You don’t have to use tobacco products to be negatively affected by the tobacco industry. Even though the health harms of tobacco are well-known and well-documented, the industry’s insidious practices reach much further. These companies go to great lengths to hide that they continue to make people sick, harm economies, degrade the environment and more. Because when people can’t see what’s happening behind the curtain, the industry can continue with business as usual.
At STOP, we lay out the key issues so that you have the research and resources to help hold the tobacco industry accountable, whether your focus is on health, public policy, the environment, human rights or another of the many areas Big Tobacco meddles in.
While tobacco companies try to convince us that they’ve changed and that they care about a better future, behind the scenes they still often viciously interfere with any progress that may hurt their bottom lines. They do this by claiming to be allies in public health and asking to have a seat at the policymaking table—while at the same time actively working to delay or dismantle evidence-based health policies that governments use to safeguard their populations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which sets clear guidelines to prevent tobacco industry interference in policy, is the most powerful tool to keep Big Tobacco out of health policy. Tobacco companies often declare their support for the FCTC, perhaps to soften the blow when they undermine it with their brazen attempts to subvert policies that save lives. Big Tobacco’s end game? Profits over public health.
Big Tobacco has done the formerly unthinkable. As millions mourn the loss of loved ones from COVID-19, for which tobacco use is a known risk factor, the industry is trying to position itself as a partner in public health. Tobacco companies are making donations to governments and health systems—potentially as a way to gain access to policymakers. From lobbying to keep factories open throughout the worst of the pandemic, to asking governments to revert smoking bans meant to protect public health, Big Tobacco is capitalizing on the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime.
Clear away the smoke, and it’s easy to see that the money tobacco companies earn and spend is unclean. Big Tobacco uses its deep pockets, filled with the money of people addicted to its products, to pay for pseudoscience, fund pro-industry front groups, exploit loopholes that let it pay as little in profit-related taxes as possible and even allegedly help smuggle its own products onto the black market.
The truth facing Big Tobacco is bleak: If the tobacco industry doesn’t actively recruit new users to replace its customers who have died using its products, it will go out of business. One of the reasons the tobacco industry targets communities they can exploit, including youth, is to addict a new generation of customers. Big Tobacco openly acknowledges the health harms of tobacco use, yet it continues to advertise cigarettes around the world. More recently, the industry has also tried to launder its sullied reputation by creating the illusion that its new tobacco and nicotine products, including heated tobacco products, are safer—despite a lack of evidence.
Cigarette butts are the most littered item on the planet. But that’s only a portion of the environmental harm that the industry contributes to. Growing tobacco contributes to deforestation and soil degradation, manufacturing requires intense energy use and, in addition to cigarette butt litter, we’re now facing a potential waste crisis as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are discarded. What’s worse, the industry may be using sustainability-focused corporate social responsibility activities to try to distract from these harms.
What you don’t know is killing us
Everyone, whether they use tobacco or not, is harmed by the tobacco industry. And it’ll take a collective effort across a variety of sectors to address these issues. Join STOP in pulling back the curtain and exposing the industry’s nefarious practices that it tries so hard to keep hidden. Everyone has a role. Learn more and see how you can take action today.