Let’s start with this paragraph:
I was never a tobacco lobbyist. After I wrote two articles on tobacco-related topics in 1996 and 1997, I consulted for Philip Morris, at their request, on international health for a total of about a month in 1998. I never lobbied for the company or promoted cigarettes in any way. I subsequently wrote to Philip Morris asking them to provide funding for a campaign to rehabilitate the use of DDT. This letter, which is now on the web, is the source of nearly all Quiggin and Lambert’s suppositions. Yet I never even had the courtesy of a reply. Philip Morris never funded the campaign, and I haven’t spoken with the company in at least seven years.
What’s the best way to describe the work Bate did for tobacco companies? Was he a consultant, giving advice to tobacco companies, or a lobbyist, trying to influence opinion on behalf of the tobacco lobby? Here’s Bates own description, from a letter to Philip Morris.
I will be happy to inform you of relevant
people and changes occurring on the International Public Health scene,
and to write reports on salient issues, when I have a comparative
advantage to do so . However, I should stress that my, and my coworkers,
strength is in challenging publicly, in myriad fora, false public
health orthodoxies. I feel that any agreement we arrive at should not
stifle those skills and efforts . Although, having thought further on our
discussion I do not think this will prove problematic,
Bate implies that all he did for tobacco interests was a little consulting on “international health” and that the money did not influence his opinions because it was paid after he wrote the two articles and because Philip Morris approached him. Unfortunately for Bate, the Tobacco Documents are available online, and Bate and the ESEF feature in many of them. To understand the context of these, the Philip Morris Environmental Tobacco Smoke strategy from 1989 is useful:
Objective: Demonstrate that the ETS issue is another example of selectively used science to achieve a political agenda.
- Sponsor think tanks and political forums to publicize these issues.
Objective: Mitigate the perception of ETS risk by comparing ETS exposure with other unavoidable risks associated with everyday life. Demonstrate that the risk posed by ETS is negliable in comparison to other agents commonly found in our environment.
So in November 1995 Bate had discussions with British-American Tobacco (BAT) about a project on environmental risk that would take the tobacco companies’ line:
It was a pleasure meeting you earlier today . Our discussion was interesting and most helpful to the IEA’s research.
Later this month I shall send you an outline of our environmental risk project. I will look forward to your comments and hope you will find it worthy of BAT’s support.
In mid 1996, Bate informed BAT of ESEF’s plans:
US/EU paper : Why regulate nicotine when caffeine is more addictive? A follow up to
the work done by CEI in US where they petitioned the FDA to regulate caffeine . The
aim was to show that the reason for the regulation of nicotine has nothing to do
with the science and a lot to do with empire building by the FDA . The message : – don’t
let the EU do the same thing . Needs careful handling – may work best as a news
article by RB .
All the science papers from the proposed risk book, as well as follow-on papers for a second volume on climate change
3 . Work with media to establish the name of ESEF as a scare watchdog. Get key UK
journalists to do pieces on why ESEF “the science watchdog” is necessary . Encourage the media to contact us when health scares occur. …
7 . Conduct a survey of ESEF members … to discern how they perceive science to be treated by the media. Questions such as
the following would be asked. … Do they think that the media abuse/trivialise/ignore
science? The media being narcissistic will definitely carry this story – a useful idea for
establishing our appeal to the media.
In July 1996, Bate wrote to RJ Reynolds asking for £50,000 to fund a book on “low dose risks”:
The book will be about 250 pages and contain a media friendly summary. It
should be sent to 2,000 identified media and other policy makers across Europe. …
I hope you will fund the project attached. It will be a joint effort of ESEF and the IEA — probably £25,000 to each.
And in August 1996, Bate also asked BAT to fund the book, though this time he asked for twice as much money:
Author Fees and Expenses £20,000 IEA/ESEF costs (overhead, staffing, editors) £20,000 Publication Costs £30,000-45,000 Distribution to opinion formers £5,000 Marketing £5,000 Web Site and monitoring £10,000 Total £90,000-105,000
The BAT Consumer & Regulatory Affairs 1997 Budget (dated October 1996) included a £50,000 contribution to IEA/ESEF for “a brochure on risk assessment”:
The brochure: would discuss risk assessment principles, illustrate where a lack of proper rules and openness has lead to politically correct regulatory conclusions (including on the ETS issue). and illustrate the economic importance of not regulating on issues that have little or no importance to health.
