The Influence of Big Tobacco

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Call To Action

Parties to the WHO FCTC must comply with their obligations under Article 5.3 to combat overt and covert tobacco industry interference and undue influence, as well as attempts to improve their image and create the appearance of being good corporate citizens.

Donations from Philip Morris International (PMI); 2009 – 2013

Tobacco companies have a long history of exerting influence to promote their own agendas, further company awareness, or promote goodwill. This is not done innocently or to be good corporate citizens, but rather in an effort to achieve “innocence by association”. Like most major corporations, tobacco companies make donations, attempt to influence politics and exert undue influence to promote their own brands, companies and profits. The difference is that tobacco companies do this to sell a product that is addictive and deadly.

The global tobacco industry spends tens of billions of dollars (USD) each year on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Though tobacco lobbying expenditures and political contributions are mostly tracked and readily available in the USA, these practices of formal and informal tobacco lobbying, building strategic political relationships, and providing payoffs occur throughout the world. In the USA, over USD26 million was spent on tobacco lobbying in 2012, with 23 tobacco companies employing 174 lobbyists. All major tobacco companies make charitable contributions, though the amount donated is miniscule in comparison to the overall profits of the companies. Additionally, these donations often support charities or projects that are in the best interest of tobacco companies, such as PMI’s 2012 donation in Spain to support an entrepreneurship program for young tobacco growers.

Many countries and organizations are working diligently to expose the undue influence of tobacco companies, and the best way to do this is to follow the WHO FCTC guidelines and recommendations for Article 5.3, which states, “Parties should protect the formulation and implementation of public health policies for tobacco control from the tobacco industry to the greatest extent possible.” The influence exerted by tobacco companies is observed worldwide, and it is time for countries to seriously enforce the provisions of Article 5.3 and to stand against the various forms of undue influence exerted by all tobacco companies.

Funding Charities

2013 US charitable contributions from the Altria Companies, in millions, USD


(E.G. SUCCESS 360°)
78 different educational institutions and programs received funding

The Smithsonian Institution received funding

Two donations were to healthcare organizations

88 different organizations received
funding through employee programs

Six charities in Virginia,
a top tobacco-growing state, received funding

The American Red Cross and its
Virginia chapter received funding

The Texas Conservative Coalition
Research Institute received funding

485 charitable events received wine
donated by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, of which Altria is the parent company

6 chapters of the Boys & Girls Club received funding


Tobacco company charitable giving is small compared to profits and creates a conflict of interest when donated to youth or healthcare organizations.

“Evidence from tobacco industry documents reveals that tobacco companies have operated for many years with the deliberate purpose of subverting the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) to control tobacco use. The attempted subversion has been elaborate, well financed, sophisticated, and usually invisible.” -WHO Report of the Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents, 2000

“The tobacco industry has, as we’ve seen reported recently, 161 lobbyists working for them in the European parliament to cover 700 MEPs. They are coming at us strong, but they are going to meet fierce resistance from me and from the people in government who are interested in the wellbeing of our children, in particular…” – Irish Health minister James Reilly

Exerting Political Influence

Tobacco company interference: EU Tobacco Products Directive


In 2013, Altria topped charitable giving among major tobacco companies. Altria’s charitable donations accounted for a mere 1.04% of its profits (US$47 MILLION), while BAT, Imperial and Philip Morris International each donated less than one half of one percent of their profits.

Global Examples

Undue influence: examples of tactics used by
tobacco companies

Turkey received more money (USD7,651,234) than any other country in donations from Philip Morris International (PMI) in 2013.
In 2013, Japan received the largest number of donations (16) to various charities from PMI.

British American Tobacco (BAT) previously held a tobacco monopoly in Kenya and developed close ties with political leaders. When a tobacco competitor emerged, BAT drafted legislation, that was passed by the Kenyan government, which encouraged farmers to sell tobacco leaf to BAT rather than competitors.
Sri Lanka
In 2013, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena was offered money from tobacco companies to not introduce graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. “The company representatives continuously tried to approach me when I was in Parliament, at home and in office. But I did not meet them because I do not have anything to talk with them.”
European Union
In 2014, PMI spent more money (GBP5.25 million) on lobbying in the EU than any other corporation.

From 2010–2012, BAT launched a national campaign against plain packaging in Australia. The campaign created and distributed promotional materials in print, billboards, on the radio, and through social media. The two-year campaign was valued at AUS$3,482,247.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva received donations from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in 2012. The museum tried to return the funds following protest from advocacy groups, but JTI did not accept the repayment and the funds were moved to an account overseen by the museum’s lawyer.

Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC), a subsidiary of Reynolds American, is a Life Member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), which promotes sustainable farming. Between 2009 and 2011, SFNTC provided more than USD190,000 in funding to help organic tobacco farmers in North Carolina grow organic wheat in rotation with organic tobacco. In 2011, SFNTC purchased USD11 million worth of US-grown, organic flue-cured tobacco, mostly from farmers in North Carolina.

“Let’s be clear about one thing. OUR FUNDAMENTAL INTEREST IN THE ARTS IS SELF-INTEREST. There are immediate and pragmatic benefits to be derived as business entities.” – George Weissman, Chairman of Philip Morris USA, 1980

Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC

Article 5.3 urges parties to actively protect the creation and implementation of public health policies from the interest of the tobacco industry with
the following principles:

  • There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s co-interests and public health policy interests.
  • Parties, when dealing with the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, should be accountable and transparent.
  • Parties should require the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests to operate and act in a manner that is accountable and transparent.
  • Because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses.

For specific examples on how to avoid tobacco industry interference, countries and others should review the specific implementation recommendations in the WHO FCTC Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3.

WHO Definitions

Tobacco companies resist effective tobacco control measures through a number of avenues that have been outlined by the WHO.

  • Intelligence gathering
  • Public relations
  • Political funding (campaign contributions)
  • Lobbying
  • Consultancy (use of “independent” experts)
  • Funding research, including universities
  • Smokers’ rights groups
  • Creating alliances and front groups
  • Intimidation (use of legal & economic power)
  • Philanthropy
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Youth smoking prevention programs
  • Retailer education programs
  • Litigation
  • Smuggling
  • International treaties
  • Joint manufacturing and licensing agreements
  • Pre-emption (prohibits localities from enacting laws more stringent than state law)

In March 2012, Ukraine requested consultations with Australia regarding their plain packaging law under the dispute settlement system with the World Trade Organization. Ukraine, which does not export cigarettes to Australia, claimed that certain principles of the law violate free trade. BAT is funding the country’s legal bills for this complaint. BAT is also funding the legal efforts of Honduras, a third party to the WTO consultations. Philip Morris International has paid a law firm to represent the Dominican Republic.

BAT spokesperson, Jem Maidment, stated “We are happy to support countries who, like us, feel plain packaging could adversely affect trade.”

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