Tobacco-related CSR activities

Corporate Social Responsibility contributions are a loophole for the industry to exploit, particularly when all other forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are prohibited. The money tobacco companies spend on CSR activities at regional and country levels, are part of their marketing expenses and should not be considered as donations to charity.

Activities in ASEAN Region[1]

As the ASEAN region becomes more aware of the deadly effects of tobacco and governments step up regulation of the industry, tobacco companies are resorting to more below-the-line tactics to promote their corporate name and products to reach consumers. Tobacco Industry-related Corporate Social Responsibility (TI-CSR) activities have become one of the key strategies exploited by the tobacco industry (TI) to enhance its image and maintain legitimacy in both public and corporate spheres. CSR contributions are a loophole for the industry to exploit, particularly when all other forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are prohibited. The money tobacco companies spend on CSR activities are part of their marketing expenses and should not be considered as donations to charity.

TI-CSR vs SDGs[2]

Since governments have committed to implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through long-term plans based on partnerships, the TI has re-aligned its CSR programmes along the lines of SDGs. TI’s programmes and documents are now peppered with the term “sustainability”. These past two years, the TI has been talking up “sustainable agriculture”, “sustainable communities” and “sustainable environment”. British American Tobacco (BAT) refers to its CSR programme as Corporate Social Investment (CSI) and talks about how the activities are about “investing in local communities”. BAT claims its activities are aligned directly to SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 15: Life on the Land, and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. In reality tobacco use undermines public health and sustainable development. Tobacco products and the tobacco business conflict with almost all the SDGs. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World No Tobacco Day theme for 2017 was “Tobacco – a threat to development,” which is a reflection of the broad, negative impact tobacco has on society. SDG 3 aims to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and reduce tobacco use.

TI-CSR: TI tactic to whitewash tobacco harms and access high level officials and policy makers[3]

Tobacco industry related corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities are a form of sponsorship and are used by the tobacco industry to whitewash tobacco harms and access high level officials and policy makers. Only Brunei, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Thailand have banned CSR by the tobacco industry.

According to FCTC Article 13, parties should ban contributions from tobacco companies to any other entity for “socially responsible causes”, as this is a form of sponsorship. Publicity given to “socially responsible” business practices of the tobacco industry should be banned, as it constitutes advertising and promotion.

Tobacco companies are increasingly resorting to conducting CSR activities to buy goodwill and credibility to earn political mileage. The top four transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Brands (Tobacco) Group conduct CSR activities in the ASEAN region. Publicity given to these activities in the media constitutes advertising and promotion. Thailand, Lao PDR and Myanmar have total banned tobacco-related CSR activities. Vietnam limits the type of CSR activities the industry can conduct to poverty eradication and disaster relief. Although industry activities are limited in Vietnam, they are active in collaborating with both local government and socio-political organizations in conducting such activities.[4]

Table 1: Status of ban on corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities

Thailand previously banned the publicity of CSR activities by the tobacco industry but, under its Tobacco Product Control Act 2017, now bans the tobacco industry from conducting CSR activities. In Singapore, tobacco industry contributions of financial support for events and activities are not prohibited but the acknowledgement of such contributions (i.e. logo or acknowledgement in other forms) is banned. Figure 2 shows PMI’s contributions to CSR activities are the most in Indonesia and the Philippines where it is growing its market.

Figure 1: Trend of PMI’s CSR activities in the ASEAN region, 2012 – 2018[5]


Governments should ban all tobacco-related CSR activities. Restricting such activities and banning their publicity are ineffective interim measures. It is important that government officials and departments are not beneficiaries of tobacco industry grants, nor should they endorse these activities.

[1] W. Jirathanapiwat et al. Hijacking ‘Sustainability’ from the SDGs: Review of Tobacco Related CSR activities in the ASEAN Region, August 2017, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), Bangkok. Thailand.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. (2019). SEATCA Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship Index: Implementation of Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in ASEAN Countries, 2019. Bangkok: Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
[4] HealthBridge. Tobacco industry surveillance database; Philippines Tobacco Industry Interference Report, 2016
[5] PMI Charitable Contribution 2012 – 2018

Country Levels

According to the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index,[1] the updated information regarding TI-CSR activities in ASEAN countries accumulated as follows;


Tobacco industry sponsored CSR activities are not banned and remain a problem in Cambodia. They are mostly conducted by transnational tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.


