The libertarian right’s susceptibility to being misled, and in turn eagerly misleading others, has been highlighted by the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes, as some of their number have leapt to jump on the “it’s not working” bandwagon set running by the Murdoch press, rather than bother themselves with all the facts. Typical of these has been the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
In late June, under the headline “Evidence is not on the side of plain packaging”, Mark Littlewood, the grandly-titled Director General of the IEA, told that “With tobacco sales rising after plain packaging was introduced in Australia, the public health case for this policy looks increasingly weak”. But tobacco sales to smokers in Australia are falling – even the industry admits that.
He went on “The British government said that it was ‘minded’ to introduce plain packaging on the basis of a deliriously optimistic review of the theoretical evidence, but it can only seriously consider proceeding if it undertakes serious reviews of the impact on intellectual property, counterfeiting, smuggling, tax evasion and trade disputes. These are the pressing issues that have so far been ignored”.
Not only is this needlessly hyperbolic – “deliriously optimistic” also includes a blatantly false assumption – but also assumes that, for instance, forbidding brands from being packaged with old-established ad-man’s symbols and straplines can be given a value, classed as “intellectual property”, and made the subject of reparation claims. It also repeats the evidence-free “counterfeiting and smuggling” claim.
What he doesn't want to see in the UK
But what Littlewood and the IEA are also not telling is that, quite apart from his routine dishonesty, his organisation has good reason to shill for the tobacco industry: they are funding him. When Littlewood asserts that plain packaging is “the latest ludicrous move in the unending, ceaseless, bullying war against those who choose to produce and consume tobacco”, he is not doing it out of altruism.
Because, as George Monbiot at the deeply subversive Guardian has told, “British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International have been funding the institute – in BAT's case since 1963. British American Tobacco has admitted that it gave the institute £20,000 last year and that it's ‘planning to increase our contribution in 2013 and 2014’”. Well, well.
And, as Monbiot notes, “whether companies pay for specific publications or whether they continue to fund a body that – by the purest serendipity – publishes books and pamphlets that concur with the desires of its sponsors, surely makes no difference”. Quite. Littlewood and the IEA are in Big Tobacco’s pocket. Far from being a “non-partisan” think-tank, this is yet another grubby sell-out.
Mark Littlewood, liar, hypocrite, sell-out, but still a respected pundit. For now.