France uncovers plan to bypass tobacco laws

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 09 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:599
  1. Alexander Dorozynski

    Strategic plans to side step antitobacco laws have been seized from the offices of R J Reynolds France, the French subsidiary of R J Reynolds Tobacco International. They were seized by a Paris judge after a complaint against the company.

    Lengthy excerpts from the plans have now been published in the French daily newspaper Le Monde. The documents describe techniques to bypass legislation prohibiting or limiting tobacco advertising. This legislation includes what is known in France as the Evin law, after the former minister of health and social affairs Claude Evin.

    One document, attributed to Worldwide Brands, another Reynolds subsidiary, recommends a “creative approach to legal matters” to achieve “a balance between legal risks and desired benefits.”

    Worldwide Brands' mission to identify, develop, and carry out brand diversification is outlined. It recommends using brand names for “lifestyle” products such as clothing, shoes, and watches; targeting urban men aged 18 to 30 years for the Camel brand; and targeting both men and women for the Winston brand.

    According to the excerpts, expenditure for such promotions is to increase—through legal and financial channels that must be “hermetically separated from the tobacco company”—from $5m (pounds sterling3.3m) in 1992 to $24m (pounds sterling16m) in 1997 to pursue licensing of the brand logos. Specific products are listed for various countries: clothing for France, Italy, and Spain; watches for the United Kingdom; and luggage everywhere in Europe except France and Britain.

    The Evin law prohibits the distribution in France of brand name derivatives, apart from those marketed before 1990 by companies without judicial or financial links with tobacco producers. This ban, together with other measures (including a 77% increase in the price of cigarettes since 1991), has led to a 9% decrease in tobacco sales in France during the past five years but also to an increase in smuggling and in competition between brands for a larger share of the market.

    A survey of 10 national daily and weekly newspapers in France has shown that each received about Fr1m (pounds sterling130000) in tobacco related advertising last year.

    Former minister Claude Evin told Le Monde that he was not surprised to hear of the documents. “The strategy of tobacco lobbies was clear, unsurprising. This is why I had proposed and obtained a ban on all forms of [tobacco] advertising. Anything that is contrary to this principle is illegal and must be sanctioned as such by tribunals.”

    The documents were seized last year after a complaint by the National Committee against Tobacco. Le Monde writes: “It is hard to believe that the managers of Reynolds Tobacco International had the naivety to keep a written record of their world communications plans for 1992-7.” It is thought that the documents may lead to charges for violating the Evin law.—ALEXANDER DOROZYNSKI, medical journalist, Paris

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