Tobacco Industry Interference with Endgame Policies

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international treaty that aims to reduce the demand and supply of tobacco. It entered into force in February 2005, and as of 2023, there are 183 Parties to the treaty.1

Article 3 of the WHO FCTC establishes that “the objective of this Convention and its protocols is to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke by providing a framework for tobacco control measures to be implemented by the Parties at the national, regional and international levels in order to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke”.2

What is the endgame?

The tobacco ‘endgame’ is the concept of moving beyond a focus on tobacco control, towards implementing policies and strategies that could phase out tobacco products entirely.3 According to Cancer Research UK, among others, this would require systemic changes, including:

initiatives designed to change/eliminate permanently the structural, political and social dynamics that sustain the tobacco epidemic, in order to achieve within a specific time an endpoint for the tobacco epidemic.” 45

This could involve the reduction of prevalence of smoking to – or very close to – zero.

Policy Options

Research conducted into potential endgame strategies has identified plausible new policies for reducing smoking to minimal levels. These include:

  • A tobacco-free generation policy, which precludes the sale and supply of tobacco to individuals born after a certain year67
  • A ‘sinking-lid’ strategy, which involves establishing steadily decreasing quotas on the sales or imports of tobacco products678
  • Substantially reducing the number of tobacco product retailers, which could include restricting retailer density, location, type, or licensing, or restricting tobacco sales to government run outlets67910
  • Mandating low-nicotine levels in tobacco products611
  • Banning the sale of one or more tobacco products106
  • Shifting control of the supply and distribution of tobacco products away from tobacco companies312

Implementation of endgame policies

National goals and policies

The first countries to propose tobacco endgame goals, and start developing legislation to achieve these targets, were Finland,1314 New Zealand,15 Ireland,16 Scotland,17 Sweden18 Canada,1920 and Malaysia.21 Other countries that have more recently adopted endgame goals include the Netherlands,2223 Australia,24 and the UK.25 Typically, the goal is to have a smoking prevalence of less than 5% of the population.

As of 2023, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) policy database shows that 13 countries have banned the sale of waterpipe tobacco products, and 19 countries have banned the sale of smokeless tobacco products.26 A review carried out in 2020 showed that 40 countries had active or pending flavoured tobacco product policies that ranged from banning flavoured tobacco, to banning flavour descriptors and images on packaging.1027 No countries have yet implemented mandatory denicotinisation, substantial retailer reductions or the sinking lid strategy at a national level.

In 2010, Bhutan was the first country to ban the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco products.28 However, the legislation was reversed in 2021 due to concerns that increased tobacco smuggling could result in cross-border transmission of COVID-19.28

Subnational policies

Several US cities have also implemented endgame strategies. Brookline, Massachusetts introduced a generational tobacco ban in 2021 which prohibited the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone born after 1 January 2000.2930 Despite litigation brought by retailers in Brookline, which argued that the policy was pre-empted by state law, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the generational ban in 2024.31 Some cities in California have prohibited the sale of tobacco and nicotine products within their jurisdictions,32 and others have restricted the number or types of retailers permitted to sell tobacco products.33

In 2016, Balanga City in the Philippines banned the sale and use of all tobacco and nicotine products to those born after 1 January 2000. It also expanded the coverage of an existing smoking ban in the city’s University Town to cover a wider radius. However, both measures were overturned in 2018 after the tobacco industry pursued litigation.3435

Tobacco industry interference

As of 2023, Malaysia, New Zealand and the UK are the only countries that have announced plans to adopt a generational endgame policy. New Zealand also proposed introducing mandated denicotinisation and substantial retailer reduction.

Tobacco industry interference to prevent, delay or undermine the legislation has been observed in each of these countries, and is detailed below.


Proposed legislation

In 2022, Malaysia proposed the ‘Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022’ which aimed to phase out tobacco products and e-cigarettes by introducing a generational endgame policy, prohibiting their use and sale to everyone born on or after 1 January 2007.36

However, when the latest version of the bill was tabled in 2023, the generational ban clause was omitted for all products.37

Interference from industry and associated organisations

Prior to the bill being tabled, several organisations lobbied against the inclusion of e-cigarettes in the generational endgame policy.383940 One of these organisations, the Malaysian Vapers Alliance (MVA), is a member of the World Vapers’ Alliance,41 which has received funding from the Consumer Choice Center and BAT. The MVA urged the government to exclude e-cigarettes from the generational ban, and stated that it had conducted a survey of 5000 adult vape users, 96.6% of which did not agree with the ban.42

