Marlboro recruits smokers to its battle against plain packaging

Message in packet delivers 'facts' about latest assault on their rights: plain packaging

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 9:19am


With their backs to the wall amid increasingly tough regulations, as well as the looming threat of having to remove all branding from cigarette packets, tobacco companies need all the allies they can find.

Who better to ask than Britain's 10 million smokers themselves?

In a campaign launched with the aid of a major lobbying firm that has waged similar offensives for rightwing causes in the US, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes are seeking to mobilise a grassroots fightback by customers against moves towards blank packaging.

Marlboro smokers have been finding messages inside their packets inviting them to visit a campaigning website, which describes itself as "the community for Britain's smokers".

Philip Morris is running three different inserts highlighting tough policies that aim to hit a nerve with smokers - tax, the possibility of banning smoking in cars and homes, and how plain packaging might fuel the black market trade in cigarettes.

One insert reads: "Plain packaging is the latest in a stream of proposals targeting smokers. Other excessive schemes have been suggested. Know more by learning the issues, then say no more to the government by joining our community and speaking out."

The site is registered to Democracy Data & Communications Advocacy, a major US lobbying firm.

Its previous campaigns have included the establishment of a supposedly grass-roots group called Citizens for a Safe Alexandria to attack Obama administration moves to prosecute Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the state of Virginia. DDC's founder, chairman and CEO is B.R. McConnon, a former employee at Citizens for a Sound Economy, linked to the conservative tea-party movement.

The Philip Morris campaign, which will run for the best part of a month, indicates that the tobacco lobby fears the impact of plain packaging. Although the government dropped the proposal because of unease, Health Minister Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat, last month urged the coalition to press ahead.

A Philip Morris spokesman said: "Adult smokers and tobacco retailers in the UK face some of the strictest tobacco control regulations and pay some of the highest cigarette taxes in Europe, but typically they do not know about these policies until after they have been enacted.

"Consumers and retailers tell us that they would appreciate receiving information about public policies and government proposals that directly impact them, so we launched the Know-More website to do exactly that."