Action on Smoking and Health

Tag Archives: polluter pays

PMI, Poverty and the Political Game

Don’t let smokescreens like the PMI-funded ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’ [1] deceive you — Big Tobacco continues to pump its lethal smoked products into low- and middle-income countries, exacerbating poverty and racking up billions of dollars along the way.

As the company continues to undermine tobacco control policies across the globe, [2] [3] its solemn commitment to a smokefree future is more than a little disingenuous. [4]

Major advancements in tobacco control across countries like the UK, have displaced international conglomerates such as PMI to low- and middle-income populations, where 80% of the world’s smokers now live. [5]

In these countries, implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention Tobacco Control (FCTC), a lifesaving treaty which reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health, has often been low. [6] Indeed, by 2014 a survey of two thirds of Parties to the Treaty found that 51 countries had implemented no measures at the highest level. [7]

But rather than mobilising to address this discrepancy and advance its shiny new smokefree agenda, PMI has been doing all it can to undermine tobacco control, both in spirit and in practice.

PMI ignores the philosophy of tobacco control by taking advantage of existing legislative loopholes and capitalising on the lack of substantive advertising restrictions in low- and middle-income countries. Though PMI promises “advertising activities are directed only toward adult smokers,” [8] its intensive marketing ploys bombard kids in countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda, with tobacco sale outlets often visible from the school gates. [9] The company also uses child-friendly flavoured cigarettes to entice young people, [10] and encourages “single stick” sales by providing retailers with free promotional materials. [11]

And by attempting to subvert further implementation of the FCTC, the company also undermines the role out of tobacco control measures. Its army of corporate lobbyists are encouraged to “play the political game” [12] and deliberately target so-called “anti-tobacco extremists” at FCTC conferences (where delegates set the guidelines) and apply pressure at the country level (where delegates are selected and the treaty is transposed into law). [13]

One popular method has been to water down the health minister delegates with trade, finance and agriculture representatives, since these people are more likely to be supportive of PMI’s deadly cause — a strategy that somewhat contradicts its smokefree advocacy. [14]

It is unsurprising that 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths are anticipated to occur in low- and middle-income countries by 2030. [15] And in addition to the personal tragedy of life lost, this is leaving less money available for food, schooling and doctors’ fees, since spending on tobacco products can add up to over 10% of total household earnings, and premature death causes a significant loss of income. [16]

Meanwhile, even though undernourishment remains a big problem in many tobacco-producing countries, 4.3 million hectares of arable land is currently gobbled up by tobacco cultivation, which could instead be used to feed hungry people. [17] Growing tobacco also pollutes water supplies with toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and generates over 2 million tonnes of solid waste each year. [18] In fact, cigarette butts account for 30–40% of all rubbish picked up in coastal and urban clean-ups. [19]

And the worst part is that this social, economic and environmental burden is falling upon those countries least equipped to deal with the consequences.

PMI’s website reads “Society expects us to act responsibly. And we are doing just that by designing a smoke-free future.” [20] But evidently for PMI that responsibility and that future are not intended for low- and middle-income countries.

With PMI’s AGM set for this week, ASH urges the company to ditch its blatant double standards.


by Anna Hazelwood



[1] Tobacco Tactics, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, March 2018

[2] The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Big Tobacco: Tiny Targets, a project by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

[3] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[4] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

[5] World Health Organisation, Tobacco Key Facts, 9 March 2018

[6] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[7] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[8] Philip Morris International, Underage tobacco and nicotine use

[9] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[10] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[11] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Sale of single sticks of cigarettes in Africa: survey report from 10 capital cities, March 2018

[12] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[13] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[14] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[15] World Health Organisation, The Global Tobacco Crisis, 2008

[16] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[17] World Health Organisation, Tobacco and its environmental impact, 2017

[18] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[19] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[20] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

All links active 9 May 2018

Tobacco’s environmental footprint

My name is Nick Voulvoulis. I’m a Professor of Environmental Technology here at Imperial College in the Centre for Environmental Policy. My work is mainly on the interface between human systems and natural systems; so understanding how we interact with the environment and live more sustainably.

The problems we face around the planet has to do with how we consume resources. We create waste and pollute, forcing the planet to it limits. Global cigarette consumption has grown dramatically in the last decades with annual production and consumption have been significantly increasing in the developing world.

