Japanese Diplomatic Service Lobbying for Japan Tobacco International

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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”.1 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. The guidelines also recommend parties treat state-owned tobacco companies in the same way as any other tobacco company. 2

In January 2021, the Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh lobbied the government of Bangladesh on behalf of Japan Tobacco International (JTI).  See below for details.

Background

Japan ratified the WHO FCTC in 2004. The Japanese government owns a 31% share in Japan Tobacco International.3

The 2020 Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index gave Japan the worst overall score of all countries included, with extensive policy interference and conflicts of interest.3 The index reported that Japan is one of the countries that persists in seeing the tobacco industry as economically crucial. It also allows the tobacco industry to have a say in the development of tobacco control measures.3

Japanese Ambassador Lobbying for JTI in Bangladesh

The Ambassador of Japan, Ito Naoki, sent a letter to the Bangladesh Finance Minister with the subject line:

“Re: Japan International’s (JTI) Landmark Investment in Bangladesh and Repeated Challenges Posed Due to Policy Shifts and Anti-Competitive Activities”4

The three-page letter criticised taxation changes in 2019 which “significantly hit JTI” and restrictions on the importation and selling of certain JTI products. It also complained of anti-competitive activities by competitors and “undue” demands by a licensing authority. In the last case the ambassador said: “When respected Cabinet Secretary  became aware if the issue, he stepped in and solved the issue in rapid speed”.4

The letter ended with the ambassador telling the Finance Minister:

“I believe that Japanese investors are carefully watching the action of the government as JTI Bangladesh is a single largest flagship investment from Japan. Success of JTI is an important factor for decision making of potential investors in Japan.”4

The letter can be read in full here

The Japan Society for Tobacco Control criticised the lobbying in a letter to Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, saying: “…it is legally impossible for him to work with or to otherwise act in the interest of the tobacco industry.”56

Tobacco lobbying by Diplomats in Other Countries

The UK and Swiss governments have been criticized for lobbying by their diplomats on behalf of the tobacco industry.  See UK Diplomats Lobbying on Behalf of BAT and Swiss Diplomats Lobbying for PMI (Note Switzerland has not ratified the FCTC).

WHO Urges Parties to Comply with FCTC Article 5.3

In August 2019, the WHO released a statement urging governments to comply with Article 5.3 and to “proactively aspire to reduce the number of people starting and continuing smoking, to promote health and preserve future generations”.7 (This was directly in response to lobbying by diplomats in Switzerland.)

TobaccoTactics Resources

Influencing foreign tobacco legislation via diplomats is a known tobacco industry tactic. Also see:

References

  1. World Health Organization, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (English text), adopted 21 May 2003, accessed March 2021
  2. World Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3. of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2008, accessed March 2021
  3. abcM. Assunta, Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, 2020, available from the STOP website
  4. abcI. Noki, Ambassador of Japan, Re: Japan International’s (JTI) Landmark Investment in Bangladesh and Repeated Challenges Posed Due to Policy Shifts and Anti-Competitive Activities, Letter from Ito Noki to Finance Minister Mustafa Kamal, 19 January 2021
  5. M. Sakuta, Chairperson, Japan Society for Tobacco Control, Letter to Toshimitsue Motegi, Foreign Minister, 7 March 2021 (in English, NB transcription error in date)
  6. Japan Society for Tobacco Control, Notice: It is a violation of FCTC Article 5.3 for an ambassador to Japan to work for JT, website, 5 March 2021, accessed March 2021 (links to letter in Japanese)
  7. World Health Organisation, WHO statement urging governments to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship at international expositions, WHO press release, 15 August 2019, accessed March 2021