Petrol Retailers Association

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The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) is a trade association which serves the needs of independent fuel retailers in the UK. [1]

Relationship with the tobacco industry

The PRA admitted in 2013 that “we have some tobacco manufacturers/suppliers amongst our wide range of associates and retail members.” [2]

Against Plain Packaging

PRA a “Media Messenger” for Philip Morris International

PMI identifies key messengers, PMI Corporate Affairs Update, February 2012 (slide 38)

In March 2012, Philip Morris International (PMI) set out a corporate affairs plan to defeat plain packaging in the UK. The plan outlined six main types of “messengers”, including retail groups, business associations, think tanks, anti-counterfeiting groups, researchers and international organisations.

This is a classic public relations (PR) tactic by the tobacco industry: all the unsuspecting public see is a group of so-called 'independent' third parties, without realising they are all part of a tobaccy company's media strategy.

The leaked document outlined how the PRA along with the Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF) and Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists (AITS), were to be used by the tobacco giant. [3]

See also:

PRA Argues Plain Packaging Will Lead to an Increase in Illicit Trade

The PRA has been consistently vocal against plain packaging since 2012, regularly repeating that the public health measure would increase the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco.

In November that year, the PRA launched a poll of its members which had found that 65% of respondents believed “plain packaging for tobacco products would negatively impact their businesses.” An even higher figure, 88% believed “that a plain packaging policy would make it easier for forgers to produce counterfeit cigarettes.” [4]

On 15 June, 2014, amidst debate regarding the UK's next phase of the Consultation on Plain Packaging, PRA’s Brian Madderson released a letter entitled Cost of Tobacco. This letter stressed the potential revenue losses for "honest retailers" and claimed that two-thirds of PRA’s members believed that illicit trade was getting worse.[5] In the letter, Madderson also stated that retailers are "unanimous" in their preference for the UK Government to postpone plain packaging legislation until the full effects of the "Australian experiment" with plain packaging are known. [5]

Unintended Consequences

In March 2013, the PRA said it was “deeply concerned” about the possible introduction of plain packaging, calling it a “potentially damaging road” for the government to go down, once again warning of the “unintended consequences” of plain packaging, an argument consistently used by the tobacco industry against the proposed health measure.

The PRA said:

“The PRA and its members believe that there are significant unintended consequences associated with such a policy, in particular increasing the already major levels of illicit trade in tobacco, which would have damaging consequences on small retailers and communities.” [6]

The PRA repeated the “unintended consequences” argument when it looked like the UK Government would not proceed with plain packaging in July 2013, [7] and again in April 2014, after the UK Government said it was “minded” to press ahead with the measure. [8]

Quotes Tobacco Industry Arguments and Data

In its submission to the UK Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Tobacco Smuggling in August 2013, the PRA once again reiterated many tobacco industry arguments over illicit tobacco. It argued that plain packaging would likely lead to an increase in illicit tobacco, a claim which has been dismissed by independent health experts. [9]

The PRA also quoted the “Project Star” report on levels of illicit tobacco in the European Union (EU) which was undertaken by the accountancy firm KPMG for PMI. Project Star is controversial and peer-reviewed research found that the methods used “overestimates illicit cigarette levels in some European countries and suggests PMI's supply chain control is inadequate.” [10]

The PRA has also promoted tobacco-industry funded research questioning the effectiveness of the introduction of plain packaging in Australia. [11]

Some of the Australian research quoted by the PRA was conducted by KPMG,[12], the same consultancy which undertook Project Star. This report has also been readily critiqued, see:

Quotes Tobacco Industry-Funded Poll

In March 2014, the PRA announced that retailers were becoming “increasingly opposed to Government proposals to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products in the wake of evidence from Australia”. The PRA said that some 73% of retailers now said plain packaging would hurt their businesses, up from the 65% the year before. [13]

The poll was funded by PMI. [14]

Priti Patel MP Urges PRA to Lobby the Government Over Plain Packaging

After the Chantler Review of the evidence for plain packaging was published in April 2014, Priti Patel, MP wrote to Brian Madderson, the chair of the PRA, appealing for its members to lobby their MPs to object to the proposals.

Patel wrote that she was concerned about the implications of plain packs for small shops, tax revenues and smuggling. [15]

The following month, May 2014, the PRA “joined Priti Patel MP in her campaign to oppose the UK Government’s plans for plain packaging for tobacco products”. In a press release, the PRA said it was “answering Priti Patel’s call to contact their MPs and explain how plain packaging will affect their businesses."

The PRA Chair Brian Madderson said:

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with Priti Patel in her campaign to oppose plain packaging and defend the interests of small retailers. Over 80 per cent of retailers believe that implementing plain packs would go against the Government’s pledge to help small business." [16]

Local Letters

Brian Madderson has also been writing to local newspapers reiterating the tobacco industry arguments, such as those on illicit. For example, in May 2014 he wrote to the Northern Echo newspaper raising concerns about illicit and plain packaging. [17] A similar letter by him appeared in the Chronicle newspaper. [18]

Against Plain Packaging in Ireland

In November 2013, Madderson condemned the Irish Government for saying that it too would press ahead with plain packaging. Madderson said “We’re very disappointed to see that the Irish Government continues to move ahead with plain packaging.” [19]

Against Plain Packaging in Scotland

In March 2014,Madderson wrote to the Scottish Government to outline the PRA’s opposition to plain packaging in Scotland too. Madderson warned that plain packaging would “have serious consequences for our members” which would not offer any benefits for public health. The PRA also outlined industry arguments on illicit, including the KPMG data, as well as reiterating industry arguments on issues such as how plain packaging might violate world trade laws. [20]

Two months later, the PRA was one of three groups being funded by the tobacco industry that were highlighted by the Sunday Herald newspaper for opposing plain packaging. The paper quoted ASH Scotland criticising the tobacco industry for using "front" organisations, although this was dismissed by Madderson. The PRA Chair said: "The PRA has business relationships with a wide range of companies that supply products and services to the independent petrol forecourt sector. Tobacco is one such product line." [21]

Lobbying Health Officials Against Plain Packaging

On 27 June 2014, a day after the UK Government announced its second public consultation on plain packaging, the PRA released a statement disclosing it had met with health officials in Scotland to reinforce their anti-plain packaging position amidst “the Westminster government’s new consultation announced on Thursday June 26.” [22]

Madderson revealed that he met with officials at the Tobacco Products Control Team at the Scottish Department of Health for an hour. During the meeting, the delegation:

  • “confirmed that tobacco was the second biggest seller in money terms in Scottish filling stations after fuel, and that it accounted for between 30% of forecourt shops’ sales and up to 60% in some rural locations."
  • "presented evidence from two PRA surveys where members said plain packaging would financially harm their businesses because of the potential for extra handling and mis-selling of products, and said this was borne out by the experience of retailers in Australia where plain packaging has been introduced."
  • "pointed to evidence from Australia about increased sales of illicit products and increased tobacco consumption because consumers were migrating to cheaper brands which meant they could buy more.”

When speaking of the Government’s decision to commence a second public consultation alongside published draft regulations, Madderson said, “This increasingly appears to be a political decision rather than one that is based on hard evidence.”

TobaccoTactics Resources


  1. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA, accessed June 2014
  2. Petrol Retailers Association, Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry: Tobacco Smuggling; Written Evidence submitted by the Petrol Retailers Association, August 2013, accessed May 2014
  3. Philip Morris International, UK Corporate Affairs Update, March 2012
  4. Petrol Retail Association, Thousands of small, independent petrol stations call on the Government to scrap 'onerous and ill-considered’ regulation, Retail Motor Industry, 27 November 2012, accessed May 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 Petrol Retailers Association, Cost of Tobacco, Wigan Today, 15 June 2014, accessed June 2014
  6. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA comment on speculation on the introduction of plain packaging, Retail Motor Industry, 6 March 2013, accessed May 2014
  7. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA welcome the Government’s decision not to adopt plain packaging for tobacco products, Retail Motor Industry, 12 July 2013, accessed May 2014
  8. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA urges Government not to rush ahead with plain packaging before properly reviewing all evidence, Retail Motor Industry, 3 April 2014, accessed May 2014
  9. L. Joossens, Smuggling, the Tobacco Industry and Plain Packs, Cancer Research UK, November 2012, accessed May 2014
  10. A. Gilmore, A.Rowell, S. Gallus, et al, "Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report", Tobacco Control, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051240, accessed May 2014
  11. Petrol Retail Association, PRA Deeply Concerned by New Evidence On the Negative Impact Of Plain Packaging In Australia, Retail Motor Industry, 1 October 2013, accessed May 2014
  12. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA increasingly concerned as evidence confirms plain packaging increases the illicit trade, Retail Motor Industry, 4 November 2013, accessed May 2014
  13. Petrol Retailers Association, Opposition to plain packs hardens as evidence shows retailers pay the price, Retail Motor Industry, 23 March 2014, accessed May 2014
  14. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA urges Government not to rush ahead with plain packaging before properly reviewing all evidence, Retail Motor Industry, 3 April 2014, accessed May 2014
  15. J. Wood, PRA members urged to lobby MPs over plain packs, Forecourt Trader, 16 April 2014
  16. Petrol Retailers Association, Retailers Join MP’S Fight To Oppose Plain Packaging, Retail Motor Industry, 2 May 2014, accessed May 2014
  17. B. Madderson, Illegal Cigarettes, Northern Echo, 28 May 2014, accessed June 2014
  18. B. Madderson, Plain Packaging Will Harm Retailers, The Chronicle, 28 May 2014
  19. Petrol Retailers Association, Petrol Retailers Disappointed by Irish Government’s Plain Packaging Plans, Retail Motor Industry, 19 November 2013, accessed May 2014
  20. B. Madderson, Letter to the Tobacco Control Team, Edinburgh, Petrol Retailers Association, 24 February 2014
  21. P. Hutcheon, Tobacco industry funding fight against plain cigarette packaging, Sunday Herald, 18 May 2014, accessed May 2014
  22. Petrol Retailers Association, PRA reinforces opposition to plain tobacco packs, 27 June 2014, accessed July 2014