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Big tobacco’s big little lies on Twitter

“Giving back to the community matters to PMI. In #Mexico our team donated gifts to local organizations that help vulnerable youth. #InsidePMI”

This Tweet, published in 2017 by Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, is part of a strategic communication plan to reshape the battered reputation of the tobacco industry. In reality, for a company that targets these same vulnerable youth to use its deadly products, the donation of “gifts” is little more than corporate window dressing.

Tweets of this nature are not uncommon. Our paper published in Tobacco Control found that 21% of tweets published by transnational tobacco companies highlighted the supposed positive impact that they are having on society and the environment. [1] Our study analysed all 3301 tweets published by British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International, up until May 2017, to uncover common themes. Tweets that critiqued or opposed tobacco control policies were found to be the most common, making up over 30% of the total number of tweets analysed.

A communication platform for false and misleading information

The tobacco industry has a long history of opposing tobacco control policy and promoting socially responsible business practices. However, with the rapid rise of social media platforms like Twitter, tobacco companies are enabled to readily and easily communicate these messages in a public domain. Online communications through social media are poorly regulated and the tobacco industry is attempting to take advantage of this. The industry has a platform where they can publish information that is either false or misleading, with little to no retribution.

Take this tweet for example:

“Myth 5: Tobacco Control said #plainpacks would stop young ppl from taking up smoking. Govt stats show this isn’t true”

This was published by Imperial Brands PLC in 2014, despite published evidence that showed plain packaging reduces the appeal of cigarette packs to adolescents. [2] Many other tweets were found to be misleading as the information published either only told half the story or painted the tobacco industry in a very positive light. The following tweet was published by British American Tobacco, despite the fact that the tobacco industry is the cause of 1.5 billion hectors of deforestation since the 1970s:

“140 million trees planted between 2007 and 2012 through our afforestation programmes #trees #afforestation”

British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International’s Twitter accounts also frequently tweeted about being favourable employers and the benefits that employees receive. Almost 20% of all tweets were of this nature. The “Top Employer” award was heavily promoted across all accounts. On the surface this award appears to be notable, but certification can be received by virtually any company upon application to the ‘Top Employers Institute’ — a small not-for-profit organisation in the Netherlands.

“We’re proud to be frequently rated as a top employer around the world #wearebat #topemployer” (British American Tobacco)

In tobacco control research, intelligence on tobacco industry strategies to oppose public health was once drawn from annual reports, leaked tobacco industry documents, court cases and websites. Now, the tobacco industry has an online platform where they can also publish and promote their key messages openly and freely, even when false or misleading. But for the first time, it is possible to also engage with and respond to this messages in real time.

Comprehensive regulation is needed

Tighter regulation of online activities by tobacco companies is urgently needed. While it could be argued that the reach of these PR messages on Twitter is small and inconsequential, they form part of a wider plan to insert the tobacco industry as a key partner in public health and to weaken tobacco control. [3]

Australia has signed and ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and is bound by the terms of the treaty. Guidelines to the implementation of Article 13 of the WHO FCTC outline that publically promoting corporate social responsibility initiatives is a form of sponsorship, and should be included in comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

Equally important is the need for current gaps in the WHO FCTC to be addressed. Although Article 13 of the FCTC includes cross-border advertising, implementation guidelines are yet to be developed in an operational way. This should be made a priority to ensure the WHO FCTC’s enforcement is comprehensive, relevant for today’s changing media landscape and free of loopholes that the industry can exploit.

Tobacco advertising and promotion has been banned in Australia for decades, yet tobacco companies are continuing to falsely promote themselves as ‘good corporate citizens’, alongside strongly opposing evidence-based tobacco control polices on publicly on social media. These strategies serve only to promote the tobacco industry’s interests and its deadly products.


by Christina Watts, Becky Freeman and Marita Hefler


[1] Watts C, Hefler M, Freeman B. ‘We have a rich heritage and, we believe, a bright future’: how transnational tobacco companies are using Twitter to oppose policy and shape their public identity. Tobacco Control. 2018.

