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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

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