There is an inherent contradiction when the tobacco industry, which makes its money by causing deaths and diseases, engages in activities that are “socially responsible.” The ultimate intention of the tobacco industry’s public relations strategy is to distance its image from the lethal nature of its products. Governments should not allow themselves to become an instrument to this.

Furthermore, the tobacco industry uses its so-called CSR to promote, directly or indirectly, tobacco consumption. Hence, government sectors, especially those most likely to be targeted (agriculture, environment, education, social welfare, local governments) must:

a. Raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s ulterior motives for doing its so-called CSR activities. This includes monitoring and documenting such activities, as well as publicizing the policies that require its stricter regulation or that limit interactions and relationships with it.
b. Warn ranking public officials, government agencies, and other related or affiliated entities about the impact of participating in such so-called CSR activities with a view to encouraging the return of past donations and avoiding future contributions.
c. Publicly return, reject, or protest the contribution or offer of contribution of the tobacco industry.
d. Ensure that agencies in charge of regulating tobacco emphasize in their internal and external communications that they will not deal with the tobacco industry and will take active measures to avoid any interactions with it other than those strictly necessary and mandated by law.
e. Prohibit the tobacco industry from undertaking its so-called CSR activities or, if this is not constitutionally possible, ban all publications of so-called CSR activities while imposing a strict requirement for it to submit reports as to the amounts and beneficiaries of such activities.


Like most companies, the tobacco industry ventures into corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to make its portfolio more appealing to investors.

However, the tobacco industry is not like any other company. It thrives on peddling a product that is so lethal that it kills half of its consumers. Tobacco industry’s so-called CSR activities are a mere façade to detract the focus from the devastating health impact of its products. Internal tobacco industry documents reveal that the tobacco industry allots a small percentage of company profits to conceal and suppress the negative publicity that results from the harmful effects of its products.

At the same time, it uses such activities to shamelessly promote its products. Where there is an absolute ban of tobacco advertisement, the industry uses its so-called CSR activities to keep its name in the media. It also takes advantage of such activities to partner with government agencies in order that it may continue to have an influence on key persons in government. The biggest negation is probably when it donates to projects benefiting public health and youth programs. The WHO pointed out that the inherent contradiction in the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR arises from the fact that the latter’s core functions are in conflict with the goals of public health.

Policymakers, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations should be more vigilant in dealing with the tobacco industry. The Article 5.3 Guidelines recommend that states prohibit government officials and employees from participating in the so-called CSR activities of the tobacco industry and to reject any contribution from it. The Guidelines further recommend that governments denormalize and, to the extent possible, regulate activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry. These so-called CSR activities are actually marketing and public relation strategies that fall within the definition of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, which should be banned under the WHO FCTC.

It is hard to ignore such activities of the tobacco industry because the practice has already been entrenched, and also because it is difficult to disregard the amount of money being offered to fund worthwhile projects, especially when there are many people relying on these.

However, the government is responsible for promoting health and protecting the people from the devastating effects of tobacco products. There is a clear conflict of interest and a greater disadvantage to public health if it continues partnering with or receiving donations from the tobacco industry.


Singapore has a law that prohibits the tobacco industry from publicizing its so-called CSR in the media. In 2008, Mauritius passed its Public Health Act, prohibiting the offer of any scholarship or any form of sponsorship in relation to tobacco products, effectively banning so-called CSR by tobacco companies.

In the Philippines, the Secretary of Health disseminated warning letters to the recipients of tobacco company donations, highlighting possible violation of advertising laws and the obligation to protect public health from the vested interests of the tobacco industry.

raise-awarenessB. RAISING AWARENESS

The best means to denormalize tobacco industry’s so-called CSR is to expose its true nature. And this is best done through awareness-raising campaigns and media blitz. In Thailand, publications about the tobacco industry’s lies have been published in the vernacular to expose its motives. The protest of the tobacco control movement in the country against the global tobacco industry exhibit, Tab Expo, manifests the high level of public awareness on the industry’s ill motives.

Initiatives to raise awareness about tobacco industry interference and motives also promote efforts to denormalize the industry’s so-called CSR activities. Another strategic measure to counter the industry’s so-called CSR is by direct action such as publicly condemning or rejecting any donations from it. Direct action can also be done by writing official and publicly accessible letters to the industry. The objectives are to avoid inadvertently advertising cigarette companies or brands, avoid influencing the youth, reject enticing partnerships and interactions with government employees, and the like. A more sustainable measure is to adopt a policy banning such activities and/or the publication thereof.

