How the multinational tobacco companies fight tobacco control in India: The more things change the more they stay the same

Amit Yadav and I just published “Tobacco industry thwarts ad ban legislation in India in the 1990s: Lessons for meeting FCTC obligations under Articles 13 and 5.3” in Addictive Behaviors. This paper uses previously secret tobacco industry documents to present a history of the early battles in India to reign in the multinational tobacco industry.

While these events occurred 20-30 years ago, the industry is still using the same strategies today. While trying to look “local” the responses are all being globally coordinated from London (BAT) and Geneva (PMI). All the arguments remain the same.

As the modern tobacco control movement was emerging in the early 1990s in India, advocates there, like most countries, viewed its tobacco control legislation
as a national matter. In contrast, the multinational tobacco companies managed the political fight as part of their global strategy to prevent development of effective tobacco control policies everywhere. The industry implemented these strategies by creating the Tobacco Institute of India (TII) than nominally represented local companies but was guided by the mutinationals. The global strategies that BAT, PMI and other multinational tobacco companies applied then to protect their Indian cigarette subsidiaries continue to form the core of industry strategies to delay and evade legislative efforts to ban tobacco advertising in India.

Tobacco companies successfully stymied legislation proposed in 1994; India did not get its national tobacco control law, the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COPTA) until a decade later, in 2003 (effective in 2004). Understanding these industry strategies can inform public health efforts to counter industry efforts to thwart the proposed COTPA amendment now pending in India and implementation of the FCTC globally.

In particular, government and law makers should be aware of the vested and commercial interests of the tobacco industry and the fact that TII is constituted as a lobby group of, for and by the tobacco industry. Since its establishment, TII has been working to advance tobacco industry interest by engaging with policy makers both directly and indirectly by putting forth and supporting front groups. Farmer and retailer groups as well as hospitality association and trade unions remain the most plausible carriers of tobacco industry narratives on behalf of the tobacco industry. Government and institutions need to be aware of these commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry and their front groups and ensure that such interests do not get included or engaged in the policy making and policy implementation processes. The TII continues to be an industry lobby and resource for India and the region, highlighting the need for greater national and regional cooperation and collaboration among civil society networks and governments in the region to counter tobacco industry fforts and protect national tobacco control activities.

This history is particularly relevant now, as the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and public health advocates are trying to close loopholes and modernize India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act.

Here is the abstract:

Bans on tobacco advertising are important for reducing tobacco-caused disease. Previously secret internal tobacco industry documents and organizational and newspaper websites related to tobacco control efforts in India during 1990s were analyzed. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, World Health Organization, Indian Council of Medical Research, and civil society played important roles in pushing for tobacco control legislation beginning in the 1980s. Guided by transnational tobacco companies, especially British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, and RJ Reynolds, Indian cigarette companies formed the Tobacco Institute of India (TII). Following the industry’s global strategy, TII proposed voluntary advertising codes, used diplomatic channels and high level political and judicial lobbying, and allied with other industry, sports and trade groups to delay legislation for ten years. TII argued for the social and economic importance of tobacco and that laws were unnecessary, unconstitutional, and would hurt the economy. These early global strategies were continuing in 2022 to delay and evade legislative efforts to ban tobacco advertising. Understanding these strategies can inform public health efforts to counter industry efforts to thwart the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2022 not only in India, where the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has proposed strengthening India’s tobacco control law, but globally.

The full citation is: Yadav A, Glantz SA. Tobacco industry thwarts ad ban legislation in India in the 1990s: Lessons for meeting FCTC obligations under Articles 13 and 5.3. Addictive Behaviors 2022; 130: 107306. ISSN 0306-4603. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2022.107306. It is available for free 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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