APCO Worldwide (formerly known as APCO Associates) is a public relations (PR) company that is headquartered in Washington, and has more than 30 offices throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle-East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
The company has a long history of working with the tobacco industry, particularly in setting up front groups and grassroots organisations to be the voice of the industry.
- 1 Background
- 2 Recent Public Relations Work for the Tobacco Industry
- 3 More Historical Public Relations Campaigns for the Tobacco Industry
- 4 TobaccoTactics Resources
- 5 Relevant Links
- 6 Notes
APCO was set up in 1984 by American law firm Arnold & Porter (A&P), who has represented Philip Morris USA and parent company Altria since 1963. APCO started its life as a real-estate holding company for A&P partners, but soon grew into a PR firm dedicated to A&P’s client Philip Morris. APCO gradually expanded its clients base to include the Tobacco Institute, other tobacco companies (notably Lorillard and RJ Reynolds), and ultimately other industries.
Today, APCO’s client base covers many sectors and the company’s website gives no indication of tobacco industry links.
International Advisory Board
APCO has an International Advisory Board (IAB) which consist of 96 “recognized global leaders” offering APCO clients “invaluable real world knowledge” to help clients “make the right decisions”.
Three IAB members have links with APCO’s former tobacco client Philip Morris. Mary Foerster, former Boeing’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing joined APCO’s IAC in June 2016. Previously she worked for PR firm Burson-Marsteller where she supported Philip Morris with “strategic communications planning”. Craig L. Fuller, was APCO’s Executive Vice President from 2007-2009, after which he remained as APCO’s IAB member. Fuller used to work as Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs for Philip Morris in the 1990s. The third person with links to Philip Morris is Derek Yach, who sits on APCO’s Health Advisory Board (HAB), a subgroup of the IAB. Yach, who joined HAB in December 2014, is a former cabinet director of the World Health Organization, and has been in charge of the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World since 2017.
Lobbying in Europe
APCO’s 2018 entry in the European Union (EU) Transparency Register showed that the company has a strong lobbying presence in Europe, with 35 members of its Brussels office accredited to access European Parliament premises. APCO’s EU transparency register entry also disclosed that the firm was a member of the following organisations and associations:
European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) | British Chamber of Commerce (BritCham) | The American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (AmChamEU) | Friends of Europe | Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) | European Policy Centre (EPS)
Recent Public Relations Work for the Tobacco Industry
Part of Philip Morris Campaign Against Tobacco Display Ban
In August 2009, Philip Morris International (PMI) developed an elaborate PR plan to defeat the Point of Sale Display (POSD) Ban, which had just been introduced in Ireland and was in the early stages of legislative development in the United Kingdom (UK). APCO was one of four PR companies commissioned by PMI to help garner support of credible third parties, including retailers' associations and Members of Parliament.
- For more detail of PMI’s campaign, and APCO’s involvement, go to Philip Morris' PR Campaign Against the Display Ban.
More Historical Public Relations Campaigns for the Tobacco Industry
Behind Grassroots and Media Program to Push Tort Reform
APCO also played an integral part in helping the tobacco industry push for “tort reform” bills in the United States, aimed at giving the tobacco industry immunity against lawsuits seeking reimbursements for deaths and illnesses caused by its products. A 1992 internal Philip Morris document revealed the tobacco company considered the financial burdens related to product liability litigation “among the most significant threats facing out company”, and that the tobacco company had actively tried to influence the rule of law in its favour since 1986.
Initially, APCO was retained by Philip Morris to work on tort reform, but eventually other tobacco companies contributed to its fees as well. In 1995 alone, APCO was paid close to $1million for tort reform services. That year, APCO delivered “a targeted grassroots and paid media program in support of Senate passage of civil justice reform legislation” covering multiple US states. APCO’s view was that there was “a need for a coordinated, aggressive media relations campaign supporting the industry position”. Program elements included:
- to generate news coverage on television and radio which illustrated a negative impact of civil justice laws on small businesses and non-profit organisations;
- to reinforce perception for grassroots supporters and the media that there is a groundswell in favour of the tobacco industry’s proposed tort reforms; and
- to identify and recruit leaders of not-for-profit organisations, municipalities and small businesses and urge them to write and call their senators, and release press statements in support of the tobacco industry’s position.
APCO also set up a network of seemingly local organisations that acted as mouthpieces supporting tort reform, including the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuses (CALA) which had multiple regional branches. While these groups claimed to the media and legislators that they were funded by small donations from ordinary citizens, they were in fact sustained by the tobacco industry. For instance, Philip Morris’ 1995 proposed budget shows that the tobacco company had earmarked $130,000 to support the Louisiana CALA that year.
This tobacco industry tactic of creating so-called “fake” grassroots organisations is also known as Astroturfing.
”The Importance of Keeping the Public In the Dark”
In February 1994, APCO Vice President Neal Cohen, who had been personally involved in APCO’s tort reform lobbying, attended a conference of the Public Affairs Council and candidly spoke about some of the tactics he had used to set up front groups. Cohen, referring to himself as “a grassroots consultant”, used his Philip Morris-funded activities around tort reform in Mississippi and Texas as an example to show how he helped an industry "who was disliked intensely" to pass a bill.
