International Tobacco Growers Association

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The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) describes itself to be a “non-profit organisation…with the objective of presenting the cause of millions of tobacco farmers to the world”.1 In fact, it is a tobacco industry front group set up and run by major cigarette manufacturers.

A “Front” for Lobbying in Low and Middle Income Countries

Tobacco industry documents describe the development of ITGA and show that it was always intended to be a front group for large cigarette manufacturers.2 ITGA was duly set up in 1984.3 In the early 1980s, major tobacco companies wanted to “mobilise the global agro-lobby” to help with industry advocacy, so they created an organisation that appeared to represent the needs of worldwide tobacco growers.2

A 1988 BAT memo describes how the industry wanted the organisation to function. It says:

“Manufacturers…would ‘control’ the primary funding of the organisation, and would thus be able to ensure that it stuck to politics…The ITGA could ‘front’ for our Third World lobby activities at WHO [World Health Organization], and gain support from nations hostile to MNCs [multinational corporations]. The ITGA (pushed by us) could activate regional agriculture lobbies which are at present very weak and resistant to industry pressure”.4

According to an industry document about the management of ITGA by an organisation called Agro-Tobacco Services:

“The principal role of the new consultancy will be to control the international voice of agro-tobacco on behalf of its clients, ensuring that best use is made of the ITGA as a vehicle for targeted lobby activities. In particular, the consultancy will provide the coordination, facilitation, and motivation necessary to realize the full potential of the tobacco growers’ lobby… Agro-Tobacco Services will develop and implement action plans for each of the ITGA member organizations, develop new argumentation, and liaise with external allies.”5

Capturing the “Moral High Ground”

The industry’s plan was for ITGA to lobby both the World Health Organization and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).6 An industry document from 1991 outlines how they hoped that tobacco growers would capture the “moral high ground” by convincing policymakers of the development and economic benefits of tobacco farming to producing countries. It says:

“By providing the resources necessary to transform the ITGA from an introspective and largely ineffectual trade association to a pro-active, politically effective organization, the industry created the opportunity to capture the moral high ground in relation to a number of fundamental tobacco-related issues”.6

To “Challenge and Ridicule” the World Health Organisation

A 2005 report published by Action on Smoking and Health, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth described how Shabanji Opukah, British American Tobacco (BAT) Corporate Responsibility Manager, wanted to use ITGA to undermine the World Health Organization (WHO).7 It describes how he devised a strategy to “target WHO’s blind spots on key primary health priorities, such as HIV/AIDS prevention and malaria. Working through African and Latin American members, ITGA will build actions with their governments to put pressure on WHO.”7

The report adds that Opukah wanted to get some return for the money BAT had spent supporting tobacco growers at a Pan Africa HIV/AIDS conference, by having tobacco growers “challenge and ridicule” the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC):

“On FCTC the ITGA Africa region agreed that these countries’ priority is not tobacco and health issues rather AIDs is the big issue…The ITGA agreed to support fully a proposal for a pan African aids conference to be held in Zambia in September hosted by the health ministry at which they will discuss the aids scourge in Africa. The ITGA is going to present what their grower associations have been doing to support government and NGO efforts in combating AIDs [sic] in Africa and through that highlight the importance of tobacco to the economy whilst relegating it as an issues in the health priorities of these countries. Then [sic] idea is to use the forum to challenge and ridicule the WHO convention. I suggest that we support fully the ITGA’s efforts in this regard …Needless to repeat this is one way of us getting value from our subs to ITGA – a natural ally.”7

Criticising the WHO and FCTC

In 2010, nearly thirty years on from its inception, ITGA was still challenging the WHO and  FCTC.89

In May 2010 ITGA expressed “outrage” over new recommendations from the FCTC, which included a proposed ban on ingredients used in the manufacturing of tobacco products, claiming the proposal “could wipe out the livelihoods of millions of tobacco growers all over the world”,10 a claim for which there was no evidence.11 After organising a regional lobbying forum in Indonesia in June 2010, ITGA released a statement in September repeating claims of the threat of job losses if the product regulations were adopted.11

Activities around COP meetings


In October 2010, at the 4th Conference of the Parties (COP 4) to the WHO FCTC, held in Uruguay, ITGA attempted to undermine the FCTC by mobilising tobacco farmers in protest against articles 9 and 10 (on the regulation of tobacco products) and articles 17 and 18 (on viable alternatives to tobacco growing). ITGA also protested its exclusion from the decision making process.111213

António Abrunhosa, ITGA’s Chief Executive, admitted to the media at the time that the organisation had received “some support” from the tobacco industry for its campaign.14


In April 2016, ITGA president Francois Van der Merwe stated that “the ITGA has a good dialogue with the United Nations and International Labour Organisation”, but that the WHO and FCTC lacked transparency, and that there should be a “dialogue with farmers”.8 Merwe was also reported as referring specifically to BAT’s contribution to the economy of South Africa, and said that “the industry should be supported and included in the processes that affect them”.15

In October 2016, in the run-up to COP 7 in New Delhi, India, ITGA repeated the same economic arguments used in 2010, adding that impact assessments should be made of proposed FCTC measures.161718

The WHO and the Framework Convention Alliance warned against engagement with ITGA due to its links to the industry.819

COP 10

Ahead of COP 10, initially scheduled to be held in November 2023 in Panama, ITGA held several meetings throughout the year in which COP 10 featured as a discussion point, and where ITGA criticised the WHO FCTC for “excluding” farmers from discussions.202122

In March 2023, its Americas Regional Meeting was attended by representatives from five tobacco-growing countries: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic and USA. The opening session was led by the Minister of Production and Sustainable Development of Argentina.23

In June, ITGA held an ‘Africa Regional Meeting’. ITGA’s webpage reporting the event stated that the “ITGA President is in a crusade to raise awareness of the false claims raised by WHO about tobacco farming and about the economic viability of alternatives crops”and quoted the president:

“WHO FCTC operates against its own rules of procedure and under Article 5.3 is deliberately excluding the tobacco farmers’ voice and other tobacco sector key players from the discussion”21

ITGA had applied, unsuccessfully, for observer status for COP 10.2425 It released a statement on 2 February arguing for publicly attended sessions at COP and for tobacco growers to be able to participate in the discussions.26

During of the week of COP 10, ITGA continued to criticise the WHO and FCTC, stating “Radicalization and lack of transparency have set the tone. The FCTC works against its own regulations”.27 ITGA also met with the Brazilian ambassador to Panama, who was leading the Brazilian COP 10 delegation.282930

Member of the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation

The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT) grew from a joint agreement between ITGA, British American Tobacco (BAT) and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) in 1999, to develop a programme of research and education aimed at eradicating child labour.3132 It is a non-profit organisation that describes itself as a “global leader” in eliminating child labour. In reality, it is funded and governed by tobacco companies and is a vital part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy.33 Since its establishment, board members have included individuals from BAT, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), Philip Morris International (PMI), and Swedish Match, amongst others.

