Secret operations of tobacco companies to undermine global health governance

Bangkok, 14 July 2017: New explosive investigative reports by Reuters and The Guardian have exposed how transnational tobacco companies, particularly Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT), are running secret campaigns to block or undermine the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and governmental negotiations at the FCTC Conference of Parties (COP).

The investigations reveal multiple tobacco industry offensives across Africa, America, and Asia, including Vietnam, and how they subvert the treaty on multiple levels. The COP was targeted because it is a venue where government delegates gather to decide on important FCTC and tobacco control decisions. The industry also lobbies and infiltrates government delegations, and challenges government by filing cases at the country level, where treaty decisions are implemented. For example, PMI targeted Vietnam at the sixth and seventh sessions of the COP in 2014 and 2016, corroborating civil society observations of how Vietnam’s COP statements frequently mirrored PMI’s positions on tobacco control regulations.

Besides undermining the COP sessions, PMI also targets tobacco control NGOs, including SEATCA, of which PMI says, “We’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO [anti-tobacco organization] in Asia.” 

​SEATCA’s Executive Director Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee reacted positively, “PMI’s identification of SEATCA as ‘the major anti-tobacco organization in Asia’ and its work to counter our activities show SEATCA is effectively protecting public health in our advocacy for strong tobacco control policies,” she said.​

PMI also complained of “attacks on our fiscal arguments and allies”, citing SEATCA’s critique of the PMI-funded report on illicit tobacco trade by the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) and Oxford Economics.

“These investigative exposés clearly show that transnational tobacco companies have not changed despite their recent rhetoric about less harmful products and a smoke-free future. They will continue to interfere with government efforts and stringent tobacco control legislations and attack civil society groups that protect public health,” added Ritthiphakdee.

The best antidote for tobacco industry tactics such as those revealed in the investigations, is to implement FCTC Article 5.3 that protects governments and public health policies from tobacco industry interference.

Tobacco use kills about 500,000 people per year in the ASEAN region. Tobacco use in ASEAN not only impoverishes the users but also burdens national economies with more than USD10 billion in healthcare costs annually due to tobacco-related illnesses and premature deaths.  


Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA
Email: | Mobile: +63 999 881 2117 ##

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SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance working to promote health and save lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.