When the generational endgame clause was removed from the bill, Malaysia’s former health minister stated that this was due to strong lobbying from tobacco companies.37 According to local advocates the bill had seen an “unprecedented level of industry interference, some of which have been done in clear violation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”.43

It is not clear what actions were taken by the tobacco industry to oppose the bill, however industry interference in government activities in Malaysia is high, and has continued to rise in recent years.4445

New Zealand

Proposed legislation

In December 2022, as part of its ‘Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan’,46 New Zealand passed the ‘Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products’ Amendment Act’ into law, which would have implemented several tobacco endgame policies.47 The legislation included three key approaches: a ban on tobacco products being sold to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009, a significant reduction in the amount of nicotine permitted in tobacco products (an 0.8mg/g nicotine limit, compared to 15-16mg/g present in full strength cigarettes), and a huge reduction in the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco products across the country (from 6000 to 600).4748

The legislation was due to be implemented progressively starting with the reduction in retailer numbers from July 2024, however in November 2023, as part of an agreement between parties forming a new coalition government, it was announced that all three endgame proposals would be repealed. The new finance minister stated that the additional tobacco tax revenues resulting from repealing the smokefree legislation would be used to finance tax cuts promised during the election campaign.4950 The repeal was later confirmed in February 2024.51 It was reported that health officials had urged the coalition government to maintain elements of the bill and suggested compromises such as introducing a purchase age of 25, however the Associate Health Minister, Casey Costello, rejected this.52

In February 2024, public health experts published a briefing pointing to channels of potential tobacco industry influence on the new coalition government.53 The briefing highlighted past connections between coalition politicians and tobacco companies or industry linked organisations, and noted that the arguments used by the coalition government against tobacco endgame policies aligned with those used by tobacco companies.5354 It also called for all government members to declare any past and current industry connections.5355

Interference from industry and associated organisations

In 2021, following the release of the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan, Imperial Brands, BAT and JTI all submitted responses to the government consultation opposing the major endgame policies.56 Industry linked organisations and individuals also submitted responses opposing the legislation. These included submissions from Centre for Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking (COREISS),57 which is funded by the Foundation for a Smoke Free World, and The New Zealand Initiative,58 a think tank whose members include BAT and Imperial Brands.59

In June 2021, BAT reportedly facilitated a protest amongst convenience store owners to contest the proposed tobacco product restrictions.60 BAT supplied the dairy owners with postcards which opposed the measures, including the comment “If nicotine is slashed, filters banned and price goes up, many people will go to the black market – these will badly hurt my business, increase risk of robbery to personal safety and could force store to close.” Thousands of these postcards were reportedly delivered to the New Zealand Parliament.60

In August 2023, the ‘Save our Stores’ campaign, another seemingly grassroots initiative supported by convenience store owners,61 called for users to sign a petition urging the government to repeal the latest Smokefree 2025 laws. The campaign website stated that it was “supported by” BAT New Zealand and Imperial Brands New Zealand. The campaign website argued that “A ban on normal strength cigarettes will just mean the illicit trade in tobacco products will boom and be controlled by criminal networks”. It also stated that the legislation would destroy small businesses, and that taking away the tax revenue raised by tobacco sales would “hurt families who are already struggling to make ends meet”.62 These narratives were repeated in a series of Facebook adverts published as part of the campaign between August and November 2023, with one advert also stating “tobacco taxes pay for 35,000 police officers”.63

This kind of astroturfing is a well-documented industry tactic.


Proposed legislation

In October 2023, the UK Prime Minister announced plans to introduce a generational endgame policy. The new legislation would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009. All tobacco products, cigarette papers, waterpipe tobacco and herbal smoking products were included in the proposal.2564 Later that month, the Westminster government opened a four nations consultation on the tobacco endgame policy, as well as on potential measures to curb the rise in youth e-cigarette use.65

The consultation closed on 6 December 2023.66 In response to the submissions, the Westminster government confirmed its plans to introduce a generational tobacco ban, ban disposable e-cigarettes and bring forward new powers which would allow the government to restrict e-cigarette flavours, packaging and retail display.67 The Scottish and Welsh governments stated that they would also be introducing the new legislation.6869

Interference from industry and associated organisations

After the generational policy was announced, tobacco control researchers outlined arguments that they anticipated the industry would use to in an attempt prevent or undermine the UK legislation, based on previously used tactics. These included invoking libertarianism and arguments around personal freedom; claiming that the policy would be unworkable and impossible to police; and that it would have unintended consequences, such as increasing cigarette smuggling.70

In December 2023, there were reports that the tobacco industry was lobbying the government to increase the age of smoking to 21, instead of introducing the new generational endgame legislation.71 An industry source quoted by The i newspaper stated that the generational ban was “unenforceable, and the inevitability of such a ban leading to a black market run by dangerous criminal gangs, there’s a large number of libertarian Tory MPs that do not like the idea the government is limiting people’s free choice…if the Prime Minister does cancel the plan, then [the industry] won’t object to him raising the smoking age to 21”.71 The illicit tobacco trade has often been used by tobacco companies to promote key misleading narratives that advance their own business goals.  See also Arguments and Language.

