wills (Australia) and Philip Morris (Australia), ‘as a library of tobacco and smoking-related information’.10 According to its publicly stated brief, the Tobacco Information Centre’s function was to ‘provide current, timely and high-quality tobacco-related information to Australia’s three tobacco companies’, as well as to government bodies, politicians, industry and trade organisations, special interest groups and members of the public. The Tobacco Information Centre categorically denied that it had any role in undertaking political lobbying, public affairs work or media liaison on behalf of its funding members.10

The Tobacco Information Centre published a tobacco industry fact newsletter; another newsletter (Peace Pipe), which reported on ‘current smoking issues’; and a number of fact sheets.10 The Tobacco Information Centre no longer appears to be active. 

10A.5.2 Tobacco retailers as a lobby base

Tobacco retailers constitute an obvious and readymade lobbying base for the industry to use to promote the industry view. First, they have an obvious interest in protecting their income stream against potential threat. Second, in their frontline position selling tobacco, they are able to provide information and promote industry views within the community. Third, their business profile gives the tobacco industry access to all levels of government. 

From the earliest days of the smoking and health ‘controversy’, tobacco traders have been armed with the means to pacify nervous smokers. An investigation of trade journals (the Australian Retail Tobacconist and its state-specific predecessors) dating back to 1950 shows that these magazines included articles providing industry guidance on how retailers could reassure their customers. Retailers were also advised how to keep their products attractive to the ‘youthful novice’ smoker and young women smokers.11 The authors of this research contend that today’s tobacco trade journals may continue to perform the role of promoting industry views and providing counter arguments to tobacco control measures.11

Prior to bans on advertising and display at point of sale, it was usual for tobacco companies to provide retailers with display cabinets, advertising material, support merchandise, and functional fittings such as outdoor awnings, hours of opening signs, and so forth. With increased restrictions on advertising in the media, the function of ‘point of sale’ advertising at retail outlets became ever more critical. The tobacco companies competed for dominance on the shop floor and in display units by offering financial and other incentives to retailers to give prominence to their brands.12 The central importance of the retail outlet as a conduit for communication with customers in the wake advertising bans is discussed in Chapter 11, Section 11.9)

Tobacco retailers have been activated to support the industry against the encroachment of tobacco control regulation in regard to tobacco advertising, smoking restrictions and tax increases on tobacco products.11 In 2008, Philip Morris canvassed retailers in New South Wales to solicit their support in opposing bans on tobacco displays at point of sale. As well as providing information (in several languages) about why retailers should feel concerned about further restrictions, Philip Morris urged retailers to express their views to relevant state politicians and offered further information and assistance if needed.13  

In the late 1990s the Tasmanian government legislated to provide some protection for retailers, by enacting a provision that “ A manufacturer or supplier of any tobacco product must not provide to any person information regarding any legislation or enactment of any jurisdiction relating to tobacco control that is false.”14 This provision aimed to prevent tobacco company agents giving retailers fabricated stories about what the retailer could display, what other jurisdictions were permitted to display or any other false information about legislation.  It was also designed to protect retailers from being inadvertently fined or prosecuted, if they had relied on false tobacco industry data. 

In 2010 the Alliance of Australian Retailers was formed to fight the Federal Government's plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. During the federal election campaign in August 2010, the Alliance of Australian Retailers launched a counter mass media campaign with the goal of stopping the plain packaging legislation.15 Ads featuring portrayals of concerned retailers saying that plain packaging wouldn’t work and would damage their business appeared in newspapers, on television and radio (ads can be viewed here). The campaign was funded by the major three tobacco companies. Days after the launch of the campaign major retailers withdrew their support. The Australian Association of Convenience Stores withdrew its support after being forced to do so by national grocery retailer Coles. Coles, which chairs the board of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, forced the board to withdraw the retail group and its members, including Caltex, Shell and BP, from the campaign, after being misled on the nature of the ads.16 Woolworths revoked its membership of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores over the campaign and demanded that its $15,000 in annual fees be returned.17  

On 10 September 2010, ABC Lateline revealed, through leaked internal documents, emails and contracts, the full extent of tobacco industry influence on the Alliance of Australian Retailers campaign.18 On the day the alliance was formed it received funds from Imperial Tobacco Australia: $1 million, British American Tobacco Australia: $2.2 million and Philip Morris Limited: $2.1 million. It was further revealed that in May, before the formation of the alliance, Philip Morris’ Australian then corporate affairs manager Chris Argent was seeking advice from the lobbying and public relations firm, the Civic Group. Philip Morris was seeking advice and assistance for a campaign to stop plain packaging laws during the federal election.

