Tobacco Industry Influence in Policy Highest In Japan, Lowest In The UK

The tobacco industry strongly influences policy-making in Japan, Jordan, Egypt and Bangladesh. Conversely, the United Kingdom, Uganda, and Iran emerge as countries with the least industry meddling, according to a first-ever report to systematically assess levels of industry influence in countries, by the watchdog group STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products).

A man takes a smoke break in Tokyo, Japan. Japan was ranked as having the highest tobacco industry influence by STOP.

“This report shows that the tobacco industry is as underhanded as ever. It may claim that it is changing in public, but behind the scenes it is fighting tooth and nail to sabotage effective regulation. Governments must stand firm and fulfill their mandate to protect public health,” said Mary Assunta, lead author of the report, head of Global Research and Advocacy at GGTC and a partner in STOP, which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Over 8 million deaths annually are caused by tobacco use, including direct and second-hand smoke exposure. About 80% of world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest, according to the World Health Organization. Tobacco industry influence has been cited by governments as a major barrier to passing strong tobacco control measures.

The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, the first-ever such report, attempts to quantify the level of tobacco-industry interference in the policy-making process. It ranks countries on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores showing more industry meddling. Surprisingly, middle income countries such as Uganda, Iran, Kenya, Brazil, and Uruguay emerged as countries with less tobacco industry interference compared to high-income countries such as South Korea, the USA, and Japan. Overall, the UK was found to have the most robust protections against tobacco industry influence, and Japan was found to have the highest industry interference.

The report highlighted a number of alarming trends in overall interference and interference in policy-making. Key findings include:

  • Tobacco companies aggressively targeted departments of Finance, Commerce and Trade, wooing senior officials to achieve policy influence. They used donations and awards to obtain endorsement from senior officials.
  • There is growing evidence of the industry using harm reduction claims about e-cigarettes to justify interactions with government officials and open the door to new products. In 2018, tobacco companies lobbied to make it easier for them to sell or promote e-cigarettes in the United States, Philippines, Mexico, Lebanon and Turkey.
  • Tax breaks benefitted industry in many countries. Incentives, exemptions and duty-free tobacco boost production and sales in markets that may have other regulations in place. Only Sri Lanka bans duty-free sales of cigarettes.

On an optimistic note, the report finds that any country can independently shape tobacco policies if sufficient political will exists. The top three countries that have been the most successful in resisting industry influence – the UK, Uganda, and Iran – are economically, politically and culturally diverse.

In terms of other lessons learned, the report finds that countries fared significantly better when politicians and policymakers were more open about government  dealings with the industry, including recorded interactions and political donations. 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 from the tobacco industry is required only in Kenya and the U.S.

The Report provides eight key recommendations to short-circuit industry interference in tobacco-control policies:

  1. Create awareness on tobacco industry interference across all government departments
  2. Limit interaction with the industry to only when strictly necessary
  3. Adopt a code of conduct to firewall government officials, making sure public health policy is developed free of interference
  4. Ensure greater transparency concerning meetings with the tobacco industry
  5. De-normalize so called “socially responsible” activities by the tobacco industry
  6. Remove incentives to the tobacco industry
  7. Require information on production, marketing, and revenue from the tobacco industry
  8. Require disclosure of tobacco industry lobbyists and lobbying expenditures.

Still, even the countries that have implemented measures to exclude the tobacco industry from policy-making processes must remain watchful, especially as the industry shifts it’s focus from health to non-health departments of government, such as development, agriculture or finance.

Sandra Mullin, senior vice president at Vital Strategies and board member of STOP, says, “Our report suggests that even these countries need to be vigilant against new industry tactics.

“You simply cannot create healthier, smoke-free environments with tobacco companies involved in the policy process.”


Image Credits: Benicio Murray/Flickr, STOP.

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