An institute whose experts have occupied key positions on European Union and United Nations regulatory panels is, in fact, reports The Guardian, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity. The revelations, based on a review of more than 17,000 documents released under U.S. freedom of information laws, appear in a new article in Globalization and Health. Sarah Steele, the lead author and a researcher at Cambridge University said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organization has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group—a private body and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.” Among the companies that support ILSI are Coca Cola and Monsanto.
More than 100 free-market thinktanks from North America to Europe and south Asia took positions helpful to the tobacco industry or donations, an investigation by The Guardian shows. These thinktanks have provided a powerful voice of support to cigarette manufacturers in battles against tougher regulations. At least 106 thinktanks in two dozen countries have accepted donations from tobacco companies, argued against tobacco control policies called for by the World Health Organization (WHO), or both, according to The Guardian analysis.
These groups have opposed plain cigarette packaging, written to regulators in support of new tobacco products, or promoted industry-funded research. In one extreme case, an Africa-based thinktank questioned whether the link between cancer and smoking “was yet to be empirically established”, before backing away from the claim.
Patricio Marquez, lead specialist on health global practice at the World Bank, said such activity could impact public health efforts. The thinktanks “have created an arsenal of evidence in order to influence policy-making and decision-making,” he said.
The Guardian examined one of the largest networks of independent free-market thinktanks in the world, organized by Atlas Network, a not-for-profit based near Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia, which it says “connects a global network of more than 475 independent, civil society organizations in over 90 countries to the ideas needed to advance freedom.” The Guardian coverage for this report was supported by Vital Strategies.
Read The Guardian’s Free-market groups and the tobacco industry database
Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is in talks about a potential takeover of the Canadian cannabis producer Cronos as it seeks to diversify its business beyond traditional smokers, reports The Guardian. Canada legalized recreational use of marijuana this year, and the country is seen as a testing ground for marijuana companies hoping to expand globally as other countries follow suit. A deal would mark one of the largest combinations between mainstream tobacco and the booming but volatile marijuana sector, which has attracted interest from a variety of large consumer companies that are monitoring the industry for disruptive threats and faster-growing product possibilities.
Last year, the University of California -San Francisco Tobacco Control Policy Making: United States released a report by Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz titled Lessons from Tobacco for Developing Marijuana Legalization Policy.
Why is the National Rifle Association so powerful? asks The Guardian in an in-depth analysis of the political role of the NRA in resisting efforts to reduce gun violence. Here’s a clue: it’s not (just) about the money. The vast majority of Americans support gun control, and yet Congress has failed to toughen laws even in the wake of a series of mass shootings. With the NRA pouring money into political races at record levels it is an easy argument to make that the gun lobby has bought Washington – but that fails to paint a full picture… “The NRA has money that it uses to help its favored candidates get elected. But the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters,” said Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. By choosing its battles wisely, the NRA has shown an ability to swing primary elections in favor of pro-gun candidates, Winkler said. “That’s the real source of their strength,” he said. That and its use of a relatively small number of highly motivated people to push an agenda that appears out of step with the general population, which, according to recent polling, is in favor of stricter gun laws.
In its annual Good Governance report, writes Fair Observer, the Institute of Directors assesses the United Kingdom’s largest listed companies against indicators that include board effectiveness, audit and risk accountability, remuneration, shareholder relations and stakeholder relations. Ironically, the IoD index’s top performers often come from the alcohol and tobacco industries. This year’s report gave pride of place to the distiller Diageo and the 2016 winner was British American Tobacco (BAT). The IoD’s standards may be appropriate for how these companies behave in London. In Kinshasa, Kampala and Juba, though, the praise of BAT surely raises eyebrows. As the rest of the world has learned over the intervening months, above-board corporate behavior in the UK does not guarantee ethical conduct elsewhere. Over the summer, The Guardian revealed in a series of explosive investigative pieces that BAT (as well as other multinational tobacco firms) has been ruthless in staking out market share and seeing off health regulations in African markets. BAT and its allies have threatened governments in some eight African countries to counteract policies that have underpinned public health initiatives in Western markets.
Hundreds of gay activists will begin a campaign of civil disobedience and direct action against gun companies and their supporters, to demand an end to the epidemic of gun violence blighting the US, reports The Guardian. Members of Gays Against Guns, a group formed in the wake of the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando earlier this summer, said they would “no longer stand by and watch the gun industry profit from death”. Above, the group pictured during the 2016 NYC Pride March. Credit.
The Guardian reports that a coalition of more than 100 medical groups is asking Congress to fund research on gun violence at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end a decades-long drought of federal public health research on the subject. The groups sent a letter requesting that Congress “end the dramatic chilling effect of the current rider language restricting gun violence research and to fund this critical work”.
The Guardian reports that India has introduced a new tax on car sales aimed at helping fight high levels of air pollution and congestion. The surprise move, announced by the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, is a victory for campaigners and a defeat for the powerful car industry. Commentators said the move showed how attitudes to car use had changed in India. “There are some things that are politically palatable now that were not before. Jaitley has seen there is political space and public support. Once Indians owning cars was seen as a sign of economic success. Now this sort of tax is seen as Indians being responsible,” said Samir Saran, of the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank.
As an increasing number of states look to join the four states and Washington DC in legalizing recreational marijuana, many in the alcohol industry have feared that legalized weed will cut into their existing profits, reports The Guardian. But a few years into Colorado legalization, alcohol sales are up in the state, and those in the alcohol business have embraced their fellow industry.