Lessons for today from tobacco industry efforts to open the Thai market in the 1980s

Kade Patanavanich and I recently published “Successful countering of tobacco industry efforts to overturn Thailand’s ENDS ban” that documented recent efforts by Philip Morris and other pro-tobacco interests to open the Thai market to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), which under Thai law includes both liquid e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products like PM’s IQOS. Now we have published a companion paper that uses previously secret tobacco industry documents to understand the industry’s earlier efforts (from the 1980) to break into the Thai cigarette market.

The new paper, “How to combat efforts to overturn bans on electronic nicotine delivery systems: lessons from tobacco industry efforts during the 1980s to open closed cigarette markets in Thailand,” published in BMJ Global Health, documents how the transnational tobacco companies attempted to open Thailand’s closed cigarette market in the 1980s starting with domestic political lobbying, seeking joint ventures with Thailand’s state-run tobacco monopoly and advertising and sponsorships. When these efforts failed, the companies convinced the US to use international trade sanctions to successfully open the Thai market. This experience suggests that, for the countries that are not allowing electronic nicotine delivery systems (including e-cigs and heated tobacco products) to expect as they defend their bans domestically the industry will turn to international trade challenges to force their markets open for ENDS..

Here is the abstract from the paper:

Until 1990, it was illegal for transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) to sell cigarettes in Thailand. We reviewed and analysed internal tobacco industry documents relevant to the Thai market during the 1980s. TTCs’ attempts to access the Thai cigarette market during the 1980s concentrated on political lobbying, advertising and promotion of the foreign brands that were illegal to sell in Thailand at the time. They sought to take advantage of the Thai Tobacco Monopoly’s (TTM) inefficiency to propose licencing agreements and joint ventures with TTM and took advantages of unclear regulations about cigarette marketing to promote their products through advertising and sponsorship activities. After their initial efforts failed, they successfully lobbied the US to impose trade sanctions to liberalise Thailand’s market. Similar to the situation for cigarettes in the 1980s, since 2017, Philip Morris International has worked in parallel with a pro-e-cigarette group to pressure Thailand’s government to allow sales of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS; including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products), knowing the products were illegal under Thai law. Health advocates and government authorities should be aware of past TTCs’ tactics for cigarettes and anticipate that TTCs will attempt to use international trade law to force markets open for ENDS if their domestic efforts fail.

The full citation is: Patanavanich R, Glantz SA How to combat efforts to overturn bans on electronic nicotine delivery systems: lessons from tobacco industry efforts during the 1980s to open closed cigarette markets in Thailand BMJ Global Health 2021;6:e004288. It is available here.

Published by Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz is a retired Professor of Medicine who served on the University of California San Francisco faculty for 45 years. He conducts research on tobacco and cannabis control and cardiovascular disease/

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