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Tobacco industry meddling in Asia’s efforts to protect health during COVID-19 pandemic

Bangkok, December 1, 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the tobacco industry from interfering in government efforts to protect public health. No country was spared from the meddling; yet tools available to governments to protect their health policies remain largely underutilized. These are the main findings of the latest Asian Tobacco Industry Interference Index (Index) which covered 19 Asian countries.

Low-resourced countries were particularly vulnerable to the tobacco industry’s interference as it stepped up its corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities such as donations of medical equipment and hospital supplies, while enjoying privileges, such as tax breaks, and blocking regulatory measures, such as tax increases that potentially would have given governments resources for a robust pandemic response.

“Not even the pandemic can stop the tobacco industry’s pursuit for profits,” said Jennie Lyn Reyes, the author of SEATCA’s report. “While governments were scrambling to protect public health, the industry was aggressively promoting its business and interfered in government efforts in tobacco control. It enticed governments with charity when they were most vulnerable, then persuaded them to give perks that benefited its business. This is an opportunistic and exploitative tactic.”

This Index, the third in the series for Asia, reviewed and scored how governments are implementing WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3 to protect their health measures from industry interference. The 19 countries were ranked according to score; the higher the score, the higher the level of industry interference (Figure 1). The Asian Index feeds into the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index by the STOP project, which reviewed 80 countries across the globe.

Figure 1: 2021 Tobacco Industry Interference – Asia Ranking

Japan and Indonesia lag at the bottom of the Index scale with high levels of interference matched by their poor national tobacco control efforts. Brunei and Mongolia demonstrated more rigor in protecting their public health policies. Brunei, which adopted a code of conduct in 2019 to guide government officials when interacting with the tobacco industry, continues to maintain its high standards. Mongolia a new entrant to the survey is on the right track in implementing Article 5.3.

India and Thailand show a slight improvement in their overall scores compared to the previous year, while Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia have deteriorated in protecting their policies from interference from commercial and other vested interests.

According to Reyes, “It is not all gloom and doom during these challenging times. Hope is in the hands of governments, as demonstrated by India and Cambodia, which took concrete steps to protect their people, especially children and youth, from the harmful and predatory tobacco industry.” In  India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare adopted a code of conduct for their officials when interacting with the tobacco industry. Cambodia’s Ministry of Education introduced tobacco-free policies in educational facilities and banned any sponsorship or collaboration with the tobacco industry. 

Contact Information: 
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Officer, SEATCA 
Email: val@seatca.org   
Mobile: +639173124600

Related Links: 

  1. Executive Summary: Asian Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021
  2. Tobacco Industry Interference Index: Implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Asian Countries, 2021
  3. Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021
  4. Guidelines for the implementation of WHO FCTC Article 5.3

About SEATCA 

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.