This summer here at Imperial, with Maria, we worked on trying to understand the environmental impact of the whole of the supply chain of tobacco from cultivation all the way to smoking and final disposal. We tried to capture the resource needs and also the emissions and environmental impact of cigarette smoking. We did this using life cycle analysis and material flow analysis, two popular tools in capturing the environmental footprint in different products.

Using figures based on the year 2014, a total of 32.4 million tonnes of green tobacco leaf were cultivated on 4 million hectares of land, across 125 countries, producing 6.48 million tonnes of dry tobacco, used to manufacture in nearly 500 factories worldwide, making 6 trillion cigarettes sticks that were used in 2014. There are significant resource needs and emissions and waste produced at every stage of the supply chain. The global contribution of the tobacco industry to climate change is around 84 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. When you add it all up, it doesn’t sound fair to expend valuable resources on things that create hospital admissions and cancer in the end.

Smoking does not just affect our health but limits people’s ability to prosper. Sooner or later, the industry will have to face the question of what it has done for us.

Unless we can prove that it is not just for the pockets of multinational companies it will be very difficult to make a case for this to keep going on.

See the original video here



BAT must be held financially responsible for the damage it causes

Headquartered in London, British American Tobacco (BAT) is one of the biggest transnational tobacco companies. This Wednesday BAT is hosting its Annual General Meeting in London. In line with the “Polluter Pays Principle” ASH is calling on the Government and political leaders to hold Big Tobacco financially responsible for the damage it causes. We must #MakeThemPay.


In 2009, six of the top tobacco producing countries had undernourishment rates between 5–27%. [1] If the 5.3 million hectares of land used for growing tobacco instead grew food, between 10–20 million people could be fed. [2]Instead, companies like BAT ensure that tobacco continues to be grown, and attempt to do so with as little regulation as possible.

BAT has a history of using unethical tactics to ensure it continues to turn a high profit. In Kenya, where BAT holds approximately 70% of the tobacco market, it took 13 years to pass the Tobacco Control Act due to BAT’s “intimidation”, according to a report by the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and the International Institute for Legislative Affairs. The report states that this delay “was due to the Industry’s manipulation of the parliamentarians; including providing lavish holidays in the guise of building their capacity on the legislation.” [3]

According to the British Medical Journal, in 2012 BAT was responsible for $152 billion of the $1.4 trillion dollar cost that smoking causes the world economy, based on their 11% share of the global market. Big Tobacco should not get away with the harm it cause the world. The $152 billion strain placed on the global economy by BAT is money wasted which could be better spent on reducing smoking prevalence, environmental care, and finding ways to prevent undernutrition. [4]

BAT’s operating profits totalled £6.4 billion in 2017. With such a large profit, BAT should be held financially accountable for the harm it causes both people and the environment. [5]

Over the next two weeks, use the hashtag #MakeThemPay to communicate the different ways the Tobacco Industry can take financial responsibility for the damage they cause:

· Share your stories about how tobacco has affected you and tag them with #MakeThemPay.

· Take photos of smoking related litter or other pollution and share them on social media with the tag #MakeThemPay.

· Take photos of smoking related litter or other pollution and share them on social media with the tag #MakeThemPay.

· Contact BAT directly and tell it that it must take financial responsibility for the harm its business causes. Email or tweet at the press office using the hashtag #MakeThemPay, or phone its offices on 020 7845 1000. If you’re outside the UK you can find a list of country specific contacts here.

Share this story with your networks and encourage them to do the same.


[1] World Health Organization. The Millennium Development Goals and Tobacco Control: An Opportunity for Global Partnership. 2015.

[2] Eriksen M, Mackay J, Ross H. The Tobacco AtlasAmerican Cancer Society, and New York, NY: World Lung Foundation. 2012.

[3] Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, International Institute for Legislative Affairs. Tobacco Industry Interference in Kenya: Exposing the tactics. 2013.

[4] Goodchild M, Nargis N, Tursan d’Espaignet E. Global economic cost of smoking-attributable diseases. Tobacco Control. 2017;27(1):58–64.

[5] British American Tobacco. British American Tobacco p.l.c. Preliminary Announcement — Year Ended 31 December 2017. 2018.

Attending the Imperial Brands AGM

On Wednesday 7 February 2018, long-time activist Cecilia Farren attended the Imperial Brands AGM. Below is her report.

I’ve been attending Imperial Brands/Tobacco AGM for about 20 years. Usually alone but occasionally we gathered a group of demonstrators protesting outside with placards. One year the then CEO, Gareth Davis, had stated under oath that it was unproven that smoking caused cancer. We stood outside the AGM wearing pig masks and wings with placards saying ‘Yes Gareth, pigs can fly’ and ‘Gareth for President — of the Flat Earth Society’. This year, I was on my own but looked forward to meeting up with the other ‘protest’ shareholder, a retired teacher from Oxfordshire who worked in Africa. He attends every year to challenge the Board with well-researched questions about Imperial’s proud claims of profit and expansion into the third world. As always we sat together in solidarity. He’s the ‘good cop’ who politely asks his questions and I am the ‘bad cop’ who gets heckled by shareholders and treated impatiently by the board when I question them and show my annoyance at their non-committal replies.

AGMs in the past were a fug of smoke and offered the large attendance of shareholders complimentary cigarette packs, gifts (I still have Lambert and Butler umbrella), attentive staff serving us cakes and tea, and board members mingling and chatting. It is a very different affair now. It is a sombre, poorly attended event and it is hard to believe that Imperial Brands is a FTSE 100 company. Imperial board and support staff outnumbered the 27 shareholders present. Even Imperial’s CEO, Alison Cooper, looked stressed and tired.

The 2017 Annual Report has the title ‘Investing for Growth’ and it begins with the boast: “Our business is built on great brands and great people. Our brands are recognised and enjoyed by millions of people around the world. And our people are focused on creating the great moments that bring our business to life on a daily basis.” Yuk! One page is titled: ‘Market Repeatable Model’ and is full of ‘jargon generator’ management-speak headings such as: ‘Quality Market Share Growth’, ‘Core Range Everywhere All the Time’, ‘Honest Accurate Learning’ and ‘Tailor Customer Solutions’.

Proceedings were opened with an introduction from Chairman, Mark Williamson who then handed over to CEO Alison Cooper. The nearest we came to hearing that tobacco control is making progress was Ms. Cooper’s acknowledgement that Imperial has had a positive performance in the UK despite ‘difficult times’. But she did say that Imperial has regained market leadership. Emphasis was put on Imperial’s BIG push into ‘next generation’ products — vaping, heated tobacco products and snus. Imperial has recently bought Nerudia, a Liverpool based company that makes e-liquids.

Shareholders were invited to ask questions. I began by asking about SEATCA’s campaign to call Imperial to account for not complying with the law to put the 75% pictorial warnings on cigarette packets in Lao PDR. Lao Tobacco is controlled by Imperial. Matthew Phillips, a member of the Board, insisted that they had complied with the law since the third and final deadline of December 2017. I said that they had not and they said they had. Stalemate! A question about paying tax other than excise tax both in UK and elsewhere was met with insistence that tax is paid everywhere in the world. They admitted that excise tax does cost the company money because the higher the tax on cigarettes the less people smoke. This is an admission of a successful tobacco control strategy! I also asked if they were worried about the many large banks and pension funds that have divested from tobacco. They replied that they had plenty of investors and were not concerned.

Imperial’s AGM lasted less than an hour. I got on my bike while a fleet of Mercedes sat waiting for Imperial’s big shots.

The environmental harm of the tobacco lifecycle

Throughout the whole life cycle of tobacco — from farming through to manufacture and consumption — there is a pronounced threat to the environment.

Despite its enormous profitability, the industry bears few of the health and environmental costs caused by producing tobacco.

The life cycle of tobacco causes deep and often irreparable damage through deforestation, water consumption and the use of pesticides. Greenhouse gases are emitted at every stage, contributing in no small part to climate change [1]. The soil where it is grown is left weak and arid, often turning previously fertile areas into deserts [2].

A recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme found that if the tobacco industry was made to pay for the harm that it causes, it would not turn a profit [3].While smoking rates may be declining in many high-income countries, they are on the rise across many middle- and low-income countries. As consumption increases so does the global environmental impact of the tobacco industry. It is unacceptable that the industry can continue to make billions in profits while washing its hands of the destructive costs of smoking.

So what do we mean when we say ‘the environment’?

The obvious link between ‘tobacco’ and ‘pollution’ draws to mind cigarette smoke, discarded packaging and cigarette butts. This is important, of course, as cigarette butts are the single most littered item in England, but there is more to this issue.


Commercial tobacco farming takes place across 124 countries, primarily in Brazil, India and China. Tobacco companies have shifted 90% of their cultivation and production to lower income countries [1], in order to cut costs and circumvent regulation. They have chopped down billions of hectares of rainforest [4] to clear space for tobacco growing, which has increased greenhouse gas emissions and caused largely irreversible damage [5].

The industry-wide practice of growing tobacco as a ‘monocrop’, which means growing the same crop on the same land year after year, has left over 4 million hectares of this land weak and vulnerable to pests and diseases [6].

To combat the problems that arise from monocropping, the tobacco industry uses chemicals and pesticides, often ones banned in high-income countries, which are deeply harmful to the environment and the farmers. This practice leads to desertification of the land through wrecking the topsoil and groundwater. It also leaves farmers destitute and dependent on tobacco, since they cannot grow their own food on ruined land. When citizens fight back against this, the transnational tobacco corporations simply pack up and move[7].


This stage is certainly the least well-documented. Imperial Tobacco has stated that: “our greatest direct impact on the environment comes from our product manufacturing activities” [8].

Despite this admission, the data on the actual environmental costs are scant. The industry’s own reports on environmental impact are often opaque and use ill-defined data, which makes it difficult to assess the true impact of manufacturing on the environment.


In 2012, 967 million daily smokers consumed over 6 trillion cigarettes worldwide [9], equating to significant pollution and waste.

The 2014 global estimation for discarded cigarette waste ranges from 340–680 million kilos, of which filters comprise the vast majority. These filters, falsely introduced by the industry on the pretence of being healthier, do not biodegrade under most circumstances [10]. Instead, they can break into smaller plastic pieces, causing them to leach some of the 7,000 chemicals they contain into land and water [11].


Tobacco industry profits are not only built on a dreadful legacy of death and disease caused by consumption of their products but also made at a major cost to our environment. If the tobacco industry was made to pay for the harm that it causes, it would not turn a profit.


[1] Cairney P et al. Global Tobacco Control: Power, Policy, Governance and Transfer. [Accessed January 2018]

[2] Reddy K et al. Report on tobacco control in India. Technical Report New Delhi: Government of India: 142.

[3] Trucost PLC and TEEB for Business Coalition. Natural capital at risk: the top 100 externalities of business. [Accessed January 2018]

[4] Martin RM et al. State of the World’s Forests 2012. [Accessed January 2018]

[5] Chhabra A et al. Land-use and landcover change: local processes and global impacts: 71–116.

[6] The Tobacco Atlas (website): Land Devoted to Growing Tobacco. [Accessed January 2018]

[7] Daily Monitor. BAT closes factory in Uganda. 21 June 2013.

[8] Imperial Tobacco. Progress in responsibility: Corporate Responsibility Review 2006 [Accessed January 2018]

[9] Ng M et al. Smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption in 187 countries, 1980–2012: 183–192.

[10] Novotny TE et al. Cigarette Butts and the Case for an Environmental Policy on Hazardous Cigarette Waste: 1691–1705.

[11] USDHHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health. A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. [Accessed January 2018]

Big Tobacco should pay for the damage it does

This spring ASH is running a campaign to coincide with the annual shareholders meetings of three of the largest tobacco companies in the world: Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International. In line with the “Polluter Pays Principle” we’re calling on governments to make Big Tobacco pay for the damage it does. Help us share this message over the next few months. We must #MakeThemPay

Today marks the launch of ASH’s ‘Polluter Pays Spring Campaign’. The “polluter pays” principle, as adopted and developed by the OECD, is that a polluter must bear all the costs of preventing and controlling any pollution, including paying for the cost of the damage done. [1]

Tobacco is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, killing over 7 million people [2] a year and growing. The engine of the smoking epidemic is the tobacco industry, which is highly profitable and in rude health, unlike many of those who consume its products. The tobacco industry is uniquely lethal, causing immense harm to individuals, to communities and to the environment.

