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SEATCA Tobacco Packaging and Labelling Index

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Q & A on the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC)

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Open Letter to Gary Johns

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Tobacco industry attacks WHO, but only incriminates itself

The tobacco industry lost the health argument 50 years ago, and in the past decade the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) developed the antidote to reverse the smoking epidemic. However the tobacco industry is stepping up direct attacks, particularly at WHO. Recently the industry took pot shots yet again at WHO and the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP) in its mouthpiece, Tobacco Reporter. The article, (Snail Mail, Jan 2016) makes several ludicrous accusations against both WHO and the COP but ends up only incriminating itself. We pull quotes from the article and provide our response.

TR: “Most of the besuited classes that turn up at COP7 will have few insights into the lives of the financially impoverished people who tend to make up the world’s smokers.”

SEATCA: In reality the tobacco industry has been making billions in profits from selling cigarettes to financially impoverished people all over the world. Eighty percent of the world’s 1.2 billion smokers are in developing countries. Studies have shown that in the poorest households in many low-income countries, spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10% of total household expenditure. Don’t forget the famous response from the R.J. Reynolds executive when asked why he didn’t smoke: “We don’t smoke that shit! We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid.”

TR: “People who turn up at COP7 will almost certainly be well-fed and cossetted”

SEATCA: Government officials make up the bulk of the delegates who attend the COP and it seems the industry has no qualms insulting them.

TR: “Wonder whether these smokers really want to trade in what is possibly one of the few enjoyments they have for the few extra years of poverty and struggle …”

SEATCA: Most smokers started smoking when they were still minors and did not know any better. Most smokers (70%) want to quit. What the industry refers to flippantly as “few enjoyments” actually leads to illness for many million smokers. Worldwide, about 6 million people die each year , often painfully, because of smoking. This not only affects smokers – it devastates families, emotionally and financially.

TR: “There are far too many people demonizing smokers…”

SEATCA: The FCTC does not demonise smokers. It does the reverse to help smokers quit. Smokers are addicted to nicotine and exposed to the thousands of harmful chemical compounds in the product. Two out three of the tobacco industry’s long term customers die prematurely because of their smoking, however the industry continues to push this harmful product. FCTC measures are aimed squarely at the industry, protecting non-smokers and supporting smokers to quit.

TR: “… making decisions about cigarette smoking without understanding it.”

SEATCA: There is no misunderstanding because the evidence is in – cigarette smoke contains 7,000 chemical compounds, many of which are carcinogenic.

TR: “People choose to smoke.”

SEATCA: Nicotine addiction is not a choice. Most smokers want to quit but find it hard – the addiction is potent displaying similarities to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. For decades, the tobacco industry denied or downplayed the harms of tobacco, and it has engineered its products to enhance their addictiveness. It has fought regulations to protect non-smokers from cigarette smoke, restrictions on advertising, and health warnings to inform the public about the danger of smoking.

The WHO is fulfilling its responsibility to support 180 governments’ obligation to implement the FCTC to reduce tobacco use and reverse the smoking epidemic to save lives. An industry that continues to peddle a product that kills has lost the basic concept of humanity.

Shame on the tobacco industry for exploiting the poor and taking pot shots at the WHO and the COP.

The Resource Manual by ITIC is a tool for promoting vested interests rather than designed to help governments

The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEACTA) warns legislators and finance ministries against replying on this Manual which is being widely promoted by ITIC to ASEAN governments.

An academic review of the Manual’s section on tobacco taxation has revealed contradictions and inconsistencies when compared against international best practices and recommendations in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the WHO – Article 6 guidelines on tobacco tax and price measures, which 180 governments worldwide have committed to implement.

Professor Hans Ross from the University of Cape Town, who reviewed the Manual said; “On the surface, the Manual and the WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines seem to be aligned on some issues. However, the main principles and views that the Manual promotes often contradict its analysis and recommendations.

It also runs contrary to international best practices on tobacco taxation outlined in the Article 6 guidelines of the WHO-FCTC.