[2] Germain D, Wakefield MA, Durkin SJ. Adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette brand image: does plain packaging make a difference? J Adolesc Health. 2010;46:385–92.

[3] Daube M, Moodie R, McKee M. Towards a smoke-free world? Philip Morris International’s new Foundation is not credible. The Lancet. 2018.

Article originally published at Croakey.

How British diplomats have defended BAT’s overseas activities

British diplomats have defended BAT’s overseas activities, a company under investigation for corruption by the Serious Fraud Office

Despite the perennially gloomy economic forecasts about Britain, it stubbornly remains one of the world’s most powerful economies. The UK is currently the 5th largest economy by GDP [1] and a number of British companies are listed as some of the biggest in the world.

Unfortunately, amongst the remaining titans of commerce, monsters remain. Two of the largest tobacco conglomerates in the world are British. These are Imperial Tobacco, the world’s fourth-largest cigarette manufacturer [2] with its head office in Bristol. And the largest publicly traded tobacco company in the world, British American Tobacco (BAT) [3], which is based in the appropriately named Globe House, London.

The Government’s Tobacco Control Plan for England commits to creating the first “Smokefree generation” [4], and at current rates of decline in smoking prevalence we are on track to achieve this by 2030. However, it is an unpleasant fact that the transnational tobacco industry is compensating for declining markets in rich countries like ours, by marketing aggressively in poorer ones.

The two British tobacco giants both have significant global operations. BAT controls a myriad array of brands which are active across the world, and are particularly dominant in many Commonwealth countries. This is something that BAT proudly talks about on its slick, modern website, a gleaming example of digital sophistry.

However, behind the assured corporate slogans and sickly professionalism, the transnational tobacco industry is in retreat, under attack from a concerted global effort coordinated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [5]. Since it came into force in 2005 the FCTC has been ratified by 181 countries, including the UK, covering over 90% of the world’s population. As well as implementing the treaty itself, the UK Department of Health is supporting low and middle income countries to do so too, with an investment of £15 million of Official Development Assistance funds [6]. A central plank of the project is increasing tobacco taxation to drive down tobacco consumption, a policy very successfully pursued by the UK.

The profits of Big Tobacco are under threat, and they know this. In an attempt to protect its revenue streams, BAT has been enlisting the help of British government officials in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade, to fight back against the very taxes and regulations recommended by another part of the British government.

The UK has guidelines which should prevent this, stating that “Posts must not: Engage with foreign governments on behalf of the tobacco industry, except in cases where local policies could be considered protectionist or discriminatory.” [7] Unfortunately this exception appears to be being used as a catch-all, get-out clause.

Initially it appeared to be a one off incident in Bangladesh. BAT had enlisted the British high commissioner to pressurise the Bangladeshi government to overturn a legal decision handed down by the courts on an unpaid VAT bill of £170 million.[8] But an investigation by The Observer has revealed a global pattern of engagement by British officials to actively defend BAT’s interests overseas. [9] This included meetings between embassy staff and BAT in Panama, a UK government trade advisor being seconded to BAT’s Hungary HQ and 25 meetings involving both the international trade department and BAT Venezuela.

When this was exposed the UK government tried to deny what was going on, telling The Observer: “Interactions with the tobacco industry are only permitted where necessary, and we do not allow our staff to encourage investment in the tobacco industry, or provide any assistance in helping tobacco companies influence local business policies like taxation to their advantage.” But it’s hard to see how the behaviour of British officials in embassies around the world are in accord with this statement. Furthermore BAT is a company currently under investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office over allegations of corrupt business practices, [10] so it beggars belief that the British government should act as its lobbyist.