The biggest challenge in denormalizing the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR is the strong lure of money and resources. Many beneficiaries, including governments, find it hard to resist the resources that the tobacco industry is donating, and hence, many will find it difficult to resist or to condemn such donations. Public awareness needs to be systematically raised to foster understanding of how and why doing something seemingly harmless as CSR can actually be bad especially if this involves the tobacco industry.
The role of media cannot be overemphasized when it comes to denormalizing so-called CSR because this requires
raising awareness of the following:
(a) the true nature of CSR; and,
(b) initiatives or trends in rejecting or condemning so-called CSR activities of the tobacco industry.

In countries that have successfully denormalized the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR, the public’s level of awareness of the true nature of the tobacco industry and its so-called CSR is high. In addition, actions taken against it or that which exposes its true nature is well-publicized in effective media channels.

In many of the said countries, civil society action was instrumental in denormalizing the so-called CSR. In 2010, resulting from the outcry of alliances of NGOs globally, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation declared that it would withdraw its support from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) due to the reported linkage of its board chair with the tobacco industry.

The education sector is a clear target of the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR in the region. This is shown in a report on donation trends of tobacco industry conglomerate Philip Morris which devoted 1/3 of its so-called CSR efforts to education.

Country Education, School Bldg, Scholarships Poor people, community development and related issues Disaster relief Environmental Protection Total
Indonesia 15 31 9 10 65
Malaysia 10 9 .. 5 24
Philippines 12 8 7 2 29
Thailand 12 10 10 4 36
Vietnam 5 7 1 .. 13
Total 54 65 27 21 167

Source: SEATCA, End Tobacco Industry Corporate Giving, 2013

The long-running Philip Morris Philippines (PMPMI) campaign to partner with Department of Education’s programs, which included funding the painting of public primary and secondary schools, ended with the JMC.



policiesThe government’s act of issuing policies to implement Article 5.3, such as Code of Conduct specifying the protection from tobacco industry interference, policies to reject partnerships and contributions, laws to require transparency and information from the tobacco industry, and the public’s support of these policies, creates an environment that is ripe for denormalizing the industry’s so-called CSR. It is important, however, that these policies are not treated as mere scraps of paper but are consistently enforced. The enforcement action of these policies would further contribute to the environment where the industry’s so-called CSR is denormalized.

Once policies are adopted by the government, the role of civil society becomes even more vital. As with many transparency
groups, there is much reliance on NGOs to serve as watchdogs and to assist in policy enforcement.


The Article 5.3 Guidelines create a new opportunity for many other government agencies to contribute to denormalizing the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR activities, including those done with the private sector. Policies protecting the private sector, which is often targeted by the tobacco industry, will further boost the effort to denormalize such activities.

Many of the donations from the tobacco industry are coursed through the private sector, including philanthropic organizations or charitable institutions, and given to the public or private sector through research institutions, NGOs, universities, government agencies’ programs, etc. One way to ensure that the so-called CSR is denormalized is to encourage the private sector, through the government regulatory bodies, to reject tobacco industry contributions. An example is a declaration by the Commission on Higher Education of the Philippines to support WHO FCTC Article 5.3 and a request for all universities and higher education institutions to reject any contribution from the tobacco industry or those representing its interests.

Another potent area to adopt such policies is the Ministry for Youth or Ministry for Social Welfare. These agencies can urge those under their jurisdiction to refuse tobacco industry contributions and donations, and better yet, to make the receipt of such contributions illegal, such that receiving tobacco industry money will create a social stigma.

It bears stressing that, if prohibited, the equivalent of current donations from the tobacco industry may be recovered through earmarking of tobacco taxes. In Australia, tobacco taxes were dedicated for sports sponsorships when tobacco sponsorship of sports was banned. Not only has this removed the sector’s chains of dependence on the tobacco industry, it has also provided it with a more sustainable source of funding.

A good example of “no contribution” policy that can be issued by the education ministry is shown below. A policy adopted by the Department of Education of the Philippines, it specifies that none of the schools will be allowed to receive any form of donations or contributions from the tobacco industry. Because this specific policy stems from principles aimed at maintaining integrity of public officials in accordance with Article 5.3, it applies only to public schools. In most jurisdictions, the ministry of education has the authority to ban contributions to the education sector, especially primary and secondary schools, for the welfare of children.


No-CSR Policy for Education Ministry: Department of Education Order No. 6, s. 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *