Australia must urgently strengthen its integrity and transparency legislation around lobbying, say the authors of the first Australian study to analyse how the tobacco industry uses the ‘revolving door’ between government and industry as a key political lobbying mechanism to influence public health policy.
Published today in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, the paper reports on the so-called ‘revolving door’ tactic whereby tobacco companies recruit people who have previously held senior government roles to lobby for them. It reveals that 48% of in-house tobacco company lobbyists and 55% of lobbyists acting on behalf of tobacco companies held positions in Australian state or federal governments either before or after working for the tobacco industry.
Around half of the lobbyists identified in the study had moved into or out of their government roles within a year of working for a tobacco company (56%) or as a lobbyist for one (48%).
The researchers identified a total of 56 lobbyists representing tobacco companies, and 73 current and former in-house tobacco lobbyists by combining information from the Australian federal, state and territory government lobbyist registers; social networking platform LinkedIn; and Australian news media.
The authors describe how tobacco companies use third-party allies to indirectly lobby government – a form of lobbying that is poorly recorded on lobbyist registers and is not easily tracked. It provides the example of the Australian Retail Vaping Industry Association (ARVIA), which was created with funding from tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI).
The authors raise concerns that the movement of key people between government and tobacco industry roles without adequate transparency provides potential opportunities to influence policymaking out of sight.
“In the case of tobacco companies using the revolving door to influence government decision-making, the outcome is potentially delayed, weakened or suppressed implementation of tobacco control and anti-vaping reforms,” they write.
They add that in Australia, tobacco industry interference tactics largely hinge on the new product pipeline – e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products – that the industry claims offer public health benefits as an aid to quitting smoking, but which are in fact systematically marketed to young people, effectively creating the next generation of consumers.
Led by Dr Christina Watts of The Daffodil Centre at the University of Sydney, the authors call for strengthening of Australia’s legislation around lobbying. They note that current cooling-off periods – the minimum time required between switching from the public to the private sector – are often not enforced and lack serious sanctions, and that there are no restrictions on people moving from a tobacco company to a government position.
While the paper does not suggest lobbying actions of individuals or organisations are illegal, the authors urged greater transparency around the practice.
“As a minimum first step, all direct tobacco employees and lobbyists acting either directly or indirectly via third-party allies, should be publicly disclosed on government registers with detailed updates of activities and meetings,” they write.
“It is critical that transparency and integrity legislation is updated and enforced, in line with international best practice, to eliminate the influence of tobacco companies in Australian policymaking.”
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