Heide Weishaar and colleagues did an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents together with other data and describe the industry's strategic response to the proposed World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
In successfully negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the World Health Organization (WHO) has led a significant innovation in global health governance, helping to transform international tobacco control. This article provides the first comprehensive review of the diverse campaign initiated by transnational tobacco corporations (TTCs) to try to undermine the proposed convention.
Methods and Findings
The article is primarily based on an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents made public through litigation, triangulated with data from official documentation relating to the FCTC process and websites of relevant organisations. It is also informed by a comprehensive review of previous studies concerning tobacco industry efforts to influence the FCTC. The findings demonstrate that the industry's strategic response to the proposed WHO convention was two-fold. First, arguments and frames were developed to challenge the FCTC, including: claiming there would be damaging economic consequences; depicting tobacco control as an agenda promoted by high-income countries; alleging the treaty conflicted with trade agreements, “good governance,” and national sovereignty; questioning WHO's mandate; claiming the FCTC would set a precedent for issues beyond tobacco; and presenting corporate social responsibility (CSR) as an alternative. Second, multiple tactics were employed to promote and increase the impact of these arguments, including: directly targeting FCTC delegations and relevant political actors, enlisting diverse allies (e.g., mass media outlets and scientists), and using stakeholder consultation to delay decisions and secure industry participation.
TTCs' efforts to undermine the FCTC were comprehensive, demonstrating the global application of tactics that TTCs have previously been found to have employed nationally and further included arguments against the FCTC as a key initiative in global health governance. Awareness of these strategies can help guard against industry efforts to disrupt the implementation of the FCTC and support the development of future, comparable initiatives in global health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Every year, about 5 million people die worldwide from tobacco-related causes and, if current trends continue, annual deaths from tobacco-related causes will increase to 10 million by 2030. In response to this global tobacco epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed an international instrument for tobacco control called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Negotiations on the FCTC began in 1999, and the international treaty—the first to be negotiated under the auspices of WHO—entered into force on 27 February 2005. To date, 174 countries have become parties to the FCTC. As such, they agree to implement comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; to ban misleading and deceptive terms on cigarette packaging; to implement health warnings on tobacco packaging; to protect people from tobacco smoke exposure in public spaces and indoor workplaces; to implement taxation policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption; and to combat illicit trade in tobacco products.
Why Was This Study Done?
Transnational tobacco corporations (TTCs) are sometimes described as “vectors” of the global tobacco epidemic because of their drive to maximize shareholder value and tobacco consumption. Just like conventional disease vectors (agents that carry or transmit infectious organisms), TTCs employ a variety of tactics to ensure the spread of tobacco consumption. For example, various studies have shown that TTCs have developed strategies that attempt to limit the impact of tobacco control measures such as the FCTC. However, to date, studies investigating the influence of TTCs on the FCTC have concentrated on specific countries or documented specific tactics. Here, the researchers undertake a comprehensive review of the diverse tactics employed by TTCs to undermine the development of the FCTC. Such a review is important because its results should facilitate the effective implementation of FCTC measures and could support the development of future tobacco control initiatives and of global initiatives designed to control alcohol-related and food-related disease and death.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed documents retrieved from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (a collection of internal tobacco industry documents released as a result of US litigation cases) dealing with the strategies employed by TTCs to influence the FCTC alongside data from the websites of industry, consultancy, and other organizations cited in the documents; the official records of the FCTC process; and previous studies of tobacco industry efforts to influence the FCTC. Their analysis reveals that the strategic response of the major TTCs to the proposed FCTC was two-fold. First, the TTCs developed a series of arguments and “frames” (beliefs and ideas that provide a framework for thinking about an issue) to challenge the FCTC. Core frames included claiming that the FCTC would have damaging economic consequences, questioning WHO's mandate to develop a legally binding international treaty by claiming that tobacco was not a cross-border problem, and presenting corporate social responsibility (the commitment by business to affect the environment, consumers, employees, and society positively in addition to making money for shareholders) as an alternative to the FCTC. Second, the TTCs employed multiple strategies to promote and increase the impact of these arguments and frames, such as targeting FCTC delegations and enlisting the help of diverse allies including media outlets and scientists.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings illustrate the variety and complexity of the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine the FCTC and show the extent to which TTCs combined and coordinated tactics on a global stage that they had previously used on a national stage. Indeed, “the comprehensiveness and scale of the tobacco industry's response to the FCTC suggests that it is reasonable to speak of a ‘globalisation of tobacco industry strategy’ in combating the development of effective tobacco control policies,” write the researchers. Awareness of the strategies employed by TTCs to influence the FCTC should help guard against industry efforts to disrupt the implementation of the FCTC and should support the development of future global tobacco control initiatives. More generally, these findings should support the development of global health initiatives designed to tackle cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – non-communicable diseases that together account for 60% of global deaths and are partly driven by the commercial activities of food, alcohol, and tobacco corporations.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001249.
The World Health Organization provides information about the dangers of tobacco (in several languages) and about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
For information about the tobacco industry's influence on policy, see the 2009 World Health Organization report Tobacco interference with tobacco control
The Framework Convention Alliance provides more information about the FCTC
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library is a public, searchable database of tobacco company internal documents detailing their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific activities
The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies is a network of UK universities that undertakes original research, policy development, advocacy, and teaching and training in the field of tobacco control
SmokeFree, a website provided by the UK National Health Service, offers advice on quitting smoking and includes personal stories from people who have stopped smoking
Smokefree.gov, from the US National Cancer Institute, offers online tools and resources to help people quit smoking and not start again