The two faces of the tobacco industry during Covid-19

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While tobacco companies ostentatiously behave like model corporate citizens in their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts around the coronavirus crisis, behind the scenes they aggressively push back against emergency public health actions to reduce coronavirus transmission.

As part of national lockdowns governments have stopped the production and sale of non-essential goods in order to limit unnecessary human-to-human contact. This led to a halt in cigarette production in Russia and Argentina, and an effective ban on cigarette sales in South Africa where tobacco products were identified as non-essential, a recommendation now made by WHO. Yet, despite evidence of the link between smoking and COVID-19 and a call from WHO for smokers to quit, tobacco companies have been fighting these protective measures with media statements and appeals to policymakers claiming the restrictions would force consumers to defy the lockdown, drive illicit tobacco trade,harm tobacco farmers and shopkeepers, and damage state budgets.

In this blog for Tobacco Control, Dr Mateusz Zatoński, Prof Anna Gilmore and Dr Tom Hird from the Tobacco Control Research Group, explore how world’s major tobacco companies have geared their CSR efforts to present themselves as allies of public health in the fight against the virus.