South East Asian Region

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The South East Asian Region (SEAR) includes eleven countries and hosts more than a quarter of the world’s population.1 The region includes one of the largest countries (India), and one of the smallest (Maldives).23 The full list of countries included in SEAR are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPR Korea), India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste. 4

Smoking in SEAR

In 2020, the highest prevalence of tobacco use in the world, was reported in SEAR and it was around 27.9%.5 The average prevalence of tobacco use among males and females reported in SEAR was 46% and 9.7%, respectively.5 Based on the declining trend of the prevalence rates in all regions, World Health Organization expects the prevalence of tobacco use in SEAR to decrease to 25.1% by 2025.5

The 2019 WHO tobacco trends report estimated the population of people aged >15years in SEAR smoking tobacco to be 241 million (15.9% of total population) in 2020. The same report projected the smoking prevalence among males and females in 2020 to be 30.5% (231 million people) and 1.3% (10 million people), respectively.5

The tobacco smoking prevalence indifferent countries in the region varies from 11.8% in India to 38.2% in Timor-Leste. According to the same estimates, the highest and lowest smoking prevalence among males were seen in the same two countries(Timor-Leste 63.3% and India – 21.7%). However, when the number of smokers is considered, the pattern reverses, with the highest number of smokers in India (115.8 million people) and the lowest in Timor-Leste (0.3 million people).5

With regards to use of smokeless tobacco, it is estimated that 81% of the world’s smokeless tobacco users are in SEAR.6Pan masala (mixture of ingredients wrapped in a betel leaf or pre-packaged in foil), gutkha (industrially manufactured product), khaini (dry tobacco leaves and lime), and chewing tobacco mixed with areca nuts are the common varieties of smokeless tobacco products used in the region.7 8

Tobacco Production in SEAR

All countries in the region, except Bhutan and Maldives, cultivate tobacco and manufacture tobacco products. India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Thailand are among the largest tobacco producers in the world. India is the largest tobacco grower in SEAR and the second largest in the world while Indonesia and Bangladesh are in the 6th and 8th places.91011 It is reported that small-scale household production of ‘Bidi’ and sheesha still happens in Maldives, despite the cultivation and manufacturing ban.12 The number of imported cigarettes contain tobacco was 465,597,841 in Maldives in 2018.13

Dozens of domestic companies in DPR Korea are involved in the tobacco industry and some involved in export and import. There are allegations of large scale counterfeit cigarette production without a prominent presence of transnational companies.14151617

An accelerated cigarette production was reported despite the declining trend of production of raw tobacco in Myanmar.18

The following table shows a summary of cultivation and production of tobacco in all countries in the SEAR (Table 1).

Table 1: Summary of farming and production of tobacco in the SEAR 1920212223.24

Country  Production of tobacco (tons in 2018) Area Harvested (hectares in 2019) Cigarette production(sticks in billions)
Bangladesh 89,010 38,039.64 84.5(2019)
Bhutan 210 116 (2014) 57,096 sticks (imported-2019)
DPR Korea 80,416(2019) 54,114 (2014) N/A
India 749,910 445,990 82,12 (2016)
Indonesia 181,100 204,798 342 (2016)
Maldives  0.465 (imported-2018)
Myanmar 30,160 14,502 8.524 (2017)
Nepal 1,520 369 (2016) 11.13 (2009)
Sri Lanka 5,900 1,155 2.6 (2019)
Thailand 67,230 6,439 (2015) 36.14 (2016)
Timor-Leste 1,000(2014) 384,000 (2012) N/A

*N/A = Information not available

Who dominates the market?

The tobacco products that destroy so many people’s lives are the result of the activities of a number of companies around the world. The Tobacco Supply Chain Database enables tobacco control researchers and advocates to understand what the supply chain is, where it is located and who is involved. For more information, access the database here.

In majority of countries, markets are dominated by subsidiaries of transnationals. In Bangladesh, British American Tobacco (BAT) dominates the market and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) also owns a share via the Dhaka Tobacco Industries (DTI).2526 In India, tobacco market is dominated by the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) Limited India, established as a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT). Government of India holds 27.84% of ITC shares.2728 In Indonesia, market is led by Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT), amidst the presence of over 5,000 local manufacturers.2930 Surya Nepal Pvt Ltd, the key manufacturer of tobacco in Nepal, is a collaboration of the ITC and the BAT.31 Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), a subsidiary of BAT, holds the monopoly of cigarette manufacturing and trade in Sri Lanka.32

