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It’s been about a decade since anyone admitted it but someone has finally gone on the record to make the connection between right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs and Big Tobacco.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald (not online) has reported that cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco is funding the IPA. The membership was revealed by BAT spokesman Scott McIntyre.

British American Tobacco is part of an industry campaign to stop the federal government’s plain packaging cigarette legislation, which is set to come into effect at the end of this year.

The IPA, also an opponent of plain packaging, has long refused to reveal who contributes to its research war chest. Neither the IPA or BAT replied to requests for clarification this morning.

Big Tobacco has initiated legal proceedings against the government to protect their brands, which they say are worth billions. Corporate and individual members contribute most of the IPA’s $2.5 million annual budget, which is then funnelled into research.

In 2010, ABC TV’s Media Watch questioned IPA plain packaging spokesperson Tim Wilson’s links to the tobacco industry, highlighting the think tank’s historical ties to cigarette companies. At the time no tobacco company would reveal if it was funding the IPA.

In an opinion piece published by The Australian in 2002 the IPA admitted it received support from tobacco companies. In another piece in 2000, former senior fellow Gary Johns said a member of the IPA board worked for Phillip Morris.

Critics such as The Greens have long accused the IPA of being a “pressure group for hire”. Most of the IPA’s research is focused on pro-business issues and anti-government intervention, with many of their researchers also providing comment and op-ed for the media.

In an interview with The Power Index recently, IPA boss John Roskam said supporters had been intimidated for their membership and that was a reason for keeping their identities secret.

“Anyone who gives us money can say they give us money, but the reason we don’t reveal who our donors are is because they have been intimidated,” said Roskam. “There is nothing that we have ever done that we have done because someone has paid us to change our opinion.”

Peter Fray

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