[1] Investopedia, The World’s Top 10 Economies, 7 July 2017

[2] The Telegraph, Alison Cooper: lighting up Imperial Tobacco, 21 March 2010

[3] Chicago Tribune, Shareholders back British American Tobacco buying Reynolds, 19 July 2017

[4] Department of Health. The Tobacco Control Plan for England, 18 July 2017

[5] The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC. Geneva. 2003

[6] Department of Health. Business Case: Official Development Assistance Project: Strengthening tobacco control in low and middle income countries. August 2017

[7] Department of Health/ Foreign & Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom’s revised guidelines for overseas posts on support to the tobacco industry, December 2013

[8] The Observer, (Jamie Doward). British diplomat lobbied on behalf of big tobacco, 10 September 2017

[9] The Observer, (Jamie Doward). UK accused of hypocrisy on overseas tobacco control, 27 January 2018

[10] Serious Fraud Office. British American Tobacco.

*All links active 25th April 2018

Africa must reject BAT’s fools’ gold

Cameroon school children at point of sale where tobacco advertising is visible. Photo credit: ATCA

Tih Ntiabang is the Regional Coordinator — AFRO, for the Framework Convention Alliance.


The latest ‘sustainability’ report published by British American Tobacco (BAT) states: “we are committed to operating to the highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency.” [1] In pursuit of its strategic goals, the multinational even tries to portray itself as being in alignment with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Is it necessary to remind anyone of BAT’s historic and ongoing appalling business conduct across the globe — specifically in low and middle-income countries, with the African region being a key target?

Legacy tobacco industry documents show that BAT has been implementing a long-agreed strategy to gradually shift their markets from societies with higher regulatory systems to those with little or no regulatory systems and rising potential markets. In one such document, BAT proclaims that “Africa is also projected to continue growing…BAT is strongly placed to take advantage of the growth in these markets.” [2]

Africa has embraced the world’s only global health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). However, tobacco companies including BAT have held the continent hostage with the lure of corporate social responsibility initiatives, which contravene Article 5.3 of the Treaty.

In Malawi, Mozambique Tanzania, Uganda and others, BAT has successfully used front groups to portray itself as an indispensable partner in providing solutions to a problem — child labour — that they cause. They manipulate decision-makers, and public opinion to ensure they maintain a ‘positive’ image in the eyes of the government and public.

In March 2018, during the 332nd meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) governing body, a delegate representing Uganda delivered a disturbing statement urging the ILO to continue taking money from the tobacco industry. According to this delegate, the statement was delivered on behalf of the African region. This is an example of the tobacco industry’s strong grip on the continent.

BAT also flouts tobacco control laws in many African countries, in ways it would never try to get away with in its home country Britain. In Nigeria and Uganda, despite the fact it’s illegal, BAT continues to advertise around schools. In Benin and Nigeria, the law is flouted by making single cigarettes easily available, especially around schools. BAT branded kiosks even target schools for children as young as six. [3]

It is no surprise that the public health community in Africa questions the relevance of BAT’s supposed “highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency.” BAT’s determination to market its products to the poor and children tells a different story. Africa will only avoid a rapidly growing epidemic of tobacco caused diseases if it fully implements the FCTC, including by rejecting BAT’s appeals for sustainable development partnerships.


[1] British American Tobacco — Transforming Tobacco Sustainability Report 2017

[2] From — British American Tobacco, Talk to TMDP-Chelwood August 1990, 24 July 1990, Bates no. 502619006–502619029, accessed June 2014; note: The document is a 24-page speech with no author mentioned. However, the speaker introduces himself as sharing his “views from the perspective of a BAT Industries Board member as well as that of BATCo Chairman”. In 1990, Barry Bramley was the company’s Chairman, and at the trial MINNESOTA V. PHILIP MORRIS INC., the speech was attributed to him Deposition of RAYMOND J. PRITCHARD

[3] African Tobacco Control Alliance — Big Tobacco Tiny Targets : Tobacco Industry Targets Schools In Africa

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.

Tobacco companies violate Lao tobacco control law

The Imperial Tobacco AGM takes place today. Wendell C Balderas is Media and Communications Manager of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). In this blog post he reveals a side of the company they would prefer to hide.


