In 2006, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that PM, BAT and the other large US cigarette companies as well as CTR, CIAR and TI violated the US Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.18
Kessler’s 1683-page final opinion also described the defendant companies’ international strategies, particularly the role of international organisations such as INFOTAB.18
Our analysis of connections between Nordic tobacco companies and multinational tobacco companies demonstrates that as early as 1972, the Nordic companies were well informed of and active participants in the multinational companies’ scheme to obscure the dangers of smoking and SHS.4, 155, 182, 183
The results of this study show that strategies employed by the multinational tobacco companies to undermine tobacco control, including recruiting scientists, commissioning research, contacting politicians and submitting statements to governments, were utilised in the Nordic countries, where the tobacco industry paid most attention to blocking and delaying smoke-free laws.57, 99, 184–191
The results demonstrate how the Nordic companies and the Nordic NMAs served as vehicles for the multinational companies to implement their strategies to protect sales not only in Nordic markets but worldwide. As early as 1972, the multinational companies identified emerging advertising bans, health warning labels and smoking restrictions proposed by health officials in the Nordic countries as a dangerous global precedent. Industry documents reveal a determined campaign by multinational companies, Nordic NMA’s and local tobacco companies to stall proposed regulations before they could be ‘spilled over’ to larger market areas.6, 7
The multinational tobacco companies paid most attention to Finland, Sweden and Norway, which the multinational companies considered as forerunner in tobacco control.6, 7
In 2000, the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs commissioned a 906-page official report on tort liability for the Norwegian tobacco industry that concluded that Norwegian law and judicial practice allowed lawsuits against the tobacco industry for damages.190
The Norwegian NMA submitted a 54-page statement to the Ministry opposing the conclusion. The NMA claimed, in particular, “Tiedemanns have not received information, either through INFOTAB or its connections with other international organisations, about tobacco issues which have not been publicly available.” (see Falch, page 1210
). The results in this paper show that this statement was false. The Ministry decided not to file a product liability case against the industry.150, 190
In Finland in 2005, four women filed suit against BAT Finland and Amer Tobacco claiming that their addiction to light cigarettes caused their illnesses.11
In Finland, Amer Tobacco denied in 2009 any attempt to prevent or postpone implementation of tobacco control measures or dissemination of health information.11
While emphasising its role as an independent company, Amer Tobacco denied involvement in a campaign to deceive smokers and conspire against health authorities. The results from this study contradict these statements. The Court of Appeal in Helsinki accepted the companies’ arguments and ruled in favour of the tobacco company defendants in 2010.
The Nordic companies and NMAs relied on multinational tobacco companies because they lacked legal and scientific knowledge and resources to handle controversies created by multinational companies in smoking and health issues54, 192
and because the multinationals worked to engage the Nordic companies to ensure a uniform global position for the tobacco industry globally. Some of the Nordic companies briefly considered, but rejected, the option to admit to at least some of the dangers of tobacco use and cooperate with local health authorities45, 53, 55
and admit smoking’s health dangers. Doing so would have led to a conflict with multinational companies, something the local Nordic companies chose to avoid.
Implications for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Article 20 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control commits parties to promote and facilitate the exchange of information regarding practices of the tobacco industry.193
In implementing this requirement, it is essential for parties to focus on the operations of the multinational companies and on local tobacco companies and their organisations. Local companies may claim ignorance of multinational companies’ strategies to undermine tobacco control while implementing those strategies secretly.
Industry documents made publicly available may not represent all documents that might be relevant for this study. Only those documents produced in the Nordic area and sent to offices of the multinational companies were available.189, 194, 195
The number of messages in the documents sent from representatives of multinational companies to their contact persons in the Nordic countries is much higher than the number of messages sent from the Nordic contact persons to multinational companies. Also tobacco companies have withheld documents on grounds of attorney-client privilege or work product. The documents may also be fragmentary with regard to their content and time covered, and they may provide only a partial picture of a tobacco company’s activities.
Global tobacco control is contingent on diffusion of policy innovations and more comprehensive tobacco control policies. Local tobacco companies in the Nordic countries participated in the multinational companies’ conspiracy to deny health dangers of smoking and oppose tobacco control measures because of the direct effects in Nordic countries and because of concern that such policies would spread to other countries. They worked individually and through NMAs with multinational companies to undermine tobacco control. As a result, tobacco control measures, particularly smoke-free laws, were delayed for several years. The local tobacco companies have publicly claimed ignorance of multinational tobacco company strategies while in fact they are implementing them vigorously. These experiences emphasise the importance for both sides of the debate of setting and defending precedents in tobacco control. They also demonstrate that in local debates over Framework Convention on Tobacco Control implementation, public health advocates and government officials cannot trust assertions by local tobacco companies that they are simply representing local interests, not those of the multinational tobacco companies.