Swiss Diplomats Lobbying for PMI
The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was adopted in 2003, and set out a clear obligation for parties: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”. Guidelines to Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC recommend that Parties limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that do occur.
Switzerland signed the WHO FCTC in 2004 but has yet to ratify the Treaty.
In July 2019, Swiss newspaper Republik first revealed that Swiss diplomats had approached the authorities of the Republic of Moldova on behalf of Philip Morris International (PMI), to request that the tobacco company be given an opportunity to discuss new tobacco legislation being proposed in Moldova.
The Republic of Moldova ratified the WHO FCTC in February 2009. The Republic’s tobacco excise policy between 2010 and 2013, when the average tobacco excise rate was increased ten-fold, has been hailed as an example of how tobacco tax can be an effective tobacco control measure. The tax policy increased government revenue but decreased tobacco smuggling, as well as tobacco affordability and consumption. After 2013 Moldova adopted more moderate excise increases.
In June 2019 a new administration, under the leadership of Prime Minister Maia Sandu, promised to strengthen tobacco control legislation, including raising tobacco taxes substantially.
Swiss Diplomats Lobbying Revealed
An article in Swiss newspaper Republik revealed that in July 2019 diplomatic staff at the Swiss Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, (which also looks after Swiss affairs in Moldova) had requested of Moldovan authorities that PMI be “given a voice in discussions in new tobacco regulations”. At the time, the Moldovan government was debating new tobacco legislation, including significant tax increases on heated tobacco products like PMI’s IQOS.
PMI told the newspaper Le Temps, that it had approached the Swiss embassy in Kiev to “push for the possibility to contribute, like all other interested parties, to a public consultation about legislation proposals that would affect smokers and our business”.
According to the newspaper, PMI contributed to public hearings on 17 July 2019, but the tobacco legislation was adopted by the Moldovan Parliament at the end of July.
When asked by the newspaper why it had lobbied on behalf of PMI, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs justified its actions by stating that “one of the tasks of Swiss embassies is to represent the interests of the Swiss economy in their host country”. The Swiss government does not appear to have recognised that the tobacco industry does not operate like other businesses. The UK government has also been criticized for lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry, and using a similar justification. See UK Diplomats Lobbying on Behalf of BAT
PMI Pays for Embassy Opening Ceremony
WHO Urges Swiss Government to Ratify the FCTC
In August 2019 the WHO released a statement urging governments to comply with Article 5.3. This was in response to the Swiss government’s withdrawal from a partnership they had previously agreed with PMI, to sponsor the country’s pavilion at the Dubai World Expo in 2020.
In the statement the WHO encouraged Switzerland to ratify the FCTC, and urged governments to “proactively aspire to reduce the number of people starting and continuing smoking, to promote health and preserve future generations”.
Influencing foreign tobacco legislation via diplomats is a known tobacco industry tactic. Also see:
- UK Diplomats Lobbying on Behalf of BAT
- UK Diplomats Lobbying for BAT: Bangladesh
- UK Diplomats Lobbying for Tobacco: Burundi
- Third Party Techniques
- World Health Organization, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (English text), adopted 21 May 2003, accessed August 2019
- World Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3. of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2008, accessed August 2019
- E. Bluulle, D. Buhler, Diplomatie im Dienst des Weltkonzerns, Republik, 31 July 2019, accessed August 2019
- R. Etwareea, La diplomatie Suisse, entremetteur pour Philip Morris (Paywall), Le Temps, 9 August 2019, accessed August 2019
- Philip Morris Row: Swiss diplomats placed request for tobacco firm in Moldova, Swissinfo.ch, 11 August 2019, accessed August 2019
- K. Krasovsky, Tobacco taxation policy in the Republic of Moldova, WHO Europe, 2016, accessed August 2019
- F. Nedzelschi, Lobby sau ba? În pragul votării unei legi care ar scumpi și ar restricționa produsele IQOS apar articole și petiții care o condamnă. Explicațiile companiei, Agora, 02 July 2019, accessed August 2019
- Ministry rebuked for taking tobacco money, Swissinfo.ch, 22 July 2019, accessed August 2019
- Opening of Swiss embassy in Moscow sponsored by Russian oligarch, Swissinfo.ch, 20 July 2019, accessed August 2019
- World Health Organisation, WHO statement urging governments to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship at international expositions, WHO press release, 15 August 2019, accessed August 2019