This case illustrates why implementing Article 5.3 to minimise tobacco industry influence on public health policies requires thinking beyond the direct influence of the tobacco business community, farmers, and other related front groups that have commonly worked on the industry’s behalf. The BAT-EE example shows how NGOs working on virtually any issue may work to advance tobacco industry interests while doing what they consider to be “good work.” Indeed, from BAT’s perspective, EE’s status as a “well respected and reasonable” NGO (rather than its particular agenda) was one of its most attractive features. By partnering with EE, the company gained a global ally with ties to other NGOs and to many of the countries in which BAT operated. Such an ally could help normalise the tobacco industry presence within government through promoting the BAT-EE partnership to policymakers or those with ties to policymakers, enhancing access to decision makers. A broad perspective on possible sources of indirect tobacco industry influence is therefore needed when implementing the FCTC’s Article 5.3.
EE’s behind-the-scenes promotion of BAT also underscores the need for FCTC signatories to consider the complexities of implementing the Article 5.3 guidelines to ban “public disclosure” of tobacco industry CSR activities (in order to minimise the normalising public relations gains the industry would thereby accrue) (World Health Organization 2009
, p. 8). While the events described occurred prior to FCTC adoption, they illustrate how partnerships such as the one between EE and BAT confer benefits on tobacco companies even when they are not publicly promoted via corporate advertising, as is typical of tobacco industry CSR efforts (Stossel 2001
). If banning public disclosure of tobacco industry CSR activities is not feasible, an alternative recommended in the Article 5.3 implementation guidelines is to denormalise these CSR activities (World Health Organization 2009
, p. 3). NGOs, such as those involved in the Framework Convention Alliance, can serve an important role in this area. Through their contacts within the NGO community, they can educate others about how even apparently benign or unpublicised partnerships with tobacco companies harm global public health.
Another approach to denormalising such partnerships is to encourage more responsible or public relations-sensitive corporations to make their continued support of NGOs contingent on the absence of tobacco industry funding. A related example is tobacco control advocates’ successful calls for participants in CSR conferences featuring tobacco industry speakers or sponsors to threaten to withdraw if organisers did not cancel tobacco industry involvement. Organisers quickly terminated tobacco company sponsorship and “uninvited” tobacco industry speakers (Chapman 2004
). Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew grant money from a Canadian government development organisation after tobacco control advocates revealed that its board was chaired by a former member of Imperial Tobacco Canada’s board (Blackwell 2010
), suggesting that some funders may be sensitive to any type of tobacco industry organisational involvement.
NGOs’ desire to protect their own reputations provides an additional means of denormalizing NGO-tobacco industry partnerships. As EE’s “no external media” rule and delay in publicising the BAT partnership on its website showed, NGOs are sensitive to negative publicity. Directing negative media attention to NGOs that partner with tobacco companies may not dissuade those, like EE, with long-established ties, but it may discourage other NGOs from following suit. Highlighting tobacco companies’ status as convicted racketeers in a US federal court may be particularly useful (Kessler 2006
). Similarly, recognising NGOs that do not
work with the tobacco industry (though media campaigns, award ceremonies, certifications or “seals of approval”) may also encourage NGOs to shun tobacco industry partnerships.
Guidelines for implementing Article 5.3 of the FCTC aim to aid governments in developing comprehensive strategies to protect tobacco control policies from tobacco industry influence. Such strategies must include minimising the industry’s indirect influence through the NGO sector. As this study shows, however, this will require a delicate balance between minimising publicity for “good deeds” by limiting public disclosure and identifying “hidden” NGO partnerships that may indirectly allow tobacco companies to influence policymakers.