Breaking News: ITIC cuts ties with Big Tobacco, but next steps needed

The International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) has reportedly cut its ties with the transnational tobacco companies. According to a Financial Times report on 19 May, the ITIC had asked tobacco representatives to resign from its Board of Directors and will no longer accept sponsorship contributions from tobacco companies.

ITIC’s President was quoted to have said that the anti-tobacco campaigns against it became too great a distraction from ITIC’s mission and this step was necessary to safeguard ITIC’s reputation and ensure its long term effectiveness. It is unclear, however, if Oxford Economics, ITIC’s close collaborator on tobacco tax issues, has taken a similar stand.

For decades, ITIC has been actively lobbying on behalf of Big Tobacco on tobacco tax policies and how to tackle tobacco smuggling. Philip Morris International (PMI) for example has sponsored ITIC reports on illicit trade in tobacco products that recommended against raising tobacco tax substantially and advised working with tobacco companies to address illicit trade, in direct conflict with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which 180 governments worldwide have committed to implement.

Tax and economics experts have exposed the flawed methodology and pro-tobacco industry recommendations of these reports, but it appears that, despite breaking ties with the tobacco industry, ITIC will continue to utilise these faulty reports.

Cutting ties with the tobacco industry is a good first step, but this must be followed through with a few logical next steps. The real issue is the content of ITIC’s documents and their recommendations to governments, which have been pro-tobacco industry messages. By focusing on its “reputation” as a reason for its decision, ITIC seems to be totally ignoring the “content’ issue”. 

Seemingly ignoring the two Notes Verbale on Non-Engagement with ITIC issued by the Convention Secretariat (CSF) to Parties to the WHO-FCTC in September 2014 and March 2016, ITIC instead pins its bad publicity on NGOs’ campaigns. These Notes advise the FCTC Parties not to engage with the ITIC as it works to promote the tobacco industry, and any engagement with ITIC will be damaging to tobacco control efforts. 

Last year, after SEATCA declined ITIC’s request to meet, ITIC sent SEATCA a long letter containing false accusations against SEATCA, misinterpretations of facts and law, particularly of FCTC Article 5.3, and disparaging remarks about the World Health Organization and FCTC Convention Secretariat. SEATCA publicly responded to this form of intimidation.

To effectively cut ties with the tobacco industry, the ITIC must:

  • Make public on its website its policy of dis-engagement with the tobacco industry. This will serve as an explicit demonstration of its new policy. Other organisations that have cut ties with the tobacco industry have done so. For example the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent (IFRC Guidelines). Organisations that have a policy of disengagement with the tobacco industry indicate it in their policy document; example theUNDP and Save the Children USA (website).
  • Embrace the WHO FCTC Article 6 Guidelines as its benchmark on tobacco tax. ITIC must apply its new policy across all programs and to all its consultants; for example ensure its programs, reports, which review/comment on tobacco control or illicit trade of tobacco are coherent with the FCTC and the FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
  • Take corrective action and withdraw all PMI-sponsored reports from circulation. Otherwise its disengagement with the industry will be meaningless and continue to misguide governments.