Exposing the Tobacco Industry to Protect Public Health

“Working with GGTC has been very rewarding in terms of expanding the capacity of Advocacy Center LIFE and of our partners who work on anti-corruption issues to consistently and rigorously monitor and expose the tobacco industry lobbying and interference, and highlighting it in the media.

Public and media exposure of the Tobacco Industry Interference Index plays a crucial role in keeping the industry accountable and preventing state officials from engaging unnecessarily with the industry. According to the Index, Ukraine improved its score between 2020-2021. Indeed, the current Government has made a step forward in protecting itself from the tobacco industry pressure, threats and manipulation.”

Lilia Olefir
Expert on Tobacco Control, Advocacy Center LIFE, Ukraine

During the COVID pandemic in 2020, Philip Morris International (PMI) kept encouraging Ukrainians to buy its tobacco products, choosing not to alert their customers to the additional potential risks that COVID – the most common complication of which is pneumonia – can have on the lungs of a smoker.

Glovo & IQOS: Free Delivery for Everyone. Kids Included

In April 2020, PMI intensified its marketing efforts on its heated tobacco brands. It cut prices for IQOS and launched free bonuses for its clients. PMI teamed up with the popular Glovo Delivery Service (an international company that delivers restaurant meals, groceries and pharmaceuticals) to deliver IQOS and HEETS (heated tobacco products) directly to people’s homes via an App.

Advocacy Center LIFE made a short video, exposing how Philip Morris and Glovo Delivery Service were selling HEETS to minors. The video showed 16-Year-old LIFE volunteer Sofia ordering two packs of HEETS through the App and paying in cash. The App allowed her to skip the age check, and the courier didn’t ask to see her ID. LIFE repeated this with other kids from 5 Ukrainian cities, who were all able to order HEETS sticks for IQOS through the Glovo Delivery Service.

LIFE then disseminated a press release exposing how tobacco companies and delivery services were selling online tobacco products to kids. This raised a wave of outrage on the Internet. In addition, there was a small victory: Glovo first removed the separate window for ordering IQOS HEETS from its App. Glovo then changed the layout of its App, so that the age-check window does not close until it gets a response to the question of whether the customer is at least 18 years old.

PMI Whitewashes its Reputation with COVID-19 Aid while Promoting Smoking

During the pandemic, PMI tried to repair its negative image, and portray itself as a health-conscious and responsible business. In April 2020, it gave a small donation, Hr 10 million (USD 370,370), through a non-profit organisation called ‘Health For All.’

Two Ukrainian laws — on advertisements and on tobacco control — forbid tobacco companies and related organizations from supporting, financially or otherwise, virtually anyone and anything if there is even a slight chance it will lead to tobacco sales or stimulate use. But PMI found a loophole: it donated through this intermediary charity organization that distributed the money. PMI claimed ­the donation was legal because it had used the name of the tobacco company and not the name of its cigarette product.

The LIFE team published a statement about the tobacco companies trying to "whitewash" their image and reputation. LIFE highlighted how Philip Morris Ukraine donated money in efforts to fight against the coronavirus while at the same time failing to inform smokers have a significantly higher risk of serious disease and death if they contract COVID-19. The cooperation of the government with tobacco companies over COVID donations directly contradicts WHO FCTC Article 5.3 and Ukrainian law.  LIFE emphasized this illegal donation from Philip Morris Ukraine was against public interest. In addition, in 2020 the tobacco companies obtained additional profits of over Hr 500 million (USD 20 million) because the government failed to increase tax on heated tobacco products, due to interference by the tobacco industry. In January 2021, the government tripled the excise tax for heated tobacco products, which is now the same as the minimum tax for cigarettes.

As a result ‘Health For All’ has started trying to find those who would accept PMI’s donation, but it isn't easy. Due to the publicity, a large number of government agencies refused such assistance in order not to attract the attention of the press.

The Ukraine Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which LIFE prepares annually since 2019 in collaboration with GGTC, provides concrete evidence of how the industry interferes in public health policy. Customized factsheets providing Ukraine’s global ranking keeps the focus on Ukraine’s performance.

The collaboration with GGTC enables us to act and influence both locally and globally, and the approach of working with many countries to raise awareness on TI interference and helping Governments to prioritize tobacco control over vested interests. Thanks to this global collaboration, Ukraine is making better progress compared with previous Index results. We aim to keep strengthening cooperation with the Government to exclude the TI from decision-making on tobacco control policies in line with WHO FCTC Article 5.3.

About Advocacy Center LIFE: LIFE works to improve health and well-being and reduce mortality and morbidity from non-communicable diseases caused by tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy nutrition and passive lifestyle.