Governments should reject voluntary codes from the tobacco industry

Bangkok, 21 November – In anticipation of the 2023 release of a tobacco industry marketing code to establish a global marketing standard for electronic smoking devices (ESDs), the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) today warned governments not to be deceived.  In its latest report, “Tobacco Industry Duplicity: Recycling an Old Marketing Code,” SEATCA maintains that laws are necessary to protect people and that the tobacco industry hides behind its ineffective voluntary codes to continue targeting new markets, particularly the youth.

The tobacco industry tried this tactic two decades ago in an attempt to pre-empt the comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship required under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).  In 2001, the three largest transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco Inc., and four smaller cigarette companies agreed to the International Tobacco Marketing Standards (ITMS). Claimed to be a self-regulation guideline to prevent tobacco marketing targeted at young people, the ITMS failed miserably.

“The tobacco industry would like the public to believe that it is transforming, but in reality, this is just part of its strategy to continue to hook customers with its addictive and deadly products,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

“This new voluntary marketing code for ESDs, just like the industry’s voluntary code for cigarettes, is a public relations ploy of the tobacco industry to gain public and government acceptance. It will be used to lobby against stringent regulations by misleading regulators to differentiate between “risk-reduced” and “high-risk” tobacco products when in fact, all tobacco use is harmful. The industry is desperate amidst declining cigarettes sales and increased perception among the youth about the harms and addictiveness of tobacco products,” continued Dorotheo.

Developing its own marketing code is just one of many deceptive practices of the tobacco industry. Its promotion of new tobacco and nicotine products, such as ESDs, as “reduced-risk” products under the guise of harm reduction is reminiscent of how the industry misled and continues to mislead smokers that light, mild, or low-tar cigarettes are “less harmful” by using light pack colors such as white, silver, and light blue. 

Governments must see through these deceptive practices of the tobacco industry and implement their commitment under the WHO FCTC, particularly Article 5.3, by rejecting any voluntary codes or non-enforceable agreements with the industry.


SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control 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.

Contact Information:  
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA Email:   Mobile: +639173124600

Relevant Links:

  1. SEATCA’s Tobacco Watch
  2. Tobacco Industry Duplicity: Recycling an Old Marketing Code
  3. WHO FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines


Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter for the latest news and updates on our work in the ASEAN region and beyond.