Relevant Links

International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) website

Tobacco Tactics Resources

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control


African Region

Latin America and Caribbean Region

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  1. ITGA, Who we are and what we do, website, undated, accessed July 2019
  2. abUnknown, January 1989 Discussion Paper, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 30 January 1989, ID: mkfw0110
  3. ITGA, History of the ITGA, website, undated, accessed July 2019
  4. John Bloxcidge, International Tobacco Growers’ Association, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 11 October 1988, ID: pxxh0203
  5. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids/Action on Smoking and Health, Trust Us: We’re the Tobacco Industry, May 2001, accessed January 2024
  6. abMartin Oldman, Letter from Martin Oldman to Gaye Pedlow enclosing agro-tobacco programme, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 13 March 1991, ID: xgxh0203
  7. abcAction on Smoking and Health, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, BAT in its own words, 2005
  8. abcWorld Health Organization, Impact of the WHO FCTC on the tobacco industry’s behaviour, FCTC Secretariat paper, undated, accessed July 2019
  9. Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Tobacco Industry Front Group: The International Tobacco Growers’ Association, CTFK Factsheet, November 2011, accessed July 2019
  10. International Tobacco Growers’ Association Exposes the Likely Loss of Millions of Jobs Due to WHO Proposal on Tobacco Ingredients, “BusinessWire”, 25 May 2010, accessed July 2019
  11. abcM. Assunta, Tobacco industry’s ITGA fights FCTC implementation in the Uruguay negotiations, Tobacco Control 2012; 21: 563–68
  12. South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Tobacco Industry Front Groups and Activities, SEATCA fact sheet, undated, accessed July 2019
  13. A.B. Gilmore, G. Fooks, J. Drope, et al, Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low-income and middle-income countries, The Lancet, 2015; 385(9972):1029–1043, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60312-9
  14. E. Cropley, K. Kelland, African farmers fear tobacco curb “catastrophe”, “Reuters”, 4 November 2010, accessed July 2019
  15. S. Mchunu, Tobacco growers seek inclusion, “IOL”, 3 October 2016, accessed July 2019
  16. South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Tobacco industry applied pressure on the COP & Government of India, SEATCA website, 1 November 2016, accessed July 2019
  17. Farmers angry at WHO treatment, “Tobacco Reporter”, 31 October 2019, accessed July 2019
  18. A. Kalra, India’s tobacco industry, government face off ahead of WHO conference, “Reuters”, 27 October 2019, accessed July 2019
  19. Framework Convention Alliance, International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA): Frequently Asked Questions, FCA factsheet, July 2014, accessed July 2019
  20. The International Tobacco Growers’ Association, ITGA Americas Regional Meeting 2023, ITGA, 30 August 2023, accessed September 2023
  21. abITGA President re-states his commitment during country visits in Africa calling to attention growers’ viability in a key message to Governments, ITGA, 28 June 2023, accessed January 2023
  22. On 30th October 2023, Tobacco Growers from around the world meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to call on governments’ support to the sector, ITGA, press release, undated, accessed January 2024
  23. International Tobacco Growers’ Association, ITGA Americas Regional Meeting 2023, 30 August 2023, accessed September 2023
  24. L. Mullaney, ITGA calls for understanding of the challenges faced by tobacco growers, Tobacco Intelligence, 23 August 2023, accessed September 2023
  25. Growers Demand Voice, Tobacco Reporter, 2 November 2023, accessed November 2023
  26. ITGA, Message from the ITGA president for COP 10, Afubra, 2 February 2024, accessed February 2024
  27. E. Bustos, Fuerte defensa de la producción de tabaco en un foro internacional, NAP, 7 February 2024, accessed February 2024 [translated from Spanish]
  28. L. Wacholz, COP10 deputados e entidades confirmam agenda com embaixador do brasil no Panama, Folha do Mate, 5 February 2024, accessed February 2024
  29. Embaixador do Panamá levará pleito dos trabalhadores do tabaco ao Itamaraty, GAZ, 9 February 2024, accessed February 2024
  30. R. Beling, Representantes do setor se dizem traídos após posicionamento de embaixador brasileiro na COP 10, GAZ, 6 February 2024, accessed February 2024
  31. Eliminating Child Labour, Joint Statement by ITGA and IUF, witnessed by the ILO, website, 10 June 1999, archived 6 April 2001, accessed August 2019
  32. IUF/ITGA/BAT Child Labour Conference Nairobi, December 8-9, 2000, Contribution by Ron Oswald, IUF General Secretary, archived August 2001, accessed January 2024
  33. The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation, A sector-wide coalition against child labour: Donors, undated, accessed July 2019