Tories linked to tobacco industry revealed in probe

Health secretary Matt Hancock. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

No fewer than 25 serving Conservative MPs, including several leadership candidates, are connected to an organisation part-funded by the tobacco industry, reveals an investigation by a respected health journal.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) says politicians with links to free-market think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) include Dominic Raab, David Davis and Owen Paterson.

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The BMJ say the organisation is responsible for a series of attacks on public health initiatives including policies aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

Between them, Neil Record, chair of the IEA’s board of trustees since 2015, and fellow IEA trustee since July 2005, Sir Michael Hintze, have given a total of £166,000 in cash or hospitality to 30 MPs and £4.3 million to the Tory party since 2002. Between 2010 and 2017, prior to his appointment as Health Secretary, Matt Hancock accepted £32,000 in funding from Mr Record. In a special report published today, investigative journalist Jonathan Gornall warns the IEA is closer to power than it has been for decades – and may hold the key to No 10.

Public health experts say they are “deeply concerned” that policies designed to tackle childhood obesity, such as advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods, could be put at risk under a new Tory leadership wedded to the IEA’s free-market, anti-regulation ideology.

The IEA has a long record of dismissing public health initiatives as “nanny-state” interventions, writes Gornall.

In the past year alone, it has issued statements criticising everything from alcohol controls to sugar taxes as “pointless,” “absurd” and “draconian”.

The IEA keeps its funding sources private, as it is legally allowed to do, but the BMJ reveal it is part-funded by British American Tobacco. In the past, it has also taken money from the gambling, alcohol, soft drinks and sugar industries.

Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said “it stinks” that so many Conservative MPs are deeply engaged with these organisations, which frequently advocate policies that run counter to public health.

He added: “A significant problem in politics is the presence of influential think tanks propped up by dark money and pushing an extreme free market agenda, often in co-operation with corporations looking to tear up regulations that keep us safe. The Institute of Economic Affairs should come clean on who funds it, and Conservative politicians should publically distance themselves from the tobacco industry.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, director of the Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research, fears that “public health would be an early victim of populist free marketism and the victims would be the most vulnerable – including children”.