Research Article: “Working the System”—British American Tobacco’s Influence on the European Union Treaty and Its Implications for Policy: An Analysis of Internal Tobacco Industry Documents

Date Published: January 12, 2010

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Katherine E. Smith, Gary Fooks, Jeff Collin, Heide Weishaar, Sema Mandal, Anna B. Gilmore, Elizabeth Smith

Abstract: Katherine Smith and colleagues investigate the ways in which British American Tobacco influenced the European Union Treaty so that new EU policies advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health.

Partial Text: Increasingly, many of the world’s major public health concerns are linked to the goods produced and marketed by large corporations (such as those in the fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and chemical industries) [1]. Understanding how corporations influence policy therefore forms an essential part of public health research. Efforts to understand the behaviour of the tobacco industry, which is widely recognised as the vector of the tobacco epidemic [2]–[5], have been greatly facilitated by the release of internal corporate documents through a series of litigation cases in the United States. To date, research based on these documents has largely focused on industry efforts to influence tobacco control policy [6]–[14], and less attention has paid to what these documents reveal about collective efforts by corporations to influence broader policy debates. Our research sought to assess how, why, and in what ways corporations, particularly the tobacco industry, influenced the EU’s approach to impact assessment (IA), by employing this unique resource. Policy theorists have long highlighted the importance of policy networks in achieving policy change [15]–[17], but there have been very few attempts (perhaps because of the difficulties in obtaining relevant data) to unpack how such networks are created. This paper offers some unique insights into the extent to which policy networks can be deliberately manufactured by sufficiently resourced actors and used to influence policy. It starts by introducing IA, the concerns around its use and its application within the EU.

Following a series of litigation cases in the US, leading tobacco companies were required to make internal documents public [50]. These are now available online and can be searched using optical character recognition [51]. Their broad coverage means they also provide insights into the lobbying efforts of companies that worked with the tobacco industry, providing a unique resource for the analysis of corporate strategy and conduct.