Taken on 3 February 2018 in Vientiane — Brands Bastos and A Deng from Imperial-controlled Lao Tobacco Company Ltd. with no pictorial health warnings


In May 2016, Lao PDR’s Ministry of Health issued the Pictorial Health Warnings (PHWs) Regulation requiring all tobacco companies to print 75% health warnings on cigarette packs — an international best practice and a crucial investment in the health of the Lao people.

Because they are easily understood, PHWs are vital to educate smokers and the public on the harms caused by tobacco use, and thereby, help motivate quit attempts and discourage Lao PDR’s vulnerable groups, particularly the poor and the youth, from smoking. PHWs are also remarkably cost-effective communication channels, especially among the low literacy population.

However, tobacco companies Imperial-controlled Lao Tobacco Company Ltd and Lao-China Hongta Good Luck Company Ltd., who control over 80 percent of the cigarette market, have been violating the law by not printing PHWs on their cigarette packs. These companies have requested and been granted three extensions of the implementation deadline (a total of 19 months). In contrast, other countries in the ASEAN region gave tobacco companies only three to six months to comply with their PHWs regulation.

The latest deadline given by the Ministry of Industry is the 1st of January 2018, but monitoring done by SEATCA in several locations in Vientiane Capital City after the January deadline showed that the most popular and widely sold cigarettes brands in Lao PDR, ‘A Deng’ and ‘Dok Mai Deng’ produced by these two companies, still do not have the PHWs required by the law. The Lao government has already given the tobacco industry more than ample time to comply, but these companies have chosen to ignore the law.

In a letter to Lao PDR Prime Minster Thongloun Sisoulith, SEATCA requested the Prime Minister to urgently take action for the regulation to be implemented well. SEATCA has also urged him to endorse and certify the draft penalty decree by the Ministries of Health and Justice so that the companies that violate the law can be penalized.

SEATCA has also published an open letter to the Shareholders of Imperial Brands demanding them to respect the Lao people by complying with the tobacco control law to apply 75% pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs immediately.

More than 73,000 adolescent boys and half of all men smoke in Laos. About 28% of the population lives below the poverty line, with one third of the population living on 10,400 LAK (£0.89) a day.

This means money for basic household expenses is spent on tobacco, and breadwinners are at high risk of financial ruin from tobacco-caused diseases and death. About 6,200 Lao people die from tobacco-related diseases annually.

SEATCA has produced a fact sheet on this issue which you can view here.

Lord Rennard calls for a new Tobacco Control Plan

On Thursday 29 June 2017, in the run up to the tenth anniversary of smokefree legislation in England, Lord Rennard gave a speech in the House of Lords calling for the publication of a new Tobacco Control Plan. This was a part of the Queen’s Speech debate and is republished below.

Lord Rennard (Image courtesy Liberal Democrats CC-BY-SA 4.0)


My Lords, in the recent general election we heard quite a lot about the cost of trying to sustain our health and social care systems, but too little about action to make people healthier. The gracious Speech did not provide much hope that the new Government recognise that this is an important and continuing priority. I will focus my remarks on tobacco control. I speak as a former trustee of Action on Smoking and Health, and I am currently a vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Smoking and Health.

Those of us most concerned about this issue have recently had two things to celebrate. The first is the decline in smoking prevalence, which is shown by new data to be just 15.5% of adults in England — the lowest level on record. This is a huge achievement and the effort to bring it about will save many lives over the coming years. Particularly encouraging is the fact that the greatest decline in smoking rates has been among young adults aged 18 to 24. The reduction in smoking rates is testament to the success of the comprehensive approach adopted by previous Governments.

Secondly, in England, we are about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of smoke-free legislation, with Scotland having bravely led the way some two years earlier. This legislation has had a tremendous impact on public health, including significant declines in heart attacks and strokes, and hospital admissions for asthma attacks in children. The passage of the legislation required the efforts of many people to combat the fierce resistance and fundamental dishonesty of the tobacco industry. Since that time, a cross-party approach to tackling tobacco has continued to do much, for example in passing legislation to prohibit smoking in cars with children and putting cigarettes in drab-coloured, plain packaging.

