Governments Must Address Intimidation of Health Advocates

Governments Must Address Intimidation of Health Advocates

Statement from STOP, a Global Tobacco Industry Watchdog

(New York, July 19, 2022) — Tobacco industry watchdog, STOP, today responded to a new study on intimidation of tobacco control advocates working in low- and middle-income countries, published in the journal Tobacco Control, with the following statement. Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, a partner in STOP, said:

“People working to protect health should not face intimidation, but new research shows this is happening, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Internal industry documents, investigative news exposés and academic research have tied the tobacco industry to such tactics for many years. The new study suggests that this could be just the tip of the iceberg, with a playbook updated to include new tactics, such as using social media to scare, harass and denigrate health advocates.

In addition to the distress caused to the individuals involved, the disruption to their work derails efforts to reduce preventable disease and the social and economic harms associated with tobacco use. And this will delay progress toward the sustainable development goals in their country.

The root cause of the problem must be addressed and advocates must have confidence that their complaints will be properly investigated and those responsible held to account. Collectively, we need to do more to expose and call out these tactics. Clearly, social media companies need to stop intimidation and harassment on their platforms. And governments need to do more to protect health policy and by extension those working in tobacco control by adopting good governance practices, fully implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and moving to denormalize the tobacco industry, whose interests are fundamentally in conflict with public health and sustainable development.”

The study surveyed 23 participants from low- and middle-income countries around the world. Almost three-quarters reported that they or another member of the tobacco control community in their country had faced intimidatory tactics such as: legal threats and actions, discreditation in the media, harassment on social media, threatening messages, cyberattacks, physical intimidation, surveillance, and violence, burglaries and theft, and formal complaints. The paper is available to read in BMJ Tobacco Control.

STOP’s analysis of tobacco industry tactics includes Crooked Nine, a list of Tobacco Industry Allies and the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index.

Please contact the STOP press office for more information or to speak to a STOP spokesperson.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership among The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and Vital Strategies. For more information, visit