Among the main faults of the Manual are the following;

The Manual fails to acknowledge the evidence and recommendations of the WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines on Price and Tax Measures to reduce the demand for tobacco that states Parties unanimously adopted in 2014.

The ITIC claims Indonesia has the lowest penetration of illicit tobacco products in another document, yet this Manual claims Indonesia is an example of a country with the highest taxes in terms of affordability, which according to the Manual, drives illicit trade in Indonesia.

The Manual warns against substantial tobacco tax increases, even if some countries in the ASEAN region and many others globally have successfully increased tax to reduce tobacco use while also boosting their tax revenues.

The affordability of cigarettes is driven not only by tobacco taxes, but also by the industry-set prices which the Manual conveniently does not address.

The Manual’s very strong opposition to tobacco tax earmarking sharply contrasts with the recommendations in WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines.

The Manual falsely claims that the tobacco industry’s system supposedly designed to deal with illicit trade is compliant with the WHO-FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

Professor Ross added; “Its estimates of illicit trade and the associated revenue losses are based on another ITIC report funded by the tobacco industry that has been discredited due to its methodological weakness, the use of unreliable data, biased conclusions, and abundance of mistakes and errors.”

“Given the vested interests of the transnational tobacco companies that fund ITIC and provided it with data, it is obvious that the manual cannot be trusted”, Ms. Sophapan Ratnachena, the Tobacco Program Manager of SEACTA.

She added; “ A tobacco tax roadmap developed in collaboration with the tobacco industry is a dangerous proposition for both tax revenue and public health. It is important that governments protect their public health policies, including tobacco taxation, from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

Industry-funded Report on Illicit Trade in South East Asia Lacks Credibility


Late last year, the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) and Oxford Economics released a report on illicit trade in tobacco products in 14 countries in Asia. The report was a follow-up to their 2012 attempt to estimate the scope and composition of illicit tobacco consumption in Asia. The South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) recently assessed the quality of the new report in Failed: A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013. The SEATCA critique examines the methods and data used in ITIC report, concluding that the report lacks integrity and is biased. The problems in the ITIC report, which was funded by the multinational tobacco company Phillip Morris International, fall into four general categories: methods and data issues, lack of sufficient detail to permit assessment and replication, selective presentation of results, and mistakes and errors.

Key Findings

The SEATCA critique found numerous deficiencies in the ITIC report. Among them are:

Different sources and methods are used across countries, leading to results that are not comparable to one another, yet presented for comparison.
No rationale is given for including or excluding countries from coverage in the report.
Many of the methods used to measure illicit trade in the countries are either weak or lack enough detail to allow for a judgement about their strength.
The quality of the original data collected is questionable because it is not representative and could be intentionally biased.
Many secondary data come from sources with an obvious conflict of interest; for example, the tobacco industry.
The findings are selectively presented. The report highlights examples of increasing illicit consumption while neglecting to point out examples of declines or where there have been no changes in markets.
The report contains many errors and mistakes. For example, it fails to distinguish smoking incidence (how many people per year begin to smoke) and smoking prevalence (the proportion of the population that smokes), even though these are two very different concepts.

Key Messages

Policymakers should reject the ITIC/OE Asia-11 report because it is not an independent study, uses flawed methodology, and results in skewed findings supportive of the tobacco industry positions on taxation.

Countries should implement Article 5.3 Guidelines of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and reject any partnership with the tobacco industry and its representatives in tackling the illicit tobacco trade problem.

Countries should step-up enforcement to reduce illicit tobacco trade.

Countries should ratify the Protocol on Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products.

Full Citation: Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). Failed: A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013. Bangkok: SEATCA. June 2015.

Full text [ENGLISH ONLY] available at:

SEATCA is a multi-sectoral alliance established to support ASEAN countries in developing and putting in place effective tobacco control policies.

If you have questions about the report, please email author Hana Ross at or SEATCA Research Coordinator Sophapan Ratanachena at

Failed: Tobacco Industry Funded Research on Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products in Asia

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Government officials should not endorse any event funded by tobacco industry

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Did the tobacco industry inflate estimates of illicit cigarette consumption in Asia?

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Tobacco Industry Interference Index Article 5.3

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