Monitoring Works: How Reporting Leads to ProgressACTA
There’s an old maxim: What can be measured can be managed. A new report by the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), a partner in STOP, proves that adage to be true—to the benefit of public health.
In 2021, civil society groups in 80 countries “measured” how well their governments were protecting policies from tobacco industry interference, and recorded their findings in their country’s Tobacco Industry Interference Index, and ultimately the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index (GTI).
The results spurred progress in tobacco control around the world, giving governments the information they needed to “manage” or counter tobacco industry meddling. In many cases, it worked. The data in the indices facilitated the passage of major national tobacco control legislation, but also did the quieter, necessary work of raising awareness of industry interference in places where it was present but not acknowledged.
Working in the dark
The tobacco epidemic, which kills more than 8 million people every single year, is no accident. It’s the result of the business practices of the many entities that make up the tobacco industry, and those who work to further its interests. The industry wants to create an environment that is friendly to its products and profits. In other words, the industry wants its products, including cigarettes and newer nicotine and tobacco products, to be easy to access, easy to afford and easy to use. Because the more people are addicted to its products, the easier it is to sustain its profits and delight its shareholders.
To fight for that kind of environment, the industry works from many angles—often out of the public eye—to try to suppress or cancel measures that would reduce tobacco use. Tobacco companies often oppose tobacco tax increases (which is one of the most effective and economical ways to reduce tobacco use), fight against smoke-free policies for public places and have even campaigned against laws aimed at protecting youth from tobacco advertising. Because much of this activity happens behind closed doors or behind the guise of industry allies, the public and even policymakers may not be aware. The industry gets what it wants: business as usual.
Illuminating the industry
The data and reporting in the indices shine a light on these industry actions. The global report helps policymakers understand industry interference in policy as a worldwide problem, and shows how well governments around the world are standing up to the industry. The regional and country reports provide even more detailed information on local interference and actions taken (or not) to stop it.
More than 180 countries are Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a global treaty to reduce tobacco use, but that does not mean their policies are immune to industry meddling. The indices shine