“Dirty Ashtray” Award to Expose Industry Interference

“The Dirty Ashtray Award works! I have been attacked so much in the media that I am immune. I have been called an international spy in pro-tobacco media. I perceive this as a good signal that advocacy strategy is effective and I should continue. If I am not under attack by industry sympathizers, then it is strange and time to review the advocacy tools.”
Jamilya Sadykova
Head of National Coalition for a Smoke-Free Kazakhstan


In July 2020, the President signed into law the Health Act which includes comprehensive tobacco control provisions such as prohibiting tobacco display at points-of-sale, increase pictorial warning labels to 65 percent, raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21years, ban of smokeless tobacco products, expansion of smoke-free places to several outdoor spaces and a 3-4 fold increase in penalties for all tobacco related violations.

Premature deaths attributable to smoking are estimated to be about 18,000 people (over 19 million population) a year. The tobacco industry in Kazakhstan comprises of the main transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International (local producers), British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands as importers. The tobacco industry has been interfering on various fronts opposing strong control provisions by lobbying the government and parliament members by offering weaker amendments to the law. The tobacco control community exposed these interference tactics and provided evidence to support strong measures. This resulted in the parliament rejecting the industry’s proposals and approving a strong law.

Overall, the WHO FCTC, and especially Article 5.3 guidelines, are neglected in Kazakhstan and not considered as an obligation. Hence no preventive measures have been put in place to shield officials and parliamentarians from interference. The Tobacco Industry Interference Index is the only civil society tool reporting in the media current Article 5.3 implementation and government’s response to TI interference and its impact on health policy.

The Dirty Ashtray Award

The Dirty Ashtray Award[i] is a well-known public recognition to call out those influenced by lobbying from the tobacco industry. The criteria to earn this award is when public officials succumb to or when the government accepts, supports or endorses policies or legislation in collaboration with the tobacco industry. In Kazakhstan, this is the only evidence which exposes tobacco industry lobby activities.

The very first Dirty Ashtray award was given in 2012 [ii] to parliament member Azat Peruashev, the leader of Ak Zhol party who tried to block the 100% excise tax increase on cigarettes by using the media to promote his arguments and debating in working groups. The Coalition presented the Dirty Ashtray award to the MP immediately after the tax code discussion in Parliament, revealing the tactic. The Parliament finally approved a significant tax increase on cigarettes. The award presentation was widely covered by local media. The parliament member stopped promoting tobacco industry arguments in public and in working groups nor participate in public discussions on tobacco.

In 2013, the award was given to the Committee for Technical Regulation and Metrology of the Ministry of Industry for succumbing to official Custom union discussion[iii] to weaken implementation of graphic pictorial warnings. In 2014, the award went to the International Tax and Investment Center,[iv] a PMI funded think tank that provided pro-tobacco technical advice on low tax to government officials of Custom union countries (Armenia, Belorussia, Kyrgyzstan and Russia).

In 2020, based on evidence of industry lobbying of public officials documented in the Tobacco Industry Interference Index, the Dirty Ashtray award was given again to the leader of the Ak Zhol party[v] who as a member of parliament was actively taking a pro-tobacco position.[vi] His lobbying included blocking the proposal to categorise vapes, IQOS, GLO as tobacco products and for blocking the adoption of a ban on the display of tobacco products at points of sale. He lobbied to send all tobacco control amendments for government re-approval twice in an attempt to weaken them significantly.[vii]

In 2021, the Dirty Ashtray[viii] was awarded to reveal how Philip Morris, together with a known pro-industry group, National Industrial Chamber, lobbied the Ministry of Trade to develop new national technical regulation on HTP and vapes. They aimed to exclude HTPs from the Health Act (article 110) which regulate all tobacco products.[ix] The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Coalition blocked this initiative and revealed the lobby tactics through the Dirty Ashtray award which was widely covered in the media[x] [xi] including TV.[xii] With the MOH’s firm position, all the amendments passed the barriers and were finally approved on 13 May 2021 by the Mazhilis (Parliament).

About National Coalition for a Smoke-Free Kazakhstan: The Coalition was established in 2004 with the aim of formulating a tobacco control strategy in Kazakhstan, reducing the negative consequences for public health and socio-economic damage associated with tobacco consumption. The Coalition unites 739 legal entities and 57,458 individuals.

[i] National Coalition for a Smoke-Free Kazakhstan. Dirty Ashtray. 14 April 2021. Available from: http://nosmoke.kz/23556-press-reliz.html
[ii] Time KZ. Он курит только. 22 November 2012. Available from: https://bit.ly/3y0yLwk
[iii] No Smoke KZ. Press release. 27 December 2013. Available from: https://bit.ly/39z8igc
[iv] No Smoke KZ. Presentation of the "Orchid" by the editors of the newspaper "Vremya". 25 November 2014. Available from: https://bit.ly/3xxrGC8
[v] No Smoke KZ. "Dirty Ashtray" and "Orchid" 2020. 24 December 2020. Available from: Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. https://bit.ly/3QlQEx3
[vi] No Smoke KZ. "Dirty Ashtray" and "Orchid" 2020. 24 December 2020. Available from: https://bit.ly/3QlQEx3 Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
[vii] ​​Пепельница для Акжола. Available from https://bit.ly/3HAq3YX and https://bit.ly/3OhV1HB
[viii] No Smoke KZ. Press release. 14 April 2021. Available from: https://bit.ly/3xwzdkB
[ix] Sadykova, J. (21 April 2021). Facebook. Available from: https://bit.ly/3n20CGe
[x] News Mail. The minister and the deputy were “awarded” by activists. 14 June 2021. Available from: https://bit.ly/3zZJp8n and https://bit.ly/3zNgYtZ
[xi] Gerber, V. Minister Sultanov was handed an ashtray with cigarette butts. Majilisman Peruashev has two of them. 11 June 20221. Available from: https://bit.ly/3N0vMs7
[xii] Kazakhstan Dirty Ashtray award. Available from: https://bit.ly/3y0zYUo