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Tobacco Industry Monitor

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance

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Unnecessary interaction with tobacco industry

As defined by Article 5.3 guidelines, unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry occur when government officials attend social functions sponsored by the industry or when the government enters into a partnership with them.

No social distancing with the industry

Not even the pandemic prevented some high-level government officials from interacting unnecessarily with the tobacco industry. For example, while most physical gatherings were restricted, PMI met with the President of Indonesia to discuss investments on HTPs,[i] and in Cambodia, JTI had a courtesy call with the Minister of Women’s Affairs.[ii] In the Philippines, the Chair of the Philippine Red Cross, also an incumbent senator, met with the LT Group, subsidiary owner of PMFTC, to receive the donation of a biomolecular laboratory.[iii]

National and local events covering different aspects of the tobacco business were also organized by the industry and attended by provincial and high-level state officials in Vietnam.[iv]

The US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC), which lists PMI as a Board Member,[v] continues to be a medium for the industry to meet with government officials. In its annual business mission to Thailand to promote corporate portfolios, including PMI, US-ABC held discussions with the Prime Minister and other key officials, such as the Deputy Prime Minister and ministers of public health and finance.[vi] US-ABC also met virtually with Malaysian government officials, including the Minister of Finance and the Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office.[vii]

Illicit trade – a recurring point of collaboration

Combating illicit trade remains an area where many governments work side-by-side with the tobacco industry. State-owned tobacco enterprises in China, Japan, and Vietnam are mandated by law to assist the government in this area. In Lao PDR, aside from the ILA agreement, a memorandum of understanding between the tobacco industry and the government allows assistance and incentives for anti-smuggling enforcement.[viii]

In Myanmar, the government coordinates with the Anti-Illicit Trade Group, which has partnered with Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT), a recipient of PMI-IMPACT’s funding to conduct anti-smuggling projects.[ix] In Malaysia, the MOF recently announced the creation of a MultiAgency Task Force, which will include the National Kenaf and Tobacco Board (with JTI as a member), to strengthen enforcement of anti-illicit trade activities.[x]

In Philippines, customs officials continue to engage the tobacco industry in their enforcement activities, including seizure and ceremonial destruction of counterfeit products.[xi]

Elevating the tobacco industry’s profile through awards Another unnecessary government interaction that benefits the industry is the granting of awards for its corporate operations and so-called CSR activities. Government officials and institutions that provide these awards are perceived as endorsing these companies and help elevate the industry’s profile, making de-normalizing the industry and its harmful products even more challenging.

[i] Meeting Jokowi, PM eyesIndonesia’s e-cig market. Bisnis.com. 28 Feb 2020. https://bit.ly/3AtdN8k
[ii] JTI Careers Cambodia’s Facebook Page.19 Feb 2021. https://bit.ly/2VTr8b3
[iii] Lucio Tan donates Batangas COVID-19 lab. Inquirer. Philippines. 23 May 2020. https://bit.ly/3zlB5vC
[iv] Vietnam National Tobacco Corporation. News. https://bit.ly/3nHoRey
[v] US-ASEAN Business Council. Board of Directors. https://bit.ly/3iHXPi4
[vi] US-ASEAN Business Council. Press Release. 25 Nov 2020. https://bit.ly/3ACd1Gl
[vii] US-ASEAN Business Council. Press Release: 30 Oct 2020. https://bit.ly/39FnYvb
[viii] Needs Assessment for Implementation of WHO FCTC in Lao PDR. 2015. https://bit.ly/3bZdpkZ
[ix] Tobacco Tactics. Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade. https://bit.ly/2BOtoGv
[x] Govt’s measures on illicit cigarette will preserve tobacco industry. New Straits Times. 8 November 2020. https://bit.ly/3vKRtEo
[xi] BOC destroys 109 million worth of illicit cigarettes. Inquirer. Philippines. 11 May 2020. https://bit.ly/3tT0TxM