There was a meeting between the tobacco industry and the Tax and Customs Authority where the former provided recommendations on the regulation of taxes on tobacco products, surveillance and training of public officials. The effort to increase taxes was defeated in Congress.
In June 2019, the Minister of Commerce said the government is identifying mechanisms to allow PMI to continue its operations in Colombia, such as producing heated tobacco products (HTPs) in Colombia. This was said after Philip Morris International (PMI) threatened to withdraw its tobacco production from Colombia.
Various government departments, including the Ministry of Culture and President’s Office, collaborated with and endorsed various activities of the main tobacco companies, PMI and British American Tobacco (BAT) Foundation. BAT Foundation and the Ministry of Culture collaborated on a common initiative to sponsor art in Bogotá and Medellín. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Stabilization and Consolidation and Coltabaco S.A. (a PMI subsidiary) supported and financed a farmers’ association in the sub-national territorial entity of Sucre. This project seeks to support ex-servicemen that are in the process of reincorporation.
Several initiatives to strengthen tobacco control were defeated in Congress, including efforts to increase taxes in accordance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and increasing the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs from 30% to 70%. Colombia has signed the Protocol on Elimination of Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products but has not ratified it.
There is a significant concern regarding the import of cigarettes and other tobacco products. As a result of the different Free Trade Agreements entered into between Colombia and other States, a significant amount of these products have been imported into Colombia without having any kind of duties or tariffs paid on them. Cigarette importers also benefit from the special economic zone in La Guajira.
The President of Colombia and other members of the government participated in the PMI-sponsored Concordia Summit in 2018 at a roundtable discussion to further harm reduction. The discussion promoted regulatory levers that the Colombian government can put in place to convert existing smokers towards the adoption of harm reduction products. In 2019, the President participated in the Concordia Summit again and the Chief Prosecutor handed out prizes to the winners of an art contest sponsored by both BAT and the Ministry of Culture.
In August 2019, the National Police and the National Federation of Departments (FND) entered into the Anti-Illicit Trade Agreement, where PMI was to provide technical assistance to the National Police.
There are no particular provisions under Colombian law requiring the government to disclose meetings or interactions with the tobacco industry. Therefore, the only meetings and interactions which can be reported are the ones that have been informed by the media or others. Some examples of meetings that have taken place include:
On January 30, 2018, there was a meeting between the tobacco industry and the Tax and Customs Authority where the tobacco industry provided recommendations on the regulation of taxes on tobacco products, surveillance and training of the public officials. On April 30, 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture led the Technical Commission for the Tobacco Production Chain in which Fedetabaco and BAT participated. As a result of the meeting the participants agree to join efforts in order to update the Competitiveness Agreement of the Tobacco Chain.
Several former senior government officials have joined the tobacco industry or with a firm that provides services to tobacco companies. For example, Juan Carlos Restrepo Piedrahita, the former Director of the Intelligence Agency, former Director of the Anti-Narcotics Agency, former presidential adviser for security is currently Vice President of BAT. Andrés Escobar, the former Deputy Minister of Finance, is the current CEO of EConcept AEI, a firm that has provided consultancy services to PMI.
There is no procedure for the disclosure of interactions between the government and the tobacco industry or its representatives. There is no specific code of conduct for public officials prescribing the standards which they should abide to in their dealings with the tobacco industry. The Ministry of Health has established a practice on how public officers should behave when dealing with the tobacco industry. However, this practice is not found in any formal regulation, and not implemented by any other public entity.
There is not a consistent plan to raise awareness on Article 5.3 of the FCTC within its departments. This is partially due to the fact that there are no formal intersectoral coordinating mechanisms on tobacco control as determined by Article 5.2 (a) of the FCTC.
Colombia must urgently adopt specific regulations aimed at preventing tobacco industry interference in setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control. The efforts made in this regard by the Ministry of Health are still insufficient to prevent tobacco industry interference.
Furthermore, it is also necessary to generate awareness among society about the existing conflicts of interest and the appropriate measures that can serve to address them. Colombia must advance a wider understanding about the need to prevent the industry’s interference in public health regulations. This will help achieve higher standards of compliance of the obligations arising under the FCTC.
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