Government agencies continue to accept or endorse tobacco industry CSR. Two big tobacco companies Sampoerna and Djarum actively continue CSR activities in Indonesia. In 2018, Sampoerna expanded their “Sampoerna Retail Community” (SRC) program to cover more provinces in Indonesia; it is a combined promotion and sponsorship for small- and medium-scale retailers in the form of retail incentive program that could be perceived as in line with the government interest in economic development of micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises. The launching of SRC was mostly attended by the Governors. Apart from the Governor of South Sumatra, the Governor of West Lombok expressed appreciation for the SRC program in extending support to post-disaster economic reconstructions. Djarum Foundation on the other hand, continued its tree plantation program in East Java.


There has been no government receipt or endorsement of TIrelated CSR activities. The Prime Minister Decree on Tobacco Product Promotional Consumption Ban 2010 bans all forms contributions from the tobacco industry, including CSR.


PMI continued to sponsor Yayasan Salam Malaysia’s activity on ‘Back-to-School’ programme which was officiated by the political secretary of the Prime Minister and endorsed by the government and the Chief Minister of Kedah.


A local Cigarette Company, called Myanmar Kokang Company Ltd. (MMK Cigarette Factory), at Muse, Northern Shan State, provided sponsorship through its distributor, Hexa Power Company Ltd., for the mini marathon and public walking event in Mandalay which were held in 2018 December and 2019 January, respectively. Although tobacco industry-related CSR and tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship are prohibited by the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law, BAT was awarded an AMCHAM CSR (ACE) Award. The Department of Rural Development endorsed BAT’s CSR activities in 2016 by cooperating to provide a list of villages for its activities. This project is still ongoing. JTI’s project to provide drinking water to Kayin State for refugees is also still ongoing.


The Department of Health – Civil Service Commission Joint Memorandum Circular (DOH-CSC JMC) on the Protection of the Bureaucracy Against Tobacco Industry interference is in effect since 2010 and has banned direct partnerships between the government and the tobacco industry. However, tobacco companies continue to conduct socalled CSR activities by coursing these through foundations and other groups such as Wong Chu King Foundation and the American Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC), through its CSR arm “Embrace”, is a partner of Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation and has conducted at least 26 of these so-called CSR activities in 2018.


In July 2017, Tobacco Products Control Act 2017 came into force. This new law bans all tobacco industry-related CSR activities, as required under FCTC Article 13 and Article 5.3 Guidelines (Recommendation 6). Previously, the ban applied only to Thai Tobacco Monopoly (TTM), but the other transnational tobacco companies could conduct CSR activities. Some of the CSR activities captured in 2017 were carried out before May 2017. The TTM is seen as a government agency and conducted some CSR activities attended by several officials.

TTM continued to conduct tobacco related CSR activities targeting youth and local communities although the Cabinet agreed on 17 April 2012, to a resolution[2] to prohibit the government sectors/ office from participating in tobacco related corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Cabinet resolutions apply to all government sectors, including the State-owned Thai Tobacco Monopoly.[3] On TTM’s official website, its CSR activities are categorized under its public relation section focusing on TAOT’s staff visiting governmental agencies for celebration and/or handing out donations. Through these CSR activities, TTM engages with policymakers, high-level politicians and government officials at national land provincial level, and government institutions such as public hospitals. Section 35 of Tobacco Product Control Act 2017 prohibits the publicity of tobacco-related CSR activities[4] but still providing TTM the opportunity to either directly or indirectly involve government officials among intra-industry trade groups to participate in its so-called CSR activities.


Although there is a ban on certain types of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, this makes no difference to the extent by which the tobacco industry conducts these activities. Vinataba and other tobacco companies support a variety of programs for disadvantaged students, educational facilities improvement, social enterprise, and subsidies for war veterans, among others. These CSR activities bring the tobacco industry in contact with high-profile government officials including the Prime Minister.

[1] Mary Assunta. Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2019. Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC). Bangkok, Thailand. Sept 2019.
[2] National Health Assembly, National strategic plan for tobacco control B.E. 2555-2557 (A.D. 2012-2014) Retrieved from https:// (accessed on 14 June 2018).
[3] National Health Assembly, National strategic plan for tobacco control B.E. 2555-2557 (A.D. 2012-2014)
[4] Department of Disease Control Bureau of Tobacco Control. Tobacco Products Control Act B.E. 2560 (2017) https://seatca. org/dmdocuments/Tobacco%20Products%20Control%20 Act%20B.E.%202560%20%282017%29.pdf