Cohen described that at the heart of his strategy was the aim to “enlarge the scope of the conflict” and frame the issue in such a way “that a broader group of people will get into the game”. In building coalitions, Cohen said, it was important “to tap some basic emotions that real people care about”. Cohen continued “One basic emotion that real people care about is fear”. Cohen described that people in relation to tort reform were afraid that the system, the law, would be used against them, and so APCO built a coalition for Philip Morris around the idea of lawsuit abuse.
Cohen’s comments were picked up by a New York Times political reporter who wrote that the underlying theme of Cohen’s speech had been “the importance of keeping the public in the dark about who the clients really are”. Being interviewed by the journalist, Cohen retorted that he had not been “advocating that lobbyists ‘obfuscate’ who their clients are”, but that it was his “job to make the message attractive to the public”. In the case of a client with an obviously negative public image, Cohen argued that it was his job to “find other allies who support the bill in an honest way”.
Cohen left APCO on 1 January 2017 to join the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Created Doubt About Science Around Second-Hand Smoke
In 1993 Philip Morris USA also contracted APCO for $37,500 per month to fight public health efforts to minimise the harm caused by second-hand tobacco smoke (also known as ETS, Environmental Tobacco Smoke). Since the late 1980s, Philip Morris had tried to “reverse scientific and popular misconception that ETS is harmful” through a project known as ’Project Whitecoat’.
APCO’s appointment came in the wake of a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that ruled that second-hand tobacco smoke was a human carcinogen and annually caused 3,000 deaths in American non-smokers. Philip Morris put a communications action plan together with the objective to “Discredit EPA and ‘marginal science’” and to “prevent states and cities, as well as businesses from passing smoking bans”. APCO warned Philip Morris that “No matter how strong the arguments, industry spokespeople are, in and of themselves, not always credible or appropriate messengers”. APCO recommended that “a coalition building and grassroots strategy should be interwoven with a communications strategy”.
To that end, APCO set up the front group The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) in 1994, to help generate scientific controversy about the causal link between second-hand smoke and cancer. TASSC’s purpose was to “educate the media, public officials and the public about the dangers of ‘junk science’”, in particular “to make the case that efforts to regulate tobacco were based on the same ‘junk science’ as efforts to regulate food additives, automobile emissions and other industrial products that had not yet achieved tobacco’s pariah status”. APCO recommended that TASSC should have a “decentralized [sic] launch outside the large markets of Washington, DC and New York in order to avoid cynical reporters from major media”, as there would be “less reviewing/challenging of TASSC messages” in smaller markets. After the launch, it was APCO’s role to expand TASSC membership to hide the fact that TASSC was created and funded by Philip Morris.
APCO was also shortly involved in the early stages of setting up a similar lobby group in Europe, initially named ‘Scientists for Sound Public Policy’ and later renamed to the ‘European Science and Environment Forum’.
- Philip Morris
- Philip Morris USA
- Tobacco Institute
- Philip Morris' PR Campaign Against the Display Ban
- Influencing Science: Funding Scientists
- ’Project Whitecoat’
- European Science and Environment Forum
- APCO Worldwide, Location, APCO website, 2018, accessed May 2018
- N. Cohen, Proposal to the Tobacco Institute, 4 September 1995, Truth Tobacco industry Documents, Bates no: 513561909-513561915, accessed May 2018
- Sourcewatch, APCO Worldwide, last updated 26 January 2018, accessed May 2018
- Sourcewatch, Arnold & Porter, last updated 11 August 2012, accessed May 2018
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- APCO Worldwide, Foerster, APCO website, 2018, accessed May 2018
- Apco Worldwide, Craig L. Fuller, APCO website, 2018, accessed May 2018
- APCO Worldwide, International Advisory Council, APCO website, 2018, accessed May 2018
- EU Transparency Register, APCO Worldwide entry, last modified 13 April 2018, accessed May 2018
- SmokinGate, Philip Morris in Secret Cooperation With a British Health Minister, 20 December 2011
- Center for Justice & Democracy, Fact Sheet: Big Tobacco’s Covert Role in ‘Tort Reform’, undated, accessed May 2018
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- Center for Justice & Democracy, The CALA Files: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries To Take Away Your Rights, 23 August 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, bates no: 2085244758-2085233762, accessed May 2018
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- J. Fritsch, Sometimes, Lobbyists Strive To Keep Public in the Dark, The New York Times, 19 March 1996, accessed May 2018
- Holmes Report, APCO’s Neal Cohen To Lead External Affairs at Nuclear Energy Institute, 7 December 2016, accessed May 2018
- Philip Morris, Unknown, 3 March 1993, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2045930478-2045930481, accessed May 2018
- S. Rampton, J. Stauber, How Big Tobacco Helped Create ‘the Junkman’, 1999, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 232110113-232110118, accessed May 2018
- Environmental Protection Agency, Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, December 1992, accessed May 2018
- G.A. Wirtz, EPA plan – EEC Region, EPA Impact in EEC and Action Plan, 5 March 1992, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2500054223-2500054225, accessed May 2018
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- E. Ong, S. Glantz, Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer's second-hand smoke study, The Lancet, Volume 355, No. 9211, p1253-1259, 8 April 2000, accessed May 2018