The i also revealed that the tobacco industry had been “inundating MPs with lobbying material in a bid to persuade them to oppose the changes”. It also reported that a letter was sent to MPs, seemingly from constituents, but in fact drafted by employees of tobacco companies, which called the generational ban “ridiculous” and “impractical, illiberal and untested”.71 Andrea Leadsom MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Health and Social Care, warned that the industry was working behind the scenes to block the policy.72

Tobacco company lobbying

Tobacco companies lobbied the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) directly, using many of the same arguments, although only Philip Morris International (PMI) went as far as to issue a legal threat.

In November 2023, PMI sent a pre-action protocol (PAP) letter to the DHSC.7374 The PAP letter argued that the consultation was predetermined and that it failed to give adequate reasons regarding the inclusion of heated tobacco products (HTPs). It also argued that  the consultation period was not long enough did not allow the submission of sufficient additional evidence.73 In a preliminary response (December 2023), the government stated that it was already possible for organisations to upload supporting documents, but to make this clearer, this instruction had been added to the consultation landing page.75

The government’s full response a week later stated that the legal challenge was “misguided and wholly without merit” and would be “an unjustified attempt to delay or derail important legislative change”.76 With regard to HTPs, it stated that some of PMI’s claims were “highly subjective and lack supporting independent evidence”. The response concluded that:

“The Government does not intend to enter into any negotiations with the tobacco industry…and will not as you propose “discuss, on an urgent basis, the potential removal of HTP from the scope of the proposed legislation”…the proposed claim has no merit and your client is urged to reconsider its intention to pursue the claim”.76

The Telegraph newspaper reported that PMI later withdrew the threat, stating “We notified the government of procedural flaws in the consultation process. They subsequently amended the consultation procedure to allow substantive responses and answered other enquiries. As such, we withdrew the claim on 15th January”.74 PMI told the newspaper  that it agreed with the UK’s smoke-free 2030 plans, but did “not believe that reduced-risk smoke-free products—including heated tobacco—should be included alongside combustible cigarettes in any potential legislation”.74 In December 2023, PMI reportedly held roundtable events with UK MPs in to lobby for its heated tobacco products (HTPs) to be exempt from future smoking bans.71

In November 2023, a law firm acting on behalf of British American Tobacco (BAT) contacted the DHSC, arguing that  the proposals would “materially impact the rights of our clients and others”. It also argued that there was not enough information “regarding the impacts and costs and benefits of the proposals to permit intelligent consideration”, and – as had PMI – stated that consultation period was not long enough, and did not allow the submission of sufficient supporting evidence.77 BAT were reported to be sponsoring a roundtable due to be hosted by MP Graham Brady on behalf of the Centre for Policy Studies in December 2023 to “discuss the Government’s smokefree ambitions, what policies could support the goal, and what a Conservative approach to public health should look like.”7178 BAT stated that the proposed legislation would be difficult to enforce, and risked creating a new category of “under-age adults”.79 It also published briefing in response to the consultation, which outlined its stance on e-cigarette restrictions.80

Imperial Brands and the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association also reportedly engaged with MPs and government officials regarding the proposals, with a spokesperson for Imperial Brands stating “We understand the Government’s desire for new tobacco control measures, because of the health risks associated with smoking. But, like any prohibition, the proposal to ban the legal sale of cigarettes over time threatens significant unintended consequences.”71

In December 2023, Imperial also wrote to the DHSC, arguing that the consultation was “materially deficient and unfair in several important respects”. As with PMI and BAT, Imperial stated that the consultation period was not long enough, and did not allow the submission of sufficient supporting evidence. It also argued that the evidence base for the proposal should be shared.81 Imperial published a summary of its response to the government consultation. It said it opposed the generational ban, as it would be “unworkable and unenforceable, and would see an explosion of illicit trade in tobacco”. It also argued that it would not reduce smoking rates.82 Imperial’s UK head of corporate and legal affairs stated in the retail press in January 2024 that it was having “direct conversations with government” and talking to MPs “to make them aware of illicit trade that is already a problem in their constituencies” including highlighting “loss of revenue for the average retailer”. Imperial also stated that it did not support e-cigarette restrictions including plain packaging, device standardisation, or flavour bans.83

