Exposing Industry Interference to Address UK’s Slide

“The Index is a practical tool to monitor countries’ commitment to protecting the public health of their people from industry influence and in assessing countries’ adherence to their main obligations under tobacco control international law. It provides a periodic and updated blueprint to governments on what is needed to avoid tobacco industry interference. We look forward to its recommendations being adopted and enforced by governments.”
Dr Raouf Alebshehy
Tobacco Control Research Group, University of Bath

About Tobacco in the UK

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, accounting for approximately 96,000 deaths every year. Two of the four major transnational tobacco companies, British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands, have their headquarters in the UK.

The UK first took part in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index in 2019, when it was ranked top. Since then, its performance has slipped and it was ranked fourth in the second (2020) report, and third in the most recent index (2021).

There are several areas of concern around tobacco industry interference in the UK. First, we observed a number of unnecessary interactions between policy-makers and the industry (and its allies). Second, tobacco companies continue to take advantage of opportunities to use so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes to open the door to government officials and policy makers, particularly in areas of significant public interest such as environmental pollution and COVID-19. We have also observed a growth in the use of industry front groups, and it can be difficult to identify their role in lobbying and influencing policy. Overall, there is a lack of suitable preventative measures to prevent tobacco industry involvement in public health.

Advocacy of the UK Tobacco Industry Interference Index (UKTI)

The UKTI was published on 2 November 2021 by the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) based at the University of Bath. Two documents were produced – a full report with the full findings, and a shorter policy brief summarising the main findings and the recommendations. The publication was promoted via a press release issued by the University of Bath, with commentary from ASH, ASH Wales, ASH Scotland and Cancer Research UK, who were all involved in compiling the report. Partners also issued their own press releases.

The report was sent to UK government tobacco control units. We presented findings to the Senedd Cross Party Group for Smoking and Health, and the Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Alliance. TCRG also presented findings arising from the UKTI at two conferences, the European conference on tobacco control (online) and the Conference on Tobacco, Law and Human Rights: Crossing borders, spaces and substances, which took place in Groningen, the Netherlands.

To reach a wider policy audience, we collaborated with the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath to publish a blog promoting the policy recommendations. Details about the UKTI, including reports and briefs from the last three years, and a video explainer, are featured on the Tobacco Control Research Group web pages.

Response to Advocacy

In addition to the promotion given by partners on websites, social media and through newsletters, the UKTI was picked up by the Times, the Ferret, CTFK and ACTA. The UKTI report was cited by ASH Wales and the Spectrum research consortium in responses to tobacco control consultations relating to Wales.

About TCRG: TCRG is a multidisciplinary, international research group, examining how companies influence health and policy; and evaluating and providing evidence for policy change. Our research has achieved real impact, particularly on tobacco policy in the UK and globally, thanks to research publications and the Tobacco Tactics website. Tobacco Tactics is a vital resource, providing rigorously-sourced profiles of the key players, organizations, allies and techniques of the tobacco industry. Journalists, academics, policy makers, advocates and researchers use our work because they value our evidence-based approach and accessible style. TCRG is the research partner in STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog.