Objectives To investigate opposition to standardised tobacco packaging in the UK. To increase understanding of how transnational corporations are adapting to changes in their access to policymakers precipitated by Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Design Case study web-based documentary analysis, using NVivo V.10. Examination of relationships between opponents of standardised packaging and transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) and of the volume, nature, transparency and timing of their activities.
Setting UK standardised packaging policy debate 2011–2013.
Participants Organisations selected on basis of opposition to, or facilitation thereof, standardised tobacco packaging in the UK; 422 associated documents.
Results Excluding tobacco manufacturing and packaging companies (n=12), 109 organisations were involved in opposing standardised packaging, 82 (75%) of which had a financial relationship with 1 or more TTC. These 82 organisations (43 actively opposing the measure, 39 facilitating opposition) were responsible for 60% of the 404 activities identified, including the majority of public communications and research production. TTCs were directly responsible for 28% of total activities, predominantly direct lobbying, but also financially underwrote third party research, communication, mass recruitment and lobbying. Active organisations rarely reported any financial relationship with TTCs when undertaking opposition activities.
Conclusions The multifaceted opposition to standardised packaging was primarily undertaken by third parties with financial relationships with major tobacco manufacturers. Low levels of transparency regarding these links created a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. Countries should strengthen implementation of Article 5.3 of the FCTC by systematically requiring conflict of interest declarations from all organisations participating in political or media debates on tobacco control.
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Contributors The study was conceived by GJF and ABG; data were collected, coded and analysed by JLH who also wrote the first draft; GJF contributed to data coding and analysis; JLH, GJF and ABG all contributed to subsequent drafts.
Funding The work was supported by Cancer Research UK (Grant no. C38058/A15664). GJF was funded by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (Grant no. RO1CA160695). JLH and ABG are members of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.
Competing interests ABG is a member (unpaid) of the Council of Action on Smoking and Health, and was a member of the WHO Expert Committee convened to develop recommendations on how to address tobacco industry interference with tobacco control policy.
Ethics approval Ethical approval for the project was obtained from the REACH Committee, Department for Health Ethics Committee at the University of Bath.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement More information about the data can be accessed from http://tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Plain_packaging_in_the_UK:_TCRG_Research_on_Policy_Opposition_2011-2013.
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