Tobacco companies are notorious for the damage they cause to the environment through deforestation, pollution, and littering. Wood fires are needed for the process of drying tobacco leaves, leading to the loss of one tree for every 300 cigarettes. Greenhouse gases are released into the air when cigarettes are smoked, and heavy metals and toxic chemicals end up in the water supply from littered cigarette butts. [3]

Smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK alone, and about half all life-long smokers will die prematurely. [4] Imperial Tobacco is holding its Annual General Meeting tomorrow in Bristol, marking the launch of ASH’s “Polluter Pays Spring Campaign”. Imperial is the fifth largest tobacco company in the world and last year, it sold over 260 billion cigarettes and made operating profits of well over three billion pounds. In the UK its products are used by well over a third of smokers, [5] making it responsible for at least 30,000 deaths a year and 150,000 admissions to hospital.[6]

Imperial’s operating profits totalled £3.5 billion last year and in 2017 the board only withdrew a £3 million bonus to its chief executive because of a shareholder revolt. [7]

With money like that to burn, it is time that Imperial Tobacco pays for the damage it does both to people and to the environment.

Between now and the 9th May (coinciding with Philip Morris International’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders) ASH will be publishing a series of articles and videos on our Medium blog and Twitter. It is time Big Tobacco is made to pay.


[1] The Polluter Pays Principle. OECD Analyses and Recommendations. OECD Paris 1992.


[3] World Health Organization. Tobacco and its environmental impact. 2017.

[4] Office for National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2016. Published June 2017

[5] Branston, J. Gilmore, A. The extreme profitability of the UK tobacco market and the rationale for a new tobacco levy. University of Bath, 2017

[6] Office for National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2015. Published March 2017.

[7] The Guardian. Tobacco giant Imperial Brands rethinks CEO’s pay rise after revolt. 26 January 2017.

The environmental harm caused by the tobacco industry

A bird pecking a discarded cigarette filter. More than five trillion cigarettes are produced every year, creating an enormous amount of waste.


When we consider the environmental harm caused by tobacco, many of us tend to think about smoking-related litter in the streets see this factsheet on smoking-related litter (PDF) [1] and this research paper calling for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste [2] for more information. However, tobacco’s environmental damage goes way beyond the local.

Tobacco farming contributes to deforestation and the pollution of waterways, especially in low and middle income countries.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [3] are clear about the importance of the environment for human health and wellbeing. Goal 6 focuses on the availability and sustainability of water and sanitation [4] and Goal 13 calls for urgent action on climate change and its impacts [5].

600 million trees fall victim to tobacco farming every year (PDF) [6]. These are cut down to make way for tobacco crops, burned during the tobacco curing process and used for construction of curing barns. Trees are nature’s way of absorbing carbon dioxide, so this loss contributes to climate change. It is also a major contributory factor in weakening the soil and can accelerate soil erosion. It can be devastating to wider local ecosystems due to the loss of habitat and food sources. [7]

Tobacco is also a sensitive plant, requiring pesticides and other chemicals in order to grow, depleting further the quality of the soil and toxifying local water systems. [7]

We must #ActOnTobacco now to protect communities, wildlife and the environment.

We call on governments to implement more stringent environmental regulations to minimise the environmental harm caused by tobacco companies. We also want these companies to compensate those affected by their negative and harmful actions, based upon the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle which is often applied to climate change. [8]

Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:

  • Take photos of smoking related litter or other pollution and share them on social media with the tag #ActOnTobacco.
  • Contact tobacco companies and ask them how they intend to pay for the environmental damage they have caused.
  • Share your stories or worries about the environmental damage caused by the tobacco industry and tag them #ActOnTobacco.
  • Share this story with your networks and encourage them to do the same.

[1] Public Health England. Smoking: litter. [Accessed April 2017]
[2] Novotny TE et al. Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health May 2009; 6(5): 1691–1705.
[3] United Nations. Sustainable development goals. [Accessed April 2017]
[4] United Nations. Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. [Accessed April 2017]
[5] United Nations. Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. [Accessed April 2017]
[6] Framework Convention Alliance. Tobacco: A barrier to sustainable development. March 2015.
[7]World Health Organization. Environmental issues. [Accessed April 2017]
[8] The Guardian. What is the ‘polluter pays’ principle? 2 July 2012.