Myanmar and DPR Korea markets are dominated by local companies. Local companies produce around 30 types of cigarettes in DPR Korea. Ryongsung, Sungcheon and Koksan are the factories that lead the cigarette production. 1615 A local company, ‘Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar’, dominates the cigarette market in Myanmar with a 50% share. ‘Japan Tobacco Myanmar’, a subsidiary of Japan Tobacco International and BAT also owns market shares.18

Thailand market is dominated by the state-owned Tobacco Authority of Thailand (TOAT), formerly known as Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (TTM). Philip Morris International also has a significant market share (39.4%).33 According to a survey conducted in 2018, Marlboro is the most smoked brand in Thailand with Winston and Camel following closely.34

In Bhutan, the market depends on the cigarette brands imported by the individuals, mainly from India.35 As it’s prohibited to produce tobacco products by the tobacco control laws in Maldives, tobacco industry comprises of the importers, distributors and wholesalers only. CGT Pvt Ltd, Grape Expectations and Ocean City Cigars are the main distributors of tobacco products.36

The following table shows a summary of most sold cigarette brands and the owning companies in the SEAR (table 2).

Table 2: summary of most sold cigarette brands and the owned companies in the SEAR 3726103816152739 404142 433044 3618 4546 2333 344748

Country Most sold cigarette brand Brand owner (Market share)
Bangladesh Derby (in 2017) BAT Bangladesh (66.6%)
Bhutan Manufacturing and selling of tobacco are prohibited in Bhutan. Limited amount can be imported for personal use only.
DPR Korea Chonji Naegohyang Tobacco Factory
India Gold Flake [[Indian Tobacco Company Limited]] (ITC)
Indonesia Djarum PT Djarum Company
Maldives Camel RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company
Mynmar Red Ruby Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar (50%)
Nepal Surya Surya Nepal Pvt Ltd
Sri Lanka John Player Gold Leaf (72.0%) Ceylon Tobacco Company (Monopoly)
Thailand Marlboro Phillip Morris International (PMI) (55.4%)
Timor-Leste N/A N/A

*N/A – Information not available

 Presence of Transnational Tobacco Companies (TTCs)

Table 3 summarises the presence of ‘big tobacco’- transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) in SEAR. These companies are present in the region through having either manufacturing facilities, full/partial ownership in local entities or distribution rights. Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) are present in SEAR. BAT is present in eight countries in the region, followed byPMI in seven and JTI in six (Table 3). Even though Maldives has banned tobacco cultivation and production, all three ‘big’ transnationals in the region have a presence there. The presences of all three ‘big’ TTCs are only seen in two other countries in the region – Bangladesh and India.

Table 3: Presence of ‘big’ transnational tobacco companies in SEAR2649273036185023333410


Bangladesh Yes Yes Yes
DPR Korea No Yes No
India Yes Yes Yes
Indonesia Yes Yes No
Maldives Yes Yes Yes
Myanmar No Yes Yes
Nepal No Yes Yes
Sri Lanka Yes Yes No
Thailand Yes No Yes
Timor-Leste Yes No No

Links to the government

There are examples in SEAR of senior government officials taking up leadership positions in tobacco companies, examples of the Revolving Door phenomenon. It is observed that those positions act as lobbyists or consultants to the industry and take the advantage of existing contacts with the government/ officials to stop or delay the tobacco control measures. In Bangladesh, the former Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture (2016) and the former Secretary of the Ministry of Industries (since 2012) are both Independent Directors of British American Tobacco – Bangladesh (BATB).51Similar incidents were reported from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.5253515455

*Please see our page on TPD: Revolving Door Cases for more information on similar cases in the world.

Tobacco Authority of Thailand (TOAT), is a state-owned tobacco enterprise involved in tobacco production and distribution under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Finance in Thailand. As of 2018, TOAT had 55.4% of the cigarette market share.5633

The state has a share in the tobacco industry in both Bangladesh and India. The Indian government owns 27.84% of the Indian Tobacco Company Limited (ITC), through government-owned financial institutions.57 The Bangladesh government holds a 10.85% shares in BAT Bangladesh (BATB). 54 Bangladesh government holds a 10.85% shares in BAT Bangladesh.