In November 2023, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) carried out a survey of 1000 convenience retailers in the UK, and reported concerns that a smoking ban would harm business, increase illicit trade, make ID checks more complicated for retailer staff and impact staff training around underage sales.8485 A JTI feature in Talking Retail, ‘The Generational Ban: Explained’, described the ban as “an experimental policy not supported by evidence”, and encouraged retailers to respond to the government consultation.86

Lobbying by industry-linked organisations

The Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank with a history of tobacco industry funding, published a briefing paper in November 2023 titled ‘Prohibition 2.0: Critiquing the Generational Tobacco Ban’.87 The report echoed the industry narrative that a smoking ban would drive illicit trade and “bolster criminal gangs”. It also stated that a ban would “lead to a grey market in sales between friends” and that it “infantilises one cohort of adults, discriminates on the basis of age and raises issues of intergenerational unfairness.”87 The report disregarded figures published in a review commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health in 2022 relating to the cost of smoking to the NHS, and stated “The reality is that smokers pay far more in tobacco duty than they cost the state in healthcare, while nonsmokers cost the state more, on average, in both healthcare and social security payments”.87 Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) published an analysis in December 2023 which found that smoking costs England £49.2 billion each year in lost productivity and service costs, plus an additional £25.9 billion lost quality adjusted life years due to premature death from smoking – far outweighing the money brought in from tobacco taxes.88

The Consumer Choice Center (CCC), a US lobby group with a history of tobacco industry funding and links to the Atlas Network, launched a campaign titled ‘No2Prohibition’ which urged the public to contact their MP to oppose the new legislation.89 The campaign used the argument that the legislation would result in an increase in illicit trade and stated “Discriminating against adult consumers, depending on what year they were born, is unheard of and would set a dangerous precedent for future regulations. What’s next? Alcohol? Sugar? Fat? We can only imagine”.89 The campaign included a series of social media adverts centred on messages of freedom of choice and prohibition.90 These ads were removed by Meta as they did not include verified “paid for by” disclaimers.90

Forest, a British based Smokers’ rights group with a history of tobacco industry funding, stated that it had urged the government not to introduce a generational ban, ahead of the government consultation deadline in December 2023. It also commissioned a consultancy to carry out a survey, which it states found that “58% of respondents think that if a person can vote, drive a car, buy alcohol, or possess a credit card at 18, they should also be allowed to purchase tobacco”.91

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) is an organisation that represents local stores in the UK. Its “Premier Club” members include BAT, JTI, PMI, Imperial Brands and JUUL.92 ACS stated in December that it had responded to the government consultation, and in its submission “set out a number of concerns about the practical implications of the [generational endgame] policy”. It also stated that it did not support a ban on disposable e-cigarettes.93

The Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF), a trade association for convenience stores with tobacco company members, published an article opposing several possible new retail regulations, which included the generational tobacco policy and restrictions on the sale and visibility of e-cigarettes, stating that it would harm retail businesses.94 Regarding the disposable e-cigarette ban, the SGF Chief Executive warned against “unintended consequences such as an increase in illicit trade” and said that it would “engage with both governments to ensure the best outcome for retailers and their communities”.95 SGF also protested its exclusion from the government’s response to the consultation, due to SGF’s connections with the tobacco industry.96

The World Vapers Alliance (WVA), which has links to BAT, criticised the generational smoking ban. It argued that the UK should instead be “doubling down on its harm reduction strategy”.97 WVA also urged the public to respond to the government consultation to oppose e-cigarette flavour restrictions, the disposable e-cigarette ban and inclusion of heated tobacco products in the generational smoking ban.98 After the consultation closed, WVA published a press release which urged the government to reconsider its stance on banning disposable e-cigarettes.99

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) published a press release opposing the e-cigarette regulations, stating “the tobacco industry and illicit markets will be the only winners from bans on disposables and flavoured vapes”.100 (UKVIA stated in September 2023 that all of its tobacco company memberships had ended. For details see the UKVIA page).

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources

Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) Research

Sunak’s smoke-free generation: spare a thought for the tobacco industry, G. Hartwell, A.B. Gilmore, M.C.I . van Schalkwyk, M. McKee, BMJ, 2023; 383 :p2922 doi:10.1136/bmj.p2922

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