In October 1996 a Philip Morris letter suggests he was trying to get Philip Morris to fund it as well:
I was not aware that Roger is also seeking funding from the other cigarette
RJ Reynolds was closely involved with BATE and ESEF in the work on the book. A February 1997 report from RJR states:
Book project with ESEF (European Science and Environment Forum)
- Got industry aligned and met with editor Roger Bate to discuss current status and publication details.
- Status : most papers submitted, editing process begun.
- Publication: negotiations with major U.K. publishing house to ensure maximum distribution and marketing. Target date: in time for Frankfurt Book Fair in autumn.
Background: book is to cover discussion on low-risk epidemiology, threshold theory, and their effects on public health policy . Examples to be drawn from various fields, including ETS . Authors to be renowned scientists without any previous connections to the industry .
And the next month’s RJR report states
Follow-up meeting with Roger Bate, ESEF, on book project .
The Tobacco Institute also seems to have helped fund the book
Adam Bryan Brown: Yesterday I asked Adam whether TI has funded any work by Dr. Gori
Jan Fulton Smith: Last piece of work we were involved in was a book on risk by Roger Bate.
I also attach a copy of a preview of the book written by Roger Bate, which recently
appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
These materials may help you in maximising the impact of this book in your own
market. Please remember that we have additional copies available at Millbank .
Contact Jacqui Earl or Laura O’Loughlin if you would like copies.
Bate’s book was published in Oct 1997 and surprise, surprise, the chapter highlighted in the publicity campaign was:
Research findings published in the book What Risk? cast doubt on the
relationship between lung cancer in non-smokers and environmental tobacco
smoke (secondary smoking).
One of the authors, Professor Robert Nilsson, a senior toxicologist at the
National Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate (the central agency for chemicals
control in Sweden), demonstrates that existing research in this area is based
on faulty sampling. …
What Risk? is published in association with the European Science and
Environment Forum (ESEF). ESEF is an independent, non-profit making
alliance of scientists whose aim is to ensure that environmental debates are
properly aired, and that decisions which are taken and action that is proposed
are founded on sound scientific principles.
Of course there was no mention of the association of the book with tobacco companies.
The ESEF was then cited by journalists as part of their balanced coverage of the risks of ETS. For example, Nigel Hawkes in The Times March 1998:
PASSIVE smoking and its effects on health is a controversy that will not go away. Three weeks
ago the Government’s Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health declared that clear evidence
from studies involving thousands of people showed that passive smoking increased the risk of
lung cancer by 26 per cent and the risk of heart disease by 23 per cent.
The report rested on studies published last year in the British Medical Journal by a team at St
Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Royal London School of Medicine. Tobacco companies
expressed doubts about the quality of the evidence, but the Government is expected to draw
heavily on it in preparing a White Paper on smoking, due out this summer.
Now a toxicologist unconnected with the tobacco industry, Professor Robert Nilsson of
Stockholm University, has launched a powerful criticism of the science . The risk of contracting
lung cancer from passive smoking is “extremely small, or even negligible”, he says. “Led by a
strongly felt conviction that tobacco smoke is a major health risk, some scientists and
physicians seem, to a varying degree, to have shelved their efforts to analyse the possible
effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the rigorous and objective manner that scientific
method requires.” His criticisms, published as a working paper of the European Science and
Environment Forum, are lengthy and detailed.
Then we have the letter (Sep 1998) that Bate claimed was the source for nearly all our suppositions:
As you probably know I was working for PMCS Brussels at a rate of 800
pounds sterling a day . I would be content to continue to work at the same
Bate returned value for money. Without knowing more about what you wil have him do I can’t judge his proposal. By copy of this to John, I invite his more recent opinion.
I think Bate is a very valuable resource and have strongly recommended that he play some role at UN level . I recall that we paid him up to GBP 10,0000 per month.
Bate continued to work with BAT. A Jan 1999 BAT action list to organise opposition to the WHO International Convention on Tobacco Control contains this item:
This CP and PR to make with Roger Bate at European Science and Environmental
Forum to see what action can be achieved .
Bate’s partner in founding Africa Fighting Malaria, Richard Tren, also makes an appearance in the Tobacco Documents, as the first author of a review of a World Bank report on the economics of tobacco control:
One can only speculate on why the Report was published, since its biases discount it from being a
useful economic study. But perhaps it will serve a useful political purpose by furthering calls for greater
international control of tobacco . Perhaps the World Bank and the Report ‘s authors may benefit from
the earmarked tobacco taxes the Report advocates.
And that’s just some of the documents in the Tobacco Archive.
I’ll save further analysis of Bate’s response for another post.