Participation of Industry on Policy/Decision Making Processes

The industry is known to lobby the government or higher ranked officials in decision-making processes, especially in policy development and implementation. For example, it was reported that the National Board of Revenues (NBR) in Bangladesh requested the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to consider the industry opinion in finalising National Tobacco Control Policy in 2019. This was made following a request from the Bangladeshi Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association.58

Two transnational industries operating in Bangladesh, BAT and JTI lobbied the Ministry of Industries to continue manufacturing and trade of tobacco products during the COVID 19 pandemic, via letters highlighting the exaggerated contribution to the national economy.59

Participation of industry in policy making processes also reported in India, Indonesia and Myanmar.6061

Getting benefits/image promotion via CSR activities

Representatives of BAT Bangladesh donated money to Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation. Acceptance of the cheque by the State Minister for Labour and Employment received publicity including through the official social media channel of the Ministry.58

ITC launched a CSR program in schools to raise awareness on waste segregation and management. The program was supported by the Ministry of Urban Development and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in India.61

In Indonesia, PT Djarum company sponsored Badminton sporting activities continuously with the blessings of The Minister of Youth and Sport.60

Many similar incidents of CSR activities were reported from Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.60 5154Some countries in SEAR, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand, have completely banned the CSR activities of the tobacco industry. 51

During COVID 19, ITC Limited India donated money for the COVID contingency fund.62 Health Hygiene brand of ITC, Savlon, sponsored Kerala government’s COVID-19 awareness programmes and hand washing booths.63 Philip Morris International (PMI) donated an Ambulance to Indonesian Red Cross and a tobacco manufacturer (Djarum) donated Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to Pamekasan Regional Hospital  in Indonesia.6465

*Please see our pages on CSR Strategy and Covid 19 for more information on similar cases in the region.

Examples of good practices:

Bhutan has prohibited cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of tobacco products (both smoked and smokeless forms) within the country.66 The Maldives has also banned cultivation of tobacco and manufacturing of tobacco products.67

In 2010, India prohibited foreign direct investments (FDI) from cigarette companies to prevent foreign funded expansion of the industry.68 India has also issued a complete ban on e-cigarettes in September 2019, citing the potential risk they posed to India’s youth.69

Maldives has banned the sale of single sticks in2019.70

Nepal, Maldives and Thailand have complete bans on advertising, promotions and corporate social responsibility activities (CSR).71

It is prohibited to give or accept gifts or reward from any tobacco industry under Rule 48 of Article 5 of Tobacco Products Control and Regulation Directive 2071 in Nepal. 72

In Thailand, it is banned to carry out any tobacco related CSR activities under the Tobacco Product Control Act 2017, though the industry is owned by the government. 55Thailand is the first country in Asia that implemented plain packaging in December 2018.73

Roadmap to tobacco control

All countries in SEAR except Indonesia, are parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) treaty.74 Three countries, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, are additionally Parties to the “Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (The Protocol) which is an international treaty negotiated by Parties to the FCTC with the objective of eliminating all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products through cooperation of countries. Sri Lanka was the first be a party to “The Protocol” from the region.7576

Cultivation of tobacco and manufacture of products are banned by the national tobacco control laws in Bhutan and Maldives. In 2004, Royal government of Bhutan banned cultivation, production and sales of tobacco and related products.77 In Bhutan, importing a defined quantity of tobacco products are allowed for personal consumption and 57,096 of cigarette sticks were imported in 2019.66 78 Import, export and sales of tobacco products are regulated in Maldives.67

Bhutan, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and Thailand comprehensively prohibited sponsorships for the government from the tobacco industry or any entity representing them. Countries like Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have some restrictions on sponsorships.7980

As of 2020, all countries in SEAR have national level tobacco control laws in place.81WHO introduced MPOWER measures comprise the essential six elements (Monitor use and control measures, Protect from tobacco smoke, Offer help to quit, Warn against negative consequences, Enforce ban on advertisements and promotions and Raise tax) to implement FCTC effectively at country level.73However, the 2019 WHO report on the tobacco epidemic shows that SEAR has a considerable gap in achieving complete implementation of policies as per the FCTC directive thus maintaining compliance. Except for health warnings, other policy areas are less well-developed in most countries. The compliance scores for each policy area suggest that there is a considerable gap between definition and enforcement of the control policies. For example, none of the countries have reached “fully compliant” (i.e. score of 10) in terms of implementing taxation policies as per the FCTC directive.73

The following table shows a summary of implementation of MPOWER strategies in each country in the SEAR (Table 4).A level above zero is considered as implementation.

Table 4: Summary of implementation of MPOWER policies in the SEAR 737482

Country Prevalence data Smoking ban in public places National quit line Cessation services % of GHWL National Tobacco Control program airing on TV/Radio Advertising ban % of Tax on most selling cigarette brand
Bangladesh Yes Yes Yes 50% Yes 71%
Bhutan Yes Yes Yes N/R Yes 100% (importing)
DPR Korea Yes Yes Yes Text only Yes 0%
India Yes Yes Yes Yes 85% Yes 54%
Indonesia Yes Yes 40% Yes 58.5%
Maldives Yes Yes Yes 90% Yes 68.5%
Myanmar Yes Yes Yes Yes 75% Yes Yes 32.5%
Nepal Yes Yes Yes 90% Yes 30.5%
Sri Lanka Yes Yes Yes Yes 80% Yes 66.2%
Thailand Yes Yes Yes Yes 85% Yes 78.6%
Timor-Leste Yes Yes Yes Yes Text only Yes 21.8%


