Governments Must Short Circuit Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive Tactics

Credit: WHO

By Dr. Mary Assunta and Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo
BANGKOK, Thailand, Oct 25 2019 – The tobacco industry’s new rhetoric that smoking is harmful and that its so-called less risky products will reduce the global tobacco epidemic, should see the industry stop opposing or fighting government efforts to reduce tobacco use. However, this is not the case.

The first Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index report found the tobacco industry continues to undermine and derail government’s tobacco control efforts to protect public health around the globe.

Furthermore, this Global Index shows many governments continue to move at a glacial pace in countering industry meddling, although they are empowered to act under the global tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

This report card ranked countries according to their efforts in protecting public health policies. Japan, Jordan, Egypt and Bangladesh are among those that scored the highest in the level of tobacco industry influence, which means weaker resistance of governments from industry meddling, while the United Kingdom, Uganda and Iran lead in protecting health policy from industry meddling.

The ranking is based on civil society reports from 33 countries covering about 70% of the world population. The Global Tobacco Index is released by the STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) project.

Key global findings

    Transparency matters. Countries fared better when they were more transparent about their interactions with the industry, including recording meetings or any donations and FOI regimes. Political contributions and gifts from the tobacco industry are banned in Brazil, Canada, France, Iran, Myanmar, Turkey, U.K., Uganda and Uruguay. Among the countries surveyed, transparency on political contributions is required only in Kenya and the U.S.
    Wooing senior government officials was rampant across countries. Tobacco companies targeted departments of finance, commerce and trade to achieve policy influence. They even used frivolous awards to access and obtain endorsement from senior officials.
    Tax breaks benefitted the industry in many countries. Many governments still consider the tobacco industry’s business portfolio as a major economic driver and grant the industry with trade incentives, exemptions, and duty-free tobacco allowance that boost production and sales in markets that may have other regulations in place.
    E-cigarettes pose a new threat. There is growing evidence of the industry using harm reduction claims about e-cigarettes to justify interactions with government officials to promote and open their doors to these new alternative products. In 2018, tobacco companies lobbied to make it easier for them to sell or promote e-cigarettes in Philippines, Mexico, Lebanon and Turkey.

Meddling by the tobacco industry comes from all directions and in various forms, presenting big challenges to governments. Countries that resisted industry interference and prioritized protecting health over foreign tobacco investments sometimes paid a hefty price – they were sued by the tobacco industry for their tough stance on tobacco control. India, Kenya and Uganda endured such legal challenges and were delayed in implementing their strong tobacco control laws.

Industry interference is rife in Asia, a huge, profitable market for transnational tobacco companies. In recent years, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), for example, acquired domestic cigarette companies in Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, which will increase its profits in these developing countries. JTI has opposed tax increases in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Contrary to its public stance on the dangers of smoking, Philip Morris successfully sued the small City of Balanga (96,000 residents) in the Philippines for passing stringent legislation that creates a tobacco-free environment to protect its people, particularly the young generation.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance has been annually reviewing government efforts in implementing WHO FCTC Article 5.3 for the past six years through a regional index across ASEAN.

Over the years, some governments have made progress to protect public health policy, albeit slowly. Thailand and Myanmar have been steadily improving in tackling industry interference, such as ending tobacco-related CSR activities and rejecting recommendations from the tobacco industry to be included in their health policies.

The Philippines and Malaysia, on the other hand, have deteriorated over the years showing they have succumbed to industry interference. Malaysia, which in 2016 announced plans for standardised packaging of tobacco, has not moved forward on the policy.

The tobacco industry targets non-health departments, particularly finance, industry, and trade, to protect or promote its interests and disassociate its image from the health harms caused by the inherently defective products it manufactures and sells.

Governments must close this gap and tackle industry interference by applying a whole-of-government approach. All departments need to cooperate in putting public health first to strengthen overall tobacco control.

Governments can short circuit the ‘divide-and-rule’ tactic of the tobacco industry and fulfil their obligation under the WHO FCTC to implement measures that protect themselves and public health policies from being hijacked by the tobacco industry. It is in governments’ hands to stop the interference.

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 a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), The Union and Vital Strategies.

Sustainable Development and Education – Is the Non-Aligned Movement Still Relevant?

