WHO Definitions of Tobacco Industry Tactics
The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy. The World Health Organisation recognised the need to monitor the tobacco industry tactics as essential to public health. The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires signatories to protect their health policies “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”. The Framework is the world’s first public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO and signed by over 170 countries around the world.
In 2008, the WHO published a document called Tobacco industry interference with tobacco control to assist Member States in implementing the WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines against such interference. The report exposed industry tactics and described the spectrum of these practices. In short, the WHO writes:
- The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly product.
- Furthermore, the tobacco industry continues to inject large philanthropic contributions into social programs worldwide to create a positive public image under the guise of corporate social responsibility.
TobaccoTactics is built on the WHO findings while responding to the FCTC call for civil society to play an essential role in monitoring the activities of the tobacco industry.
Tobacco Industry Tactics for Resisting Effective Tobacco Control
The WHO report lists the many strategies used by the industry and its allies to monitor and undermine advances in tobacco control.
- The diversity of these strategies demonstrates that the mission to thwart tobacco control is global and based on the broad objective of establishing the industry as ‘socially responsible’ and a ‘partner’ with government in tobacco control. There is also evidence of the objective of stopping or weakening policies known to affect sales.
- The industry can not only manipulate the media by raising doubt about scientific research, it can also attack public media campaigns by requesting information, pursuing litigation or attempting to limit the audience and restrict the message of the campaign.
The WHO list below offers an overview of the range of industry activities, and a short definition. Each tactic is linked to the corresponding page at TobaccoTactics, for further explanation.
|Intelligence gathering||To monitor opponents and social trends in order to anticipate future challenges|
|Public relations||To mould public opinion, using the media to promote positions favourable to the industry|
|Political funding||To use campaign contributions to win votes and legislative favours from politicians|
|Lobbying||To make deals and influence political processes|
|Consultancy||To recruit supposedly independent experts who are critical of tobacco control measures|
|Funding research, including universities||To create doubt about evidence of the health effects of tobacco use|
|Smokers’ rights groups||To create an impression of spontaneous, grassroots public support|
|Creating alliances and front groups||To mobilize farmers, retailers, advertising agencies, the hospitality industry, grassroots and anti-tax groups with a view to influencing legislation|
|Intimidation||To use legal and economic power as a means of harassing and frightening opponents who support tobacco control|
|Philanthropy||To buy friends and social respectability from arts, sports, humanitarian and cultural groups|
|Corporate Social Responsibility||To promote voluntary measures as an effective way to address tobacco control and create an illusion of being a ‘changed’ company and to establish partnerships with health interests|
|Youth smoking prevention and retailer education programmes||To appear to be on the side of efforts to prevent children from smoking and to depict smoking as an adult choice|
|Litigation||To challenge laws and intimidate tobacco industry opponents|
|Smuggling||To undermine tobacco excise tax policies and marketing and trade restrictions and thereby increase profits|
|International treaties and other international instruments||To use trade agreements to force entry into closed markets and to challenge the legality of proposed tobacco control legislation|
|Joint manufacturing and licensing agreements and voluntary policy agreements with governments||To form joint ventures with state monopolies and subsequently pressure governments to privatize monopolies|
|Pre-emption||To overrule local or state government by removing its power to act|
- WHO, Tobacco industry interference with tobacco control, 2009, accessed April 2012
- World Health Organisation, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: on the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, 2008, p. 9, accessed April 2012