The tobacco industry’s unhealthy influence


This year, World No Tobacco Day – 31 May – focuses on how the tobacco industry undermines the fight against the tobacco epidemic, and what can be done to stop it, including implementing WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The WHO FCTC, which has been ratified by 174 countries, requires the adoption and implementation of tobacco-control measures. Article 5.3 and its guidelines address the tobacco industry’s interference and provide guidance on how to tackle it.

The problem

Nearly 6 million people die each year from the global tobacco epidemic. Tobacco is the only product that kills 50% of its users when used exactly as intended. If no serious action is taken, up to 1 billion people could die from tobacco use in the 21st century. In the WHO European Region, smoking accounts for up to 21% of deaths.

In recent decades, a combination of tax measures, labelling regulations and smoking and advertising bans in many countries has had a very positive effect: reducing tobacco use and the demand for tobacco products. In response, however, the tobacco industry in Europe has developed many tactics to undermine these advances, including:

  • using front groups to promote its interests;
  • interfering with political and legislative processes;
  • manipulating scientific evidence and the mass media; and
  • seeking to convey a responsible and respectable image.

What governments can do

The WHO FCTC recognizes the seriousness of tobacco industry interference and its consequences on tobacco control actions. In Article 5.3, signatories to the Convention committed themselves:
“In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, [to acting] to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

Specifically, governments can, for example:

  • raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s interference and encourage others to do so;
  • adopt and disseminate clear guidance/regulations for public officials;
  • regulate the tobacco industry; and
  • avoid providing incentives to it.

In addition to raising awareness of the influence of the tobacco industry, World No Tobacco Day 2012 aims to encourage countries to share their experience with the industry’s interference and effective ways to tackle it.

Note. The source of all quotations, except those of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, is Hastings G, Angus K. The influence of the tobacco industry on European tobacco-control policy. In: “Tobacco or health in the European Union. Past, present and future”. Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2004.