Heads of State and governments from 120 countries will convene at the 25-26 October XVIII Non-Aligned Movement Summit, to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, to discuss the movement’s future. Credit: Elchin Murad

By Manssour Bin Mussallam
GENEVA, Oct 25 2019 – By the time of publication, representatives, senior officials, and Heads of State and Government of 120 countries from around the world will have converged on Baku in Azerbaijan for the XVIIIth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

To many, it may seem that the continued existence of the NAM, almost three decades after the end of the Cold War, is nothing more than a mere political formality, reminiscent of a bygone era. But whilst the creation of the NAM cannot be dissociated from its Cold War context, it cannot be reduced to it either. For to focus excessively on its origins in the age of a bipolar world would be to miss the point: the reason behind the collective, perhaps unconscious, reluctance to let it go.

The NAM was not merely created by states seeking independence from having to formally align with one of two power blocs. It was created with the recognition that the (former) Third World was constituted of diverse nations, peoples, and cultures that simultaneously shared systemic challenges and aspirations which the Cold War’s bipolar world order did not serve. And since that order did not serve the aspirations of the Third World, since it did not act in the interest of the majority of the world, then a third, parallel order needed to be built.

The bipolarity may have come to an end with the USSR’s collapse, and a brave, new world order may have emerged since 1961, but the foundational purpose of the NAM, consisting of achieving a world order which better served the development aspirations of its members, has remained unfulfilled. In fact, the premise behind the creation of the NAM has become all the more pertinent. With knowledge of the undisputable role played by our development models in the advent of climate crisis, this foundational premise has become irrefutable: the current world order does not, just as it did not in 1961, serve the interests states belonging to the NAM – with one, non-negligible addition: we now know that it does not serve the interests of the entire world. There is, therefore, a dire need, not too dissimilar from that of 1961, to build a more just and sustainable world order. There is an urgent necessity to construct a third, alternative, inclusive, and sustainable way of development. This time, however, whilst it must be built from and by the (former) Third World, it must inevitably be for the sake of the entirety of Humanity.

But development directed towards achieving social cohesion, justice, equity, prosperity, and sustainability for all cannot emerge from cosmetic alterations to our existing institutions. It can only emerge by fundamentally transforming the unjust, unsustainable dynamics of our societies. And only through the overhaul of our education systems can this be achieved. Education is, after all, both the sculptor of the future and, as it currently stands, an industrial factory which reproduces society’s injustices and inequalities.

Our education systems must be capable of reflecting national and local cultures, whilst unveiling the millennia of inter-influences which have shaped them – the reality that our cultures are already the result of diversity, that: ‘les autres, c’est moi.’ They must be capable of overcoming sectoral segregations and disciplinary silos, integrating academic and non-academic knowledge domains alike, to engage with the world in all its complexity. They must become capable of transforming the dynamics of the classroom, by enabling teachers to become facilitators – rather than the mere custodians of information which may be encountered more accurately and swiftly online – guiding student-protagonists in their dialogue in and with the world. They must become capable of acknowledging context, rather than rejecting it on the false premise of egalitarian standards which, in fact, reproduce inequality. They must adapt to national priorities and local realities, to the aspirations of communities and the individuality of students. For to dismantle the power dynamics which have existed, and still persist, in education, is to do so for society at large.

The task ahead is gargantuan, and the investment will be colossal – of this challenge, however, we are collectively worthy. But to that end, we must articulate a common language, overcoming the deaf monologues and cross-talk which we mistake for constructive dialogue, to not only share experiences and best practices, but also to achieve genuine, efficient, mutually beneficial partnerships amongst equals.

It is in this context that the Education Relief Foundation (ERF) is convening, jointly with the Republic of Djibouti, the Third International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education – III ForumBIE 2030, on 27-29 January 2020. Concluding with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Balanced and Inclusive Education, the III ForumBIE 2030 will operationalise an international, cross-sectoral, solidarity-based framework of technical and financial cooperation in Balanced and Inclusive Education, to forge a future to which we can collectively aspire.

In many respects, the world has changed beyond recognition since the first NAM Summit. Its underlying dynamics, however, have largely remained unaffected. As the XVIIIth NAM Summit concludes, it is now time to revive its original aspirations and truly transform the development models whose undercurrents have led the world to the brink of unmaking itself, giving long-overdue birth to our collective humanity – for the sake of the South and the North alike.