Bangkok/Manila, 26 June 2020: During this COVID-19 pandemic, governments should be wary of tobacco industry misinformation about illicit trade and attempts to promote tobacco as essential products.
According to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), during the current global economic slowdown, tobacco companies continue to manufacture and profit from tobacco products, despite a recognized link between smoking and COVID-19. The companies reportedly claim that illicit trade will increase if they do not manufacture their products to meet consumer demand.
Governments are often provided data from industry-funded research, such as the 2017 Asia Illicit Tobacco Indicator report by Oxford Economics (OE), which SEATCA described as severely flawed in its critique released today entitled ‘Still Defective: Asia Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2017 Report’.
This critique, authored by Dr. Hana Ross, Principal Research Officer of the Economics of Tobacco Control Project at the University of Cape Town, has uncovered the poor quality of data used by OE, identified multiple deficiencies in OE’s study methodology, and exposed the deceptive presentation of the study results
“Like previous OE reports on illicit trade in tobacco products commissioned by the tobacco industry, this OE report commissioned by Philip Morris International (PMI) does not provide scientifically sound information to policy makers and is biased to the interests of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Ross.
“The majority of data in the OE report comes from the tobacco industry: either directly from PMI or generated under specific terms of reference PMI has with other tobacco companies and consulting groups. Moreover, the figures and statistics reported are either incorrect or unverified estimation applied to often questionable data from multiple sources that do not blend,” she added.
“Illicit tobacco trade is a problem that governments must seek to eliminate, but it is often blown out of proportion and used as a scare tactic by the tobacco industry to discourage governments from implementing lifesaving tobacco control measures in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), such as increasing tobacco tax and standardized packaging,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for governments to step up their efforts to protect public health policies from tobacco industry influence, as there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between public health and the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. Governments must recognize that tobacco is not an essential product and should reject partnerships with the tobacco industry and fully scrutinize any information provided by tobacco companies,” said Dorotheo.
Government actions to address illicit tobacco trade include ratifying the WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products to facilitate collaboration with other governments and widen access to technical assistance, requiring tobacco companies to declare all research and marketing funding to third parties, and commissioning research by transparent and accountable institutions without links to the tobacco industry.
- Still Defective Asia Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2017 – https://seatca.org/dmdocuments/Still%20Defective%20Asia%20Illicit%20Tobacco%20Indicator%202017%20Report.pdf
- Confronting Illicit Tobacco Trade: Global Review of Country Experiences – https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/tobacco/publication/confronting-illicit-tobacco-trade-a-global-review-of-country-experiences
- WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products – https://www.who.int/fctc/protocol/illicit_trade/protocol-publication/en/
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving 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.