Tony Abbott & Liberal Party in bed with the tobacco companies

Posted on August 3, 2010

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Australian tobacco companies to pay for $5 million anti-Labor ad campaign

AUSTRALIAN tobacco companies will secretly pay for a $5 million anti-Labor advertising blitz cooked up with the help of Liberal Party strategists for the final two weeks of the election campaign. The attack ads over tobacco plain packaging are being fronted by a group registered only last week with the Australian Securities Commission and dubbed the Alliance of Australian Retailers.

However, the campaign was devised by former Howard government advisers and current Liberal Party strategists, and is being almost entirely financed by the tobacco industry.

Starting this weekend, full-page newspaper and television ads will accuse Labor of adding to people’s costs of living and attack their proposed laws on plain packaging for tobacco products.  That would see brand logos, images and colours removed from cigarette packs from 2012.

Tobacco insiders believe the Coalition would not pursue the legislation, despite Opposition Leader Tony Abbott claiming in April that he would not block it.

Julia Gillard has said Mr Abbott must “come clean” on what ties exist between the Coalition and the tobacco industry – and what the industry might expect after the election in return for the ad campaign.

“Liberal party strategists and Mr Abbott have got some explaining to do.  The Labor party doesn’t take donations from tobacco companies,” the Prime Minister has said on radio this morning.

“I think Mr Abbott needs to come clean about what participation the Liberal Party had in the tobacco campaign … I think Australians are pretty worried that Mr Abbott’s health policy is hostage to the influence of tobacco giants.”

A spokesman for Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said plain packaging was something “we would look at in government, if elected”.

Terrified’Anti-smoking group Quit has said the ad campaign shows the tobacco industry is “terrified of declining profits”.

Retail groups, including the Service Station Association, the Independent Retailers Association and the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, have been asked to join the campaign to hide the fact it is being financed by big tobacco.

Most of the campaign is being paid for by tobacco giants British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, who between them have donated $2.5 million to the Liberal Party over the past 10 years.

Liberal Party pollsters and advisers Crosby Textor are believed to be the architects of the research behind the campaign.

Former Howard government adviser Chris Argent, now Philip Morris’s corporate affairs director, confirmed the industry was backing the campaign.

“We are supporting the efforts of the alliance in calling for the Government to abandon the plain packaging,” he said.

A tobacco industry source said: ” … they are pitching in because they think they can make the difference because the election is so close.”

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