WHO Definitions of Tobacco Industry Tactics

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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.1 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.23

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. Tactics are linked to corresponding pages on TobaccoTactics, for further explanation.

WHO definitions

Tactic Goal
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


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