Every step forward has been resisted, but tough tobacco legislation is no longer seen as something for which the tobacco industry can win significant support to block or delay for very long. A public survey for Action on Smoking and Health showed that 76% of respondents supported government action to limit smoking or wanted more to be done. Against that backdrop, the UK has widely been acknowledged as a world leader in tobacco control, and in 2015 received the prestigious American Cancer Society’s tri-annual award for exemplary leadership by a government department, as well as the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day medal last year. The Government then committed £15 million to support implementation of the World Health Organization’s international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in poorer countries between now and 2021.

That is a record to be proud of, but we cannot be complacent about the issue of tobacco control. Despite our successes over the last decade, smoking remains a public health epidemic. Every day, hundreds of children start smoking, and tobacco still kills around 80,000 people in this country every year. Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich people and poor people — a difference of nine years — and that is a burning injustice. The smoking rate among people with a mental health condition is 40% and smoking is the leading modifiable risk factor for stillbirth and sudden infant death. Yet 18 months after the expiry of the tobacco control plan for England, no new plan has been put in its place. That is in contravention of our obligations as a party to the international tobacco treaty, which requires us to have a comprehensive strategy in place.

The obligations are based on good evidence that it is through such strategies that countries can be most effective in driving down smoking prevalence. We have been very effective in the last decade, with a comprehensive approach to tackling tobacco. If we are to be effective in the next decade, the Government urgently need to publish their next plan, with ambitious new targets to reduce health inequalities and lead us towards a smoke-free future.

In answer to a Question from me on 23 February, and further questions from across the House, the Minister made some very encouraging remarks about tobacco control. He said that a new tobacco control plan would be published shortly and that it was in an advanced state of preparation. In an earlier debate in the other place in December 2015, the former Health Minister, Jane Ellison, committed the Government to publishing a new strategy in summer 2016. It is now summer 2017. A year and around 80,000 more deaths from smoking-related illnesses later, we have waited long enough.

Earlier this week, the Government reiterated the commitment made before the election to publishing a new plan “shortly”, so I hope that today the Minister can go further and confirm a date for publication of a new tobacco control plan before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

FCTC 2030: Supporting action to tackle tobacco

Image courtesy of ASH (US)


Tobacco harms all forms of development, from health and housing to education and climate change. This is driving poverty. At the national level it hampers sustainable development while at an individual level families across the world spend money on tobacco that could otherwise be spent on food, education and healthcare.

Implementation of the World Health Organizations’ Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) can change this picture; and implementation of the FCTC is enshrined in both the Sustainable Development Goals and Financing for Development Agenda. However, the tobacco industry fights relentlessly against these measures; in 2001 Imperial Tobacco made a 25 year deal with the Government of Laos to limit tobacco taxation. Due to this contract, the Government suffered revenue losses of $79.42 million between 2002 and 2013. [1]

We have successfully fought against the tobacco industry in the UK and can now help other countries to do the same.

Under a project called FCTC 2030, the UK Government is providing overseas development assistance[2] to support implementation of the FCTC [3] in 15 countries, including Madagascar, Zambia and Cambodia. [4] These countries will receive tailored support to implement policies including: smokefree public places and workplaces, strengthening tobacco taxation and protecting health policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry, known to reduce tobacco consumption [5] and improve health outcomes. [6][7]

The UK government is also a world leader in setting standards requiring diplomats not to “offer any endorsement of, or recommendations for, any tobacco company” and to “be careful to avoid creating the impression that any such endorsement exists”. [8] This guidance was published following a disgraceful co-option of the British Ambassador to Panama in 2012 by British American Tobacco. The Ambassador helped BAT lobby Panama’s trade minister to discourage tobacco tax increases because of the harm these were causing to what he described at the time as “one of the most important British companies”. [9]

We must support the UK Government to #ActOnTobacco and prevent the tobacco industry from exploiting the populations of Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:

  • Share your stories of the exploitation caused by tobacco using #ActOnTobacco
  • Write to tobacco companies to tell them how unhappy you are that their actions lead to poverty and bad health
  • Contact your pension provider to ask them if they invest in the tobacco industry. If so, ask them to disinvest.


