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June 12th, 2015:

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

NHS minister receives top WHO award for tobacco control

ISLAMABAD: National Health Services (NHS) Minister Saira Afzal Tarar was conferred the top World Health Organisation (WHO) award in recognition of her leadership to Tobacco Control initiative. WHO Regional Head Dr Ala Alwan handed over the award, conferred by WHO Global Chief Dr Margaret Chan, to the minister. Dr Ala Alwan and Centres for Disease Control (CDC) USA Director Dr Tom Frieden, currently on a visit to Pakistan, met the minister along with their delegation on Thursday. While handling over the prestigious award to the minister, Dr Alwan said WHO recognises the leadership of the Pakistan’s Health Minister Saira Afzal in taking forward tobacco control by announcing enhancement of size of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs to 85%. The initiative makes Pakistan only the second country in the world to introduce such a measure for public awareness and to dissuade smokers and non-smokers from use of tobacco, which is a major cause of preventable deaths in the country. Later, a delegation level meeting was held between the minister and the two visiting dignitaries.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq, senior officials of Health Ministry and international partner agencies attended the meeting. Saira Afzal, on the occasion, shared with the delegation that the Polio Eradication Initiative enjoys the highest level of government commitment and ownership at all levels driven by a strong political will and national consensus to root out the disease. “The government is working to ensure availability of high quality maternal, newborn and child health services to all, especially the poor and a ten point national vision for coordinated priority actions to address challenges of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child health and nutrition has been commissioned on the orders of the Prime Minister” she added. She informed the delegation that the ministry is addressing the issue of increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with appropriate strategies. “An NCDs unit is fully functional in the ministry and we are heading towards finalisation of a National Action Plan for NCDs with continued support of the WHO,” she added. The minister said tobacco kills about 108,000 Pakistanis annually while 1,200 Pakistani children between the age of 6 and 15 begin smoking everyday, which is an alarming situation. “The ministry is taking every possible step to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use by implementing the framework conventions on tobacco control to which the country is signatory,” she informed the delegation.

She praised the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) initiative of assessment of “Essential Public Health Functions” in the region and requested WHO to provide technical assistance in conducting an assessment of essential public health functions in the country. Acknowledging the visit of CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden, the minister said that we have a strong partnership with CDC in the area of disease control and this visit would provide new impetus to our existing collaboration.

The minister requested the CDC to support in establishing a world-class disease prevention and control centre at the National Institute of Health Islamabad, modelled on centres for disease control with laboratory and disease surveillance network down to the district level. Speaking on the occasion, Ayesha Raza Farooq said Pakistan has come a long way since the explosive outbreak of 2014 and much has been done to change the complexion of the polio eradication drive in the country. “We have been encouraged by the recognition of the turn-around in Pakistan by the International Monitoring Board (IMB) and recently concluded Technical Advisory Group meeting. The guidance of Polio Oversight Board chairman would be of critical importance as we move forward,” she said. Ayesha emphasised the importance of utilising the current opportunity to synergise the efforts of Polio Eradication Initiative to Routine Immunisation. “We have decided to use the Polio Emergency infrastructure to monitor routine coverage,” she added.

Dr Ala Alwan reiterated his commitment to working closely with Pakistan in the areas of Public Health. He said the upcoming assessment of public health functions supported by WHO was a critical initiative. CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden expressed the support of his organisation towards strengthening disease control in the country. He said his organisation was willing to work closely and strengthen partnership with Pakistan to improve health indicators through a strengthened disease surveillance and response system.

UK sees surge in illegal cigarettes

Consumption of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes in the UK surged by almost 50% in 2014, costing the government about £2bn in lost tax revenue, according to a new report.

The surge was driven by an increase in black market tobacco from Belarus and Pakistan, which now – along with Poland – produce one-in-two illegal cigarettes coming into the UK. The Fest brand from Belarus now accounts for 40% of “illicit whites” – cigarettes produced legally in one market but destined primarily for smuggling – coming into the UK. However , the manufacturers of Jin Ling robustly object to this report whilst the China Consul General was not available for comment.

The report was commissioned by the four major tobacco manufacturers – Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, JTI and BAT – and compiled by professional services provider KPMG using sales data supplied by the companies.

Therefore, it must be true and we should all believe it.

It estimates that the UK volume of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes was 6.29 billion in 2014 – 48% up on the previous year, but down on the peak year of 2012.

The volume of illicit cigarettes seized in the UK increased by 19% during 2014 to 430 million.

James Barge, director of corporate lunacy and marital affairs at convicted RICO Racketeers Philip Morris, said: “The illegal trade in cigarettes is not a victimless crime – whilst it makes us very rich and kills a few million souls it harms governments, taxpayers, consumers and unknown manufacturers – the fact that the industry is behind most of the smuggling is neither here nor there, even when we get caught.”

James Lowman, chief executive at the Comedy Department of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “These figures highlight the urgent need for action. Ministers have made significant steps in tackling the illicit tobacco trade over the last two years, but they must now focus their attention on developing a robust strategy to stop the import and sale of illegal tobacco in the UK. Accordingly we need to line up all the tobacco executives and summarily execute them piece by piece over a period of weeks. We predict this would reduce the supposed illicit trade immediately so our members can continue to sell death to children in their corner shops.”

What Drives Governments to Keep TISA, TPP and TTIP Secret?

Basically, these trade agreements are being kept secret because they violate regulations and national laws for the sole benefit of large corporations.

