What You've Always Been Getting Wrong About Big Tobacco Funding Climate Deniers

What You've Always Been Getting Wrong About Big Tobacco Funding Climate Deniers
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The DeSmog UK epic history series marches on as Roger Bate continues to court the tobacco industry. He was a man on a mission. This is part two of an epic history double-feature.

Vickie Curtis, a Cambridge science graduate who worked under Keith Gretton in the corporate communications department at British American Tobacco (BAT), was responsible for monitoring the latest published research on cancer.  

Curtis remembers Roger Bate, founder of sceptic think tank the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), as small with a “slight build, curly hair, [and] glasses”; she described him as being “a man on a mission”.

She told me: “Roger Bate was kind of going around companies, I don’t know what other companies but I can imagine, trying to get money … he was much more proactive in keeping the lines of communication open.”

An Ambitious Guy’

He was very much into selling himself and ESEF and that was one of the ways he went about it. He came across as a young and ambitious guy.”

Curtis, however, did not enjoy her meetings with Bate and his colleagues from the free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), where Bate headed up the Environment Unit.

After one gruelling lunch she turned to her manager, Keith Gretton, and asked why they were spending time speaking to the free market crowd.

He turned to her and said that when you work in tobacco, “you cannot choose your friends”.

Sinister Truth

Environmentalists have also assumed that the scientists who worked with the think tanks were consciously complicit in attacking regulations while being funded by vested interests. But the truth seems to be far more sinister.

Two scientists who worked with Bate have told me, on the record, that they were kept in complete ignorance of the fact that the ESEF had accepted cash from tobacco companies, and only became aware of the funding because I told them about it.

Dr John Emsley, a chemist at Imperial College London who worked with Bate, said in an email to me: “You’ve certainly opened my eyes as to what was going on. I didn’t realise that ESEF got money from BAT to the extent of £150,000, which would be like £300,000 these days. I was always under the impression ESEF was running on a shoestring budget. I certainly got nothing from it. Most of what ESEF did was done by Roger and [his friend] Julian Morris.”

He added: “Would I have joined ESEF had I known it was funded by BAT? Certainly not. I’m sure Fritz Bottcher, who was the Dutch scientist and a founding member, would have felt the same.”

Toxic Tobacco

Professor John Adams of University College London, who spoke at the IEA’s 1995 climate denial conference, was offered funding directly from BAT to author a report on risk, but declined.

He said: “I found the BAT case compelling and was inclined to write [for] them … but I consulted my internal ethics committee and they said don’t touch BAT with a barge-pole because tobacco companies have a reputation in terms of manipulating evidence relating to the risk of their product, it’s so toxic that if you’re seen taking their money you’ll be forever tarnished.”

Adams did, however, agree to contribute to Bate’s book, What Risk? He confirmed in an interview with me that he was completely unaware at the time and, ever since then, that Bate was seeking funding from tobacco companies while approaching professional scientists to challenge the link between passive smoking and cancer.

In September 1998, Bate sent a letter to David Greenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs at Philip Morris, asking for funding for his malaria project and describing himself as a Visiting Fellow at the Political Economy Research Centre in Montana, USA.

The letter was highly unusual and was open to the interpretation that Bate was offering access to African political leaders who could influence the World Health Organization (WHO) process in exchange for cash.

Challenging False Orthodoxies’

The letter read: “Other than it’s [sic] humanitarian, scientific and public policy interest it should enable me to build contacts with politicians and scientists/thinkers from developing African countries. As demonstrated in the debate and policy shift on ivory trading, these representatives are particularly important in the UN/WHO process. I would be happy to regularly inform you of the progress on that front.”

He went on: “I would like to propose that I work on projects for you on an ad hoc basis. In your work, influencing WHO on their tobacco protocol, there are probably several areas where I can help. For example, contacts who may be appreciative of your efforts and arguments may develop via the malaria work and I could probably act as a liaison between you and them.”

Bate concluded by setting out that he worked for Philip Morris in Brussels for £800 per day and added: “The fax here is not private and hence mail correspondence is perhaps better.”

In the same month he wrote to Matthew Winokur, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Philip Morris: “I should stress that my, and my co-workers’, strength is in challenging publicly, in myriad fora, false public health orthodoxies. I feel that any agreement we arrive at should not stifle those skills and efforts.”

Next week, the DeSmog UK epic history series introduces you to the creator of the climate change hockey-stick graph and the man forever in the sceptics’ crosshairs: Michael Mann.

@brendanmontague

Photo: The Times via Creative Commons

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