[1] Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. Regional tobacco control network urges for support to stop Imperial Tobacco’s unfair tax deal with Lao PDR. January 2015.
[2] Hansard. Tobacco Control Strategy. December 2015.
[3] World Health Organization. FCTC 2030: Strengthening WHO FCTC implementation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. [Accessed April 2017]
[4] World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Convention secretariat announces FCTC 2030 selected Parties. [Accessed April 2017]
[5] International Agency for Research on Cancer. Effectiveness of Tax and Price Policies for Tobacco Control. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Tobacco Control. Vol.14. 2011.
[6] Sims M, Maxwell R, Bauld L & Gilmore A. The short-term impact of smokefree legislation in England: a retrospective analysis on hospital admissions for myocardial infarction. BMJ 2010; 340: c2161.
[7] Bauld L, Impact of smokefree legislation in England: Evidence review. University of Bath. 2011.
[8] Department of Health, United Kingdom’s revised guidelines for overseas posts on support to the tobacco industry. December 2013.
[9] Financial Times. UK Diplomat accused of lobbying. March 2012.

The tobacco industry and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are designed to promote peace and prosperity for all


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1] are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure everyone enjoys peace and prosperity. Tackling tobacco is essential to achieve these global goals.

Big Tobacco undermines the development goals with deadly products, bad business practice, destructive environmental practices and shocking labour standards. In fact, each and every one of the SDGs is negatively impacted by the tobacco industry.

Take poverty. 80% of the tobacco industry’s sales volume comes from emerging markets (PDF) in lower and middle income countries. [2] It is estimated that in 2012 British American Tobacco products cost the world economy $152 billion. [3] Smoking prevalence is often much higher among lower income groups least able to afford it, hindering the SDG around inequality reduction.

Hunger is another area where the tobacco industry has a devastating impact. Around 53,000 km2 of land is given over to tobacco plants around the world(PDF) [4] — a larger land area than Costa Rica, Switzerland or The Netherlands [5]. This is fertile land that could be put to much better use growing plants for food or medicinal uses. In Malawi in 2008, for instance, each hectare used to grow tobacco produces one ton of leaf. The same area of land produced 14.6 tons of potatoes — a valuable resource in a country where more than a quarter of the population is under-nourished.[4]

SDG 12 on the theme of responsible consumption and production is another adversely affected by the tobacco industry. An addictive and deadly product, sold by duplicitous companies, manufactured in environmentally destructive ways, frequently exploiting child labour [6], is the very antithesis of this goal.

Clearly the world will be a happier, healthier, wealthier and more productive place if we collectively reach the Sustainable Development Goals. However, this will be extremely difficult until we #ActOnTobacco.

This is recognised in the SDGs themselves, which call on governments to strengthen implementation of the global tobacco treaty, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) [7].

The FCTC contains a comprehensive set of measures designed to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.

Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:

  • Share this story with your networks using #ActOnTobacco
  • Share your experiences of tobacco and how it has impacted you, using #ActOnTobacco
  • Think about the many ways the tobacco industry is preventing us from reaching the SDGs and ask them what they are going to do about it

All hyperlinks accessed on 20 April 2017
[1] United Nations. Sustainable development goals. [Accessed April 2017]
[2]Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The global cigarette industry. [Accessed April 2017]
[3] Based on BAT global market share of 11% and figure for global harm. Wang A. Smoking costs the world economy $1 trillion per year, World Health Organization says. Washington Post. 10 January 2017.
[4] Framework Convention Alliance. Tobacco: A barrier to sustainable development. March 2015.
[5] List of Countries of the World. Countries of the world ordered by land area. [Accessed April 2017]
[6] Rodionova Z. Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco linked to child labour in Indonesia. The Guardian. 25 May 2016.
[7] World Health Organization. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. [Accessed April 2017]