A federação comercial que representa os comerciantes e varejistas na Inglaterra vem fazendo lobby contra o fim da exposição dos maços. Ela é financiada pela British American Tobacco, que no Brasil é representada pela Souza Cruz.
A federação representa 16.500 pontos de venda e está emergindo no debate sobre se os cigarros devem ou não ficar fora da vista do consumidor. As organizações de saúde pedem que a propaganda de cigarros seja proibida nos pontos de venda, para evitar a iniciação de jovens e adolescentes.
National Federation of Retail Newsagents campaign is being influenced by the tobacco industry, says trade bodys ex-leader
A shopkeepers trade body that has helped to persuade scores of MPs to oppose a ban on cigarette displays has been accused by its members of being a puppet of the tobacco industry.
The National Federation of Retail Newsagents, which represents 16,500 shopkeepers, has emerged as an important player in the debate over whether "power walls" – behind-the-counter displays of cigarettes – should be banned.
Health campaigners claim that banning the displays would benefit the nations health because it would cut the number of young people who take up smoking. But the federation, which disputes evidence for the claim and warns that the move would be bad for business, has hired a lobbying company to make its case with MPs. Emails sent to MPs by account executives at Hume Brophy, which also lobbies on behalf of British American Tobacco, suggest the federations campaign has been a success.
One email, sent to all MPs this month, said: "The campaign has more than 78 supporters [MPs] … on this very important issue which would have a devastating effect on the small business sector in your constituency."
The campaign has been so successful that the government is considering a compromise that could see small shops exempted from the ban, a move that would be supported by the majority of federation members but not health experts and cancer charities. But there are now increasing concerns within the federation that its campaign is being directed by the tobacco companies.
"The federation is a puppet of the tobacco industry," said Colin Finch, its president in 2001 and 2007, who accuses tobacco companies of using "retailers to legitimise their campaign". He said tobacco money flowed into the federation "discreetly" via sponsorship of trade events, annual conferences, seminars, meetings and dinners.
"The whole situation with the federation and the tobacco industry is out of kilter," said Finch, who opposes the display ban, arguing it is unfair and will not work. "The federations code of ethics has been poisoned by the tobacco industry."
John McClurey, a former district president of the federation, asked officials to clarify who was paying for the lobbying. "I was told by someone very high up that it was being done at no cost to the members," he said.
In 2009, when MPs were first deciding on whether to back the ban, the federation took out full-page advertisements in the Times opposing the move. When a federation member asked officials who had paid for the ad he was told, "dont ask". Finch said he was alarmed at the federations secrecy, adding: "Its supposed to be a trade association, not the Plymouth Brethren."
David Daniel, the federations trade relations manager, rejected claims that it was too close to the industry and said it was acting to protect members livelihood. "We are speaking to them [the tobacco industry] and exchanging views and expertise, but to say we are in their pocket is a million miles away [from the truth]," he said.
When asked whether the federation was receiving money from the tobacco industry for its campaign against the ban, Daniel said: "We work with a lot of partners. I am not sure we would want to make public the commercial arrangements we have with them." The federation confirmed that about 3% of its income came from the tobacco industry, but denied there was any link between its policy line and its commercial relationships. The close links between the federation and tobacco companies are well established.
Solly Kohnat, president of the federation in 2009, is a spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, a trade body wholly funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association. Several other alliance officials are also leading members of the federation. In his maiden speech as president, Kohnat said the federation must focus its energy on tobacco issues.
Senior federation officials regularly benefit from the tobacco industrys corporate hospitality. Last year a number had tickets to an England match at Wembley paid for by BAT. The federation recently conferred a fellowship on a senior executive of Imperial Tobacco, Ian Watkins.
The campaign at Westminster against the ban has been co-ordinated by Mike Weatherley, Conservative MP for Hove and Portslade. Stressing he is not an advocate for smoking, he has written to ministers urging them to acknowledge the federation argument that bans in other countries have led to "one in 10 stores closing".
Weatherley said removing the displays would force newsagents to keep tobacco under the counter. Weatherley added: "A ban would shift buying power from the high streets to the supermarkets, which has to be a bad thing."
However, allegations that a trade body that has lobbied MPs has been influenced by tobacco firms will be seized on by health campaigners. The UK is a party to the World Heath Organisation convention on tobacco control, which compels governments to ensure the drafting of policies is free "from vested interests of the tobacco industry".
"The government is required to protect its public health policies with respect to tobacco from the commercial and vested interests of the industry," said Deborah Arnott, director of the anti-smoking campaign group, Ash. "If the government repeals or significantly delays the display ban it will have utterly failed to live up to its international treaty obligations."