Overall Score: 15
Based on WHO estimates that more than 8 million lives are lost to tobacco per year.
During the pandemic, policies protecting public health should have been safe-guarded and strengthened. Instead, the tobacco industry persuaded many governments to weaken or delay such policies. Despite known links between tobacco use and worse COVID-19 health outcomes, the industry lobbied to keep its deadly products easily accessible and even labeled as “essential” throughout lockdowns and smoking bans.
In Kenya, even though cigarettes were initially listed as “essential,” the government eventually dropped tobacco products from the list of essential goods.
The Association of Brazilian Tobacco Growers successfully lobbied for continued cigarette production, which was subsequently authorized at full capacity.
Big Tobacco’s so-called corporate social responsibility continued at a disturbing rate, often related to the pandemic. Donations and other contributions, however, seemed to leave some governments indebted to the industry. In several cases, changes in policy that favored the industry followed, such as delayed or reduced tax measures. Some governments made vulnerable by the pandemic disregarded bans on tobacco industry CSR and accepted—and even promoted—industry donations and activities.
In Ukraine, both the Ministry of Health and the Office of the President rejected funding from the tobacco industry that had been given through a charitable institution.
In Poland, Philip Morris Polska donated funds for personal protective equipment and produced disinfectants to support the government in pandemic relief efforts, and saw a subsequent delay in the introduction of tax and lower tax rates for its heated tobacco product.
In the face of declining smoking rates in many parts of the world, tobacco companies put forth considerable effort trying to persuade governments to approve e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Where these products were already on the market, tobacco companies angled for favorable treatment of novel products over combustibles, including lower taxes.
In Israel, Philip Morris International (PMI) lobbied a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to place its heated tobacco product, IQOS, in a separate regulatory category from cigarettes. The request was denied, as were PMI’s requests to meet with the Ministry of Health.
Tobacco companies persuaded lawmakers in Bolivia to remove a ban on electronic smoking devices, claiming “there is still no scientific basis to corroborate that they are harmful.”
Select an indicator:
When the tobacco industry interferes with government efforts to develop tobacco control policies.
Botswana published its Tobacco Control Bill in March 2021, which includes Article 5.3—despite a lengthy delay between the passage of the law and the country’s ratification of the WHO FCTC.
Panama’s National Assembly is permeable to tobacco industry interference because the industry is allowed to participate in the discussions of bills in the various committees. The health committee of the National Assembly amended 36 articles in a bill without going through the review of civil society or the health authority, and approved the bill immediately amid accusations of bribery and extortion.
The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars on so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities each year.
All tobacco-related CSR activities are banned in Iran and there was no evidence of such activities occurring.
In the Philippines, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp and/or LT Group, Inc., conducted 34 out of the 36 monitored tobacco-related charity activities in 2020. Most of the donations were done in partnership with local government units, the Philippine National Police, as well as local government executives and representatives in Congress. Public officials contravene a government circular when they endorse such charity.
The tobacco industry enjoys many types of benefits. Direct benefits include privileges, incentives, tax exemptions or endorsements to encourage their business.
The government did not accommodate requests from the tobacco industry for a longer time frame for implementation or postponement of the tobacco control law in Norway.
In the Dominican Republic, the tobacco industry receives a plethora of benefits as the State is projected as a “tobacco-state” where the global tobacco trend suffers a regression. The industry receives benefits such as tax exemptions, state-backed international lobbying, local legislation in its favor and the ability to interfere in local health governance.
Unnecessary interactions occur when top level government officials attend social functions hosted by tobacco companies or when the government accepts offers of assistance or enters into partnerships with the tobacco industry.
Brunei continues to implement the code of conduct, applicable to all civil servants, issued by the Prime Minister’s Office that prohibits unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry or its representatives, requires transparency in any necessary (regulatory) interaction with the tobacco industry and rejects partnerships with and funding or sponsorship from the tobacco industry.
In Canada, the government collaborated with Medicago Inc., which is partly owned by Philip Morris International (one-third equity), to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. This collaboration is a violation of Article 5.3 which does not augur well for the government which, in the past, had been serious about Article 5.3 implementation.
Lack of transparency in government interactions makes many vulnerable to influence from the tobacco industry
Transparency has reduced unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry in New Zealand. Notifications of meetings between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the tobacco industry are announced on the MOH website.
Tobacco industry interference is a major obstacle facing Côte d’Ivoire in their efforts to control tobacco use. Authorities do not disclose their interactions with the tobacco industry. The industry intervened in the adoption of Codentify, a track and trace system for illicit tobacco products, lobbying the Ministry of Commerce to adopt it although this system is not approved by the international Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
Senior government officials working for the industry present a conflict of interest.
France required the disclosure of possible conflicts of interest to protect public policies. In 2020 and early 2021, the tobacco industry targeted MPs both directly and indirectly, through third-party allies and lobbyists. They tried to use public health arguments to promote their activities and attempted to pass pro-tobacco amendments, but failed.
In Japan, the government’s share in Japan Tobacco Inc. continues to present conflicts of interest enabling the Finance Ministry to be involved in the industry.
Governments can proactively take several preventive measures to protect their officials from being exposed to interference.
In July 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India adopted a code of conduct aimed at preventing industry interference and conflicts of interest among public officials and all departments within the Ministry’s jurisdiction. Thirteen Indian states have adopted measures that limit interaction with the industry and require mandatory disclosure of interaction records.
By failing to ratify the FCTC, Switzerland’s minimal and non-encompassing federal tobacco control laws benefit the tobacco industry greatly, allowing it to use the country as a political playground and a marketing laboratory.
Don’t see your country?
Check back next year to see if your country was evaluated by our civil society collaborators.
Specific actions for governments include:
To reduce vulnerability to industry interference, a whole-of-government approach to implementing Article 5.3 is needed such as done in Botswana, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
Governments must limit interactions with the TI to only when strictly necessary for regulation and not endorse an industry that causes significant harm to society.
Governments must reject TI CSR activities and their official endorsement as these are a form of tobacco promotion and compromise the integrity of government officials to regulate tobacco.
Governments are often disadvantaged when they agree to cooperate with the TI. There should be no collaboration between governments and the TI.
The TI should not be granted incentives or any preferential treatment to run its business as incentives directly conflict with tobacco control policy.
State-owned enterprises should be treated like any other TI. Divesting from the tobacco business increases government independence from the industry and prioritizes the protection of public health.
Transparency when dealing with the TI will reduce instances of interference by ensuring government officials and the industry are accountable. All interactions with the TI must be recorded and publicly available.
To limit interactions with the TI, avoid conflicts of interest and strengthen transparency and accountability, governments must adopt a code of conduct with clear guidance on interactions with the TI.
The tobacco industry should be compelled to disclose its expenditure on marketing, lobbying and philanthropic activities.