Tobacco industry interference in public health policy remains high despite COVID-19 pandemic

Philippines/Bangkok, 20 November 2020: Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the tobacco industry has been vigorously influencing and interfering in public health policies in the ASEAN region. At the same time, governments are moving slowly and, in some instances, retreating from their obligation to protect those policies from industry interference.

These are the main findings of a civil society report launched today, the Tobacco Industry Interference Index: Implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in ASEAN Countries, 2020. The seventh in a yearly series by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), the index gauges how governments are protecting tobacco control policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

“Even during this pandemic, the tobacco industry is still using its money to buy lawyers, politicians, scientists, journalists, and public relations firms to whitewash its business of addiction and harm to give it a semblance of legitimacy and normalcy. This report shines the light on tobacco industry misconduct and how governments are succeeding or failing to stop industry influence and interference in policy development and implementation; unfortunately, many are failing,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of SEATCA.

The 2020 comparative report provides a historical view of country scores for the last 5 years to measure progress or deterioration in each government’s capacity to resist tobacco industry interference; it also describes the similarity of tobacco industry tactics across countries and across time. Overall, Brunei and Thailand have been steadily progressing, with Myanmar and Vietnam showing the most improvement, while Malaysia and the Philippines have deteriorated over the years. Indonesia and Lao PDR are lagging behind all other ASEAN countries.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Industry interference to prevent a ban or effective regulation of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
  • Tobacco-sponsored corporate social responsibility activities remain a pervasive platform to ensnare government as a partner and to gain access to top-level government officers.
  • Government officials interact unnecessarily with the tobacco industry by participating in tobacco industry-led initiatives that provide opportunities for engagement and partnerships that can impact public policies.
  • Lack of transparency in disclosing government interactions with the tobacco industry remains a substantial problem.
  • Most countries are progressing with preventive measures to isolate tobacco industry intereference as part of good housekeeping and governance in line with Article 5.3, however, stronger monitoring and enforcement systems are needed to improve implementation of these measures.

“Unmindful of the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tobacco industry continues to undermine public health policies. A whole-of-government approach is vital for effectively countering tobacco industry interference. Governments need to proactively put in place safeguards to prevent unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry, limit necessary ones, and set up disclosure procedures to protect public health policies,” said Ms. Jennie Lyn Reyes, author of the report.

An expanded Asian version of the report (covering 18 countries) was also launched today by SEATCA, while the an expanded Global Tobacco Industry Interference Report (covering 57 countries) was launched by STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) earlier this week.


Wendell C. Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA

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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.