Chapter 6

Insulating Public Health Policies from Insidious Interference

The tobacco industry is not like any other business. Despite selling a highly addictive and inherently defective product that kills up to two thirds of its consumers, it continues to escape commensurately stringent regulation of its business and products by interfering at all levels of tobacco control policy development and implementation. Through both overt and covert means, the industry uses its massive resources to deter and thwart governments' efforts to protect public health policies. Tobacco industry interference remains a major problem in the ASEAN region as in other parts of the world.

Map: Implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 in ASEAN

The tobacco industry employs an extensive range of unethical and intentionally orchestrated tactics and strategies, at both the country level and internationally to directly and indirectly challenge, defeat, discredit, dilute, obstruct, delay and circumvent implementation of effective tobacco control measures. These include political lobbying to manipulate and hijack the political and legislative process through drafting and distributing industry-friendly legislation, providing incentives to government officials and politicians to take a pro-industry position, and hiring former prominent government officials or appointing them to be tobacco industry spokespersons or board members. Other tactics include intimidating governments and individuals with litigation or threat of legal suit, mobilizing front groups to advance its cause, and making false claims and spreading half-truths and misinformation through position papers, news items, posters, and paid ads.

Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC requires Parties, when setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. By unanimously adopting the WHO FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines at the third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) in 2008, Parties to the treaty formally recognized the irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.

Within ASEAN, four countries (Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) have taken concrete steps to protect their public health policies from tobacco industry interference by developing a policy, guidelines, or a code of conduct to prevent unnecessary interactions with the industry and ensure transparency of any interactions that do occur, while other countries still have to institute similar preventive measures in line with the Article 5.3 Guidelines. Regardless of such actions taken, there has been increasing industry interference in many countries, and this is expected to continue into the future. Hence there remains much room to institute or strengthen mechanisms at the highest levels to prevent or reduce such industry interference in tobacco control.

Quick Fact

FCTC Article 5.3 acts as an anti-corruption and good governance measure

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All 10 ASEAN countries have anti-corruption laws. This legal framework has huge potential for harnessing the political and legal power to protect public health interests against tobacco industry interference in line with Article 5.3 guidelines.

Quick Fact

Implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 in ASEAN

Industry-related CSR activities

Tobacco companies have been trying to re-brand themselves as “socially responsible” corporations. They use corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to circumvent laws regulating the industry, and as a strategy to gain access to elected officials who are empowered to approve and implement tobacco control policies.

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Lao PDR

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Myanmar

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Thailand

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Cambodia

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Indonesia

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Singapore

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Vietnam

Among ASEAN countries, only Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand have banned on all tobacco-related CSR activities, while Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam have banned the publicity of such CSR activities.

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