See Section 10.5.4 for further discussion of the relationship between retailers and the tobacco industry. 

10A.5.3 Marshalling opposition to smoking bans in entertainment venues

The tobacco industry has vigorously opposed restrictions on smoking because it limits opportunities to smoke, thereby reducing consumption, and further denormalises smoking behaviour, thereby discouraging uptake and influencing smokers to quit.19-22 The introduction of smoking restrictions in most Australian workplaces during the 1980s and 1990s was a major blow for the tobacco industry. In recent years, attention has moved to thwarting smoking restrictions in entertainment venues such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other licensed venues, and gambling environments. The tobacco industry has made strong allies of the hospitality industry in Australia23, 24 and internationally25, 26 chiefly through fostering fear that smoking bans will adversely affect their profitability (an industry argument that is not supported by the evidence26 ). 

During the 1990s a former chief executive officer of the Tobacco Institute of Australia became the national executive director of the Australian Hotels Association, and since that time the Australian Hotels Association has actively supported the tobacco industry in opposing smoking restrictions and bans and challenging the scientific evidence on secondhand smoke.24 The Australian Hotels Association argues that smoking bans:


  • cause the mass closure of licensed premises leading to economic downturn and job losses
  • do not reduce prevalence of smoking
  • lead to increased smoking at home around children and the risk of house fires 
  • contribute to increased domestic violence
  • cause community nuisances including more cigarette butt litter, neighbourhood noise and footpath congestion
  • increase the risk of drink spiking (if people leave their drink unattended to go outside to smoke)
  • make more work for door security staff (managing traffic in and out of the venue)
  • will reduce government revenues as well as increase problem gambling
  • trample on civil liberties
  • offer no health benefit. 


In preparation for strict smoking restrictions introduced in Victoria in 2007, all three tobacco companies operating in Australia struck financial deals with several individual Melbourne hoteliers to assist with development of open air facilities where smoking could be permitted, in exchange for the exclusive right to sell their own brands.27  

10A.5.4 Smokers’ rights groups

Smokers’ rights groups provide a further conduit for tobacco industry lobbying by claiming to represent the views of the smoker. They are intended to mobilise smokers, offering them reassurance and providing a vehicle by which they can voice opposition to tobacco control measures.28 Primarily arising in response to moves to restrict smoking in public places, smokers’ rights groups also address issues such as tobacco taxes. Smokers’ rights groups typically portray their membership as the beset-upon smoker, indulging in a legal behaviour, being unreasonably harassed by over-zealous ‘anti’s’. 

Early Australian examples of smokers’ rights groups include the Smokers’ Rights League in the late 1970s,28 and FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), which was established in Victoria during the mid-1980s in response to concerns about secondhand smoke. Smokers were told that ‘by supporting FOREST you can support the interests of all smokers in Australia. You can have your say with State and Federal Governments, transport operators, advertisers, newspapers, radio and television and, through FOREST, you can let them all know you are tired of being pushed around…’.29 Fair Go began in New South Wales in the late-1980s with the brief of countering bans on smoking in New South Wales trains, before moving on to a broader canvas of smokers’ concerns.28 The Tobacco Smokers Freedom Movement emerged in Western Australia in 1993, offering cigarettes at discount prices and stating its intention to lobby on behalf of smokers’ rights.29 More recently, the Smokers’ Rights Party was a registered political party in Australia from 2013 until 2017, and put forward one candidate in the 2016 federal election.30, 31 The extent of the relationship between the tobacco industry and these Australian groups was never clarified, but overseas experience demonstrates that the tobacco industry was directly involved in establishing and providing ongoing practical support for smokers’ rights organisations.32 Although the Smokers' Rights Party stated that it did not receive funding from the tobacco industry, it was reportedly created in order to feed preferences to David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party, which does accept tobacco industry donations (see Section 10A.7.3).33

Smokers’ rights groups appear to have offered little in the way of lasting assistance to the tobacco industry, never capturing the membership or interest of smokers on a significant scale. The Smokers’ Rights Party received only $108 in donations in the 2016–17 financial year (and only $3180 at its peak in 2013–14).34 Internationally, only a small number of groups appear to remain active. 32 However, FOREST in the UK is a vocal opponent of all tobacco control legislation and is presently active with an up-to-date website, Facebook, and Twitter account.35  



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