GLOBAL TOBACCO INDUSTRY INTERFERENCE INDEX
The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index (Global Tobacco Index) is a global survey on how governments are responding to tobacco industry interference and protecting their public health policies from commercial and vested interests as required under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
This report is based on publicly available information on tobacco industry interference in countries and their respective governments’ responses to these interferences. Countries are ranked according to total scores provided by civil society groups. The lower the score, the lower the overall level of interference, which augurs well for the country.
In a global pandemic, where smoking is a risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease, the tobacco industry (TI) continued producing, distributing and selling its harmful products. While governments have the power to tighten regulations on the industry during such trying times, unfortunately, the opposite seems to have happened. In many countries, governments chose to protect and even promote the TI. Tobacco is already responsible for about 8 million annual deaths globally and health and productivity losses cost around US $1.4 trillion every year. Yet, governments were persuaded to pander to the demands and lobbying of this harmful industry and even accept its charity as shown in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021 (the Index).
Although governments identified tobacco industry interference as a main obstacle to their efforts to implement tobacco control measures, many became vulnerable to the industry’s tactics, succumbed to its interference and compromised on their policies to protect public health from commercial interests.
Several governments were persuaded by the doubletalk of transnational tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which offered new tobacco products for approval and claimed they were moving away from cigarettes. In reality, they were selling more cigarettes and simultaneously obstructing government regulatory efforts that would affect cigarette sales.
The TI exploited the COVID-19 pandemic with a multi-pronged tactic to entice, persuade and coerce governments towards weaker public health policies. Many governments, made vulnerable by the pandemic, freely accepted and endorsed charity from the TI, when such donations often come with strings attached, and compromised on policies. Instead of removing benefits to the industry, many governments made decisions that benefited the industry, particularly in lowering or not imposing taxes and delaying legislation or its implementation.
Many government officials met with industry executives in a non-transparent manner and were persuaded to allow this business to function as “essential” during the pandemic lockdowns. Conflict of interest situations rendered officials vulnerable to accept proposals from the industry and view it as a “partner” of economic recovery rather than a burden to public health and society.
This Index, the third in the series, covers 80 countries documenting the status of government efforts in implementing the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3. Article 5.3 and its Guidelines outline how governments can protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interest of the TI and those who further its interests. Governments that followed these Guidelines were better able to safeguard their tobacco control efforts during the pandemic, while governments that didn’t found their efforts being undermined, delayed or defeated by the industry.
The 80 countries are ranked (Figure 1) according to total scores provided by civil society groups, which prepared their respective country indices. The lower the score, the lower the overall level of interference, which augurs well for the country.
This Index shows that while no country has been spared from TI interference, some governments acted boldly to address the interference. Eighteen countries have made improvements in protecting their health policies, especially in applying greater transparency, not collaborating with the industry and adopting guidelines to provide a procedure for interaction with the industry.