VILNIUS - TNS Gallup, a branch of the international market research provider TNS Global, was fined 10,000 litas for distributing tobacco products to participants in a study without first acquiring a state license from the State Tobacco and Alcohol Control Agency (STACA).
The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania confirmed the decision made by the lower administrative court on Dec. 13, according to a statement from STACA.
Saule Virbickiene, a lawyer for TNS Gallup, said the court refused to hear TNS' arguments on market research rights.
"We said in court, 'we are not a manufacturer or distributor, and then asked, 'what can we do?'" Virbickiene said.
If TNS Gallup had applied for a tobacco license before the study, the court would have refused one because the company is neither of the two, she said.
"In Lithuania, the court doesn't care about market research on alcohol and cigarettes," Virbickiene said.
Several e-mails and phone calls to STACA only yielded information on fines incurred and on the cigarette law adopted in 2004, which mandates a license to distribute tobacco.
Philip Morris Lithuania made a contract with TNS Gallup last year under which participants were to choose the best taste for Marlboro Menthol cigarettes out of three different types.
In return, TNS Gallup received 15,000 cigarettes and recruited only heavy smokers, making them first read and sign waiver forms before the study was conducted, said Virbickiene.
The men and women participating were 19 - 29 years old and were handed cigarette packs in a white packaging to conceal the brand.
"We just asked them to give their opinion on the brand just like any other item we study, like chocolates and soft drinks," Virbickiene said.
It's unclear whether Phillip Morris suffered any penalties. As a matter of their company policy, details on relationships with business partners are not disclosed, a spokesman for Philip Morris International said.
TNS Global operates in 70 different countries. TNS Latvia and Estonia told The Baltic Times they also hold no special license related to market research on alcohol or tobacco.
"We never heard of having such a license," said Laura Brica, marketing manager of TNS Latvia.
"We will pay attention to the Lithuanian case and see what are the rules and regulations. We have not heard directly of this case and would like to learn more about it," she said.
Brica said all marketing companies are encouraged to follow codes of conduct set out by the world organization ESOMAR for better research methods for consumers.