Protecting public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry is probably the most challenging aspect of tobacco control and yet, it is the most important. The tobacco industry is the vector of diseases that lead to the tobacco epidemic. As tobacco control and FCTC implementation formed part of a larger global goal, prevention of non-communicable diseases, outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, the challenge of protecting public health policies against tobacco industry influence is expected to evolve. The tobacco industry can be expected to use the convergence of many health concerns and of many sectors to divert attention from tobacco control, and to use other sectors/issues to influence decisions relating to tobacco control policies. Hence, governments that have invested in strong foundations, including policies and tools, to protect against tobacco industry interference in accordance with Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC can be expected to make greater progress in tobacco control in the long run, and consequently, to be able to save more lives through life-saving tobacco control measures.
Reports show that most of the countries in the region, especially in places where smoking rates remain high, have higher levels of tobacco industry interference. Hence, governments in these countries must be more vigilant of tobacco industry tactics by:
- Raising awareness about tobacco control and tobacco industry tactics. Using the tools, such as self-assessment or quick tests undertaken by government officials or briefing papers/fact sheets, can be the first step in raising awareness.
- Building alliances (or establishing a core group) and working together to systematically monitor and report tobacco industry activities (see the monitoring tools). Civil society participation in monitoring is essential.
- Ensuring that rules or policies that govern government employees are designed in a manner that:
- Limits their interactions with the tobacco industry, and allows them to interact with it only when, and to the extent,
strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate it and its tobacco products. Ensures transparency of meetings with the tobacco industry when necessary.
- Prohibits them from entering into any partnerships or nonenforceable agreements with the tobacco industry, and if
possible, reject and renounce such agreements or offers of partnership.
- Protects against conflicts of interest for those involved in setting and implementing tobacco control policies, such as:
prohibition of tobacco industry representation in government bodies/committees/advisory groups involved in tobacco control; prohibition of contributions, payments, gifts, etc. from the tobacco industry to government officials or employees, or to government or quasi-governmental institutions (except payments mandated by law); and, prohibition of political donations by the tobacco industry.Further sharpening such rules and tools to respond to the known tactics of the tobacco industry. (see policy templates and best practices)
4. Requiring information from the tobacco industry operations and activities, ensuring that such information is accurate, and warranting broad public access to this information. (see list of information that can be required)
5. Denormalizing and prohibiting the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR. (see policy templates)
6. Removing benefits from and not giving preferential treatment to the tobacco industry.
7. Treating state-owned tobacco companies in the same way as other companies. (see case study)
Most of the tools, policy/reporting templates or forms, are meant to aid in prompting discussion about solutions. The actions taken in the regional and global arena aid in exposing the true nature of the tobacco industry and its so-called CSR activities. In the treatment of tobacco business and funding, many international organizations and events have lumped the tobacco industry with the arms/weapons industry, pornography industry, and human rights violators. Aside from exchanging information, governments can help one another by promoting the good practices of such international and intergovernmental organizations in treating the tobacco industry differently from other members of the private sector. (see Global Practices)