The secret love affair between Roger Bate and Big Tobacco

| 19th September 2018
The once-hidden romance between Roger Bate of the free market, climate denying Institute of Economic Affairs and Big Tobacco becomes a public affair. BRENDAN MONTAGUE investigates

A free market zealot, Bate acted in the interests of a major international monopoly despite their product being proven to be highly addictive and responsible for killing millions of people

The relationship between the young Roger Bate and the Big Tobacco companies is intriguing.

Bate was recruited as head of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) Environment Unit. As such, he midwifed British climate denial, offering to place stories in the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal as a representative of a health charity.

Yet all the while, he was being paid by Big Tobacco. A free market zealot, Bate acted in the interests of a major international monopoly despite their product being proven to be highly addictive and responsible for killing millions of people.

Cancer Lawsuit

Bate hid his funding from the scientists he worked with and, it seems, was concerned about his office colleagues seeing his letters to the tobacco companies.

We only know of his work with tobacco because millions of internal documents were released by American court order after a class-action lawsuit by cancer sufferers.

Oil companies, however, have never been forced to disclose their documents in the same way.

There are two possibilities: either Bate offered the same clandestine services to Esso, BP and Shell, or he was demonstrating a particular zeal for working with tobacco.

It would be easy to characterise his behaviour as morally indefensible. But Bate believed that all individuals are merely motivated by self-interest.

That, in lining his pockets with tobacco money, he was only doing what everyone else would do if they were smart enough. In turn, the oil and tobacco companies were simply protecting their profits and shareholders in the same way.

‘War of Ideas’

Regulators were just bureaucrats creating a new gravy train, he explained in one press release, and environmentalists were merely clandestine socialists intent on attacking businesses like cigarette companies and ultimately seizing power for their own wicked ends.

“The war of ideas fought between socialists and laissez-faire adherents swung decisively to the latter with the demise of the socialist states in the late 1980s,” he argued in an article headlined ‘Post-Environmentalism’ published in the IEA journal.

He continued: “The intellectual battleground has shifted. The Left has retreated and regrouped into its heartland … the environment.”

This logic would fuel Bate as he set out to establish his own organisation, the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), to continue fighting the “war of ideas”.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague. This article first appeared at

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