Scientific Article
Big Tobacco, the New Politics, and the Threat to Public Health

Jonathan Gornall (email:
Gornall Jonathan. Big tobacco, the new politics, and the threat to public health BMJ 2019; 365 :l2164
  • Source
  • Release date

Big Tobacco, the New Politics, and the Threat to Public Health

Research investigation


With several Tory leadership contenders sympathetic to its ideology, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is closer to power than it has been for decades. In an exclusive investigation, Jonathan Gornall reveals how the organisation is funded by British American Tobacco and has links with senior conservative ministers. After orchestrating a series of attacks on public health initiatives, the IEA may now hold the key to No 10.

What the IEA says matters. In an essay published on 31 March, titled “The next Tory leader must be a bullish libertarian,” the director general of IEA set out what amounted to a manifesto for the new party leader. This article wrote the next party leader must ensure that “the plethora of censorious and hectoring measures over what British adults choose to eat, drink and smoke must come to an end.”

The institute has a longstanding reputation for dismissing public health initiatives as “nanny state” interventions.  Its recent research publications have challenged the childhood obesity strategy, dismissed “sin taxes” as regressive, and ridiculed the link between fast food outlets and obesity. In the past year alone it has issued more than a dozen statements criticising everything from alcohol controls to sugar taxes as “pointless,” “absurd,” and “draconian.”

IEA political links

32 Conservative MPs are linked financially, directly or indirectly, to IEA. Among the MPs most closely and publicly associated ideologically with the IEA is Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton in Surrey since 2010.

Through its political connections the IEA attacks public health initiatives and influences national policy for the benefit of alcohol, tobacco and other addiction industries in UK.

Several examples are:

  • Lobbying for the ban on lobbying from charities and other organizations receiving grants from the government
  • Aggressive targeting Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol
  • Working with the alcohol industry to sway political opinion such as hosting debates on alcohol policies with the alcohol company Pernod Ricard UK and AB InBev in 2017 Conservative Party conference
  • Launch of parallel company ‘Freer’ and through it publishing essays by Conservative MPs on topics such as “nanny state” and “cannabis”

No transparency in funding

The IEA makes much of the fact that it seeks and receives no government funding. It is, however, less forthcoming about where it obtains its money.

In a recent appearance on BBC Two’s Politics Live Littlewood repeatedly avoided answering direct questions from the presenter, Jo Coburn, about whether his organisation received money from the sugar, tobacco, alcohol, or casino industries.

As a charity and a private company limited by guarantee, the IEA publishes accounts with the Charity Commission and Companies House, but there is no legal requirement to identify individual donors, and the IEA does not. Despite the IEA’s penchant for secrecy over funding, details of its involvement with a range of industries whose products are bad for public health have trickled out over the years.

  • In 2012 the National Casino Industry Forum gave £8000 to the IEA after the publication of a discussion paper written by Snowdon the head of Lifestyle Economics at IEA
  • In 2013 the cigarette companies Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Imperial all confirmed that they had financed the IEA for campaigning against plain packaging
  • An IEA fundraising prospectus aimed at potential US based corporate donors lists more than 153 corporate supporters of the IEA in the UK including British American Tobacco, Rothmans UK Holdings, Tate and Lyle, Whitbread, and Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland.

Jonathan Gornall writes, few in public health will be happy at the prospect of the Conservatives adopting a leader wedded to the IEA’s anti-“nanny state,” free market ideology, but the signs are not good. Three days before the IEA article in the Telegraph, a round-up of contenders published by the New Statesman listed no fewer than seven serious candidates for the job who had demonstrated various degrees of involvement with IEA or empathy with its views. They included Davis, Raab, Truss, Hancock, and Lee.

Source Website: BMJ