Two out of seven WHO FCTC Secretariat’s Knowledge Hubs to assist the Parties to implement FCTC are established in the SEAR. National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, a government institute in India hosts the WHO FCTC Secretariat’s Knowledge Hub on Smokeless Tobacco. WHO FCTC Secretariat’s Knowledge Hub for Article 5.3 is hosted by the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at Thammas at University, Thailand.83

The region also hosts one of the three WHO-FCTC Secretariat’s tobacco industry monitoring observatories that were established to monitor tobacco industry interference and implementation of the WHO FCTC Article 5.3. The Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT), is the observatory thus established in Sri Lanka with a mandate to work in the South Asian Region with its networking agencies, South Asian Regional Consortium Centre for Combating Tobacco (SARC-CCT).83

All countries which have ratified FCTC in SEAR except Timor-Leste have established a National Coordination Mechanism (NCM) and a FCTC focal point for tobacco control. Timor-Leste has only a focal point for tobacco control.8482

Industry Interference

Transnational Tobacco Companies (TTCs) have either manufacturing or distribution facilities in ten of eleven countries in SEAR. The industry has employed aggressive marketing techniques: digital and social media advertising, promotion, sponsorships, introducing flavoured products and CSR activities in the region to establish and sustain the trade.85

The following are a selection of themes and examples of tobacco industry interference in the region:

Delaying tobacco control measures through litigation

Litigation has been a commonly used strategy by the industry to block and delay tobacco control measures. In India, front groups and associations representing both cigarette and bidi companies filed lawsuits in 2007 against the effective implementation of graphic health warning labels (GHWL). GHWL was delayed until 2009.86 Similarly, Implementation of GHWL got delayed in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka owing to industry interference. 87616054

Interference with tobacco control measures through front groups and trade associations

The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) is a well-known global front group for the tobacco industry. Members in the region include the Tobacco Institute of India Tobacco Board.888990 In India and Bangladesh, implementation of GHWL has been delayed due to interference of  organisations including Tobacco Institute of India, All India Bidi Federation, Federation of Andhra Pradesh Tobacco Farmers and following a review petition by Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association respectively6186

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) has country chapters in the SEAR, namely, in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.91 Senior managers from tobacco industries have served in AmCham leadership positions across the region.92 In Nepal, when the Ministry of Health and Population proposed to increase graphic warnings from 75% to 90%, the US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the deputy prime minister threatening to take legal action. 939495 Other than AmCham, some trade associations such as Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI) in Bangladesh have interfered with tobacco control measures. 96

*For more details on front groups and trade associations in the region and across the globe, see our pages on Front Groups, Trade Associations and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Linking to illicit trade in tobacco products

Studies based on industry documents have found that illicit trade is used by the tobacco industry as a strategy to enter into closed markets, undermine regulation and reap higher profits in many regions.979899

It is revealed how BAT used its distributors and international hotel chains for non-legal sales in South-East Asia/Indian sub-continent and evaded tax by smuggling billions of cigarettes in Asia.100 101

*For more information on tobacco industry involvement in smuggling CSR, see our Tobacco Smuggling and BAT Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling pages.

Conducting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities

Only Nepal, Maldives and Thailand have a complete ban on CSR activities by tobacco industry. The combination of not banning CSR activities and a lack of compliance with tobacco control policy in SEAR has given space for tobacco companies to conduct social responsibility activities in communities in order to build their public image and promote their brands. In Bangladesh, the Agriculture Secretary, Labour Secretary and Additional Secretary of the government’s Finance Division are members of BAT’s CSR Committee and participated in their activities.102 Similarly, government participation in CSR activities are reported from India and Sri Lanka 10351

* For more information on tobacco industry and CSR, see our CSR Strategy page.

Funding research institutes and think tanks

The tobacco industry’s usage of research and policy forums to promote its own agenda is a well-known strategy used to influence policy making processes. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) is a Phillip Morris International-funded organization. In SEAR, FSFW have funded institutes in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Maldives to conduct tobacco smoking related research beginning since 2018. 104105

*Read more about the Foundation and the projects it funds on our pages Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and Foundation for a Smoke-Free World Grantees.

Tobacco tactics resources

* Tobacco Smuggling

* CSR Strategy

* Foundation for a Smoke-Free World Grantees

* Think Tanks

* Trade Associations

* Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India

* US-ASEAN Business Council

*Sri Lanka- Country Profile

*UK Diplomats Lobbying for BAT: Bangladesh

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