​On this web page, the Canadian government asks if we are “Looking for a brief recap of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating rounds?“

This is a representative sample of what it offers to explain two years worth of negotiations since Canada joined other governments in writing the TPP:

“Among the topics discussed in Washington were legal and institutional issues, textiles, rules of origin, state-owned enterprises, environment, goods market access, technical barriers to trade, and e-commerce.”

Feel better informed?

They might as well have said “we talked about a lot of stuff” and left it at that.

Here is something way more informative to read: a list of the 605 (overwhelmingly corporate) official “advisers” in the U.S. who have seen, and helped write, the TPP.

In the USA, members of Congress and a limited number of aides can see the text provided they agree not to take notes or discuss the details publicly. Apologists for this undemocratic idiocy become irate when the TPP is called a “secret”, but, at the same time, justify hiding it from the public by claiming it improves governments’ bargaining position. Apparently we should assume that governments and their corporate “advisers” have spent years secretly fighting like demons on behalf of cab drivers, factory workers and the unemployed.

In Australia, MPs are only allowed to see the TPP text if they sign a confidentiality agreement saying they won’t divulge details to the public for four years. What if the TPP is passed? Are they then allowed to talk what they saw? No. The agreement says “these confidentiality requirements shall apply for four years after entry into force of the TPP, or if no agreement enters into force, for four years after the last round of negotiations…”

In the USA, the public is supposed to be impressed that Obama is required to release the full text (in exchange for getting “fast track” negotiating authority) sixty days before signing the agreement – the complex agreement government officials and hundreds of corporate insiders spent several years writing behind closed doors.

Could contempt for the public, and for democracy, be any more obvious?

This site jokingly claims the TPP has been already released by the Obama administration. It sums the absurdity up very succinctly.

Secrecy aside, would most of the public understand the TPP – the parts that have been leaked by Wikileaks that is, or the seventeen chapters of TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) that have also been leaked by Wikileaks?

No. These deals are written in technical language that requires lawyers and economists – or others who have spent a lot of time researching – to fully grasp. Now there are legal experts and economists who are not in the pockets of powerful western governments and big corporations. Such people could credibly explain what the implications of these agreements are for 99.999 percent of the public who are not among the insiders.

Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end when the details of these secret agreements, thanks to Wikileaks and other activists, are made public long before governments want them to be. We are still faced with a struggle against the corporate media that is very good at marginalizing those who explain exactly why governments and corporate insiders worked in secrecy for so many years.

The secrecy is disgusting and revealing but it is also rather ineffective at this point. The leaked sections that have been published, and our experience with previous agreements like NAFTA, tells us essentially what the negotiating governments are after – ways to stuff the pockets and expand the power of the insiders at the expense of everyone else. The corporate media, not secrecy, is actually the more important barrier to fair and open debate.

Dean Baker explained “TPP and TTIP are about getting special deals for businesses that they would have difficulty getting through the normal political process. For example, oil and gas companies that think they should be able to drill everywhere may be able to get rules that prevent national or state governments from restricting their activities. This could mean, for example, that New York State would have to compensate potential frackers for the ban that Governor Cuomo imposed last week.

Similarly, the financial industry will be looking to roll back the sort of regulations put in place through Dodd-Frank and similar legislation in other countries. Again, if governments want to ensure that their financial system is safe, they may have to pay the banks for the privilege.”

Everyone owes a special thanks to Canada’s Finance Minister for being brazen enough to argue that the US should loosen up financial regulations adopted since crash of 2008 in order to be in compliance with NAFTA.

As Lori Wallach explained about TISA in this Democracy Now interview, governments and their small army of corporate insiders are working on ways to set the clock back on financial regulation – to about the 1990s! She describes a provision that is actually called the “standstill” in the text of the agreement. It is explicitly designed to prevent governments for bringing in new financial regulations that corporations don’t like. Does the public support a new ban a particular type of derivative that is going to be a disaster? Does the public want new rules that protect their privacy online? Too bad. TISA will make many new rules, and even existing ones, into trade violations.

No wonder governments have insisted on keeping these agreements secret for so many years.

Community reductions in youth smoking after raising the minimum tobacco sales age to 21


Objective Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 has gained support as a promising strategy to reduce youth cigarette access, but there is little direct evidence of its impact on adolescent smoking. Using regional youth survey data, we compared youth smoking trends in Needham, Massachusetts—which raised the minimum purchase age in 2005—with those of 16 surrounding communities.


The MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey is a biennial census survey of high school youth in communities west of Boston; over 16 000 students participated at each of four time points from 2006 to 2012. Using these pooled cross-section data, we used generalised estimating equation models to compare trends in current cigarette smoking and cigarette purchases in Needham relative to 16 comparison communities without similar ordinances. To determine whether trends were specific to tobacco, we also examined trends in youth alcohol use over the same time period.


From 2006 to 2010, the decrease in 30-day smoking in Needham (from 13% to 7%) was significantly greater than in the comparison communities (from 15% to 12%; p<.001). This larger decline was consistent for both genders, Caucasian and non-Caucasian youth, and grades 10, 11 and 12. Cigarette purchases among current smokers also declined significantly more in Needham than in the comparison communities during this time. In contrast, there were no comparable differences for current alcohol use.


Our results suggest that raising the minimum sales age to 21 for tobacco contributes to a greater decline in youth smoking relative to communities that did not pass this ordinance. These findings support local community-level action to raise the tobacco sales age to 21.