Extent of tobacco industry’s unscrupulous conduct in Africa and Asia revealed

Lancet Paper - TCRG

A new Lancet study from our Tobacco Control Research Group highlights the questionable conduct of the tobacco industry in low and middle-income countries.

Falling levels of tobacco usage in high-income countries have increased the need for the ‘Big Four’ tobacco companies to turn their attention to low and middle-income countries, especially in Africa and Asia, according to a new paper from our researchers published in The Lancet today (Friday 13 March).

In the paper, released as part of the Tobacco-free world series by the journal ahead of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, researchers from our Tobacco Control Research Group and colleagues at the American Cancer Society point out how the industry is increasingly turning its attention to low and middle-income countries, using a range of unscrupulous methods to lobby against and influence public health policy.

Against a backdrop where regulation around tobacco is tightening in many high-income countries, for example the recent introduction of plain packaging legislation in the UK and Ireland, the report highlights how the tobacco industry’s future depends on increasing tobacco use in low-income and middle-income countries, especially among women and young people.

Unscrupulous tactics

From deploying litigation, using third-party groups to lobby on their behalf (whose links to the industry are not always clear), misrepresenting the costs of tobacco control, and applying covert political pressure disguised as ‘corporate social responsibility’ (including sponsorship of social projects), the researchers reveal the extent of such tactics.

Whilst Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control offer governments guidelines on how to protect public health against tobacco industry influence, these mechanisms are frequently underutilised.  More must be done at national and international levels, the authors suggest, to scrutinise and publicise the activities of the industry and to enable governments to stand up to bullying tactics.

Additionally, the researchers argue monitoring and exposure of the industry’s conduct in low-income and middle-income countries is essential to change attitudes toward the industry, which must be seen as a critical first step in working towards a ‘tobacco free’ world.

Ahead of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, where the papers will be presented, lead author, Professor Anna Gilmore from our Department for Health explains: “Contrary to industry claims, tobacco marketing deliberately targets women and young people. The industry continues to interfere with governments’ efforts to implement effective tobacco control policies.

“If the world is to become tobacco free, it’s vital that the industry’s appalling conduct receives far closer scrutiny and countries stand up to the industry’s bullying tactics. Exemplar countries show that actively countering tobacco company tactics can lead to significant benefits.”

Industry efforts in Africa

Recent research by the Tobacco Control Research Group highlights some of the current tactics the industry is utilising in African countries to thwart and circumvent legislation. In Kenya, for example, the industry has successfully managed to get senior government officials to lobby on their behalf and has influenced policymaking through trade committees and third parties.

In Uganda in 2014, British American Tobacco cancelled their contracts with 709 farmers from the constituency represented by the mover of a Tobacco Control Bill in the country and later announced they would no longer contract any farmers in Uganda, citing the Bill as the primary reason.

Co-author of the new paper, Dr Jeff Drope added: “The international community must prioritize public health more completely, for example, by not permitting the tobacco industry to launch specious attacks against good tobacco control policies in venues such as the World Trade Organization.”

Towards a tobacco-free world

The paper, ‘Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low-income and middle-income countries’, comes as part of a major new series in The Lancet led by an international group of health and policy experts. Across the series, leading researchers suggest that a ‘tobacco-free world’ – where less than 5 per of adults use tobacco - could be possible by 2040.

But they caution that without renewed efforts to tackle tobacco use and industry interference across the globe, an additional one billion deaths from smoking and other forms of tobacco use are expected by the end of the century. The series calls on the UN to lead a ‘turbo-charged’ effort against the sale and consumption of tobacco.

Our research in Social Work & Social Policy recently ranked sixth nationally by overall GPA in the independently-assessed Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF 2014). Research by the Tobacco Control Research Group was part of this submission. 84 per cent of our impact in this area was deemed to be world-leading.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy reading:

Up in smoke: our researchers debunk Big Tobacco’s arguments against standardised packaging - March 2015

New tobacco directive 'the most lobbied dossier' in EU history - February 2015

Financial links of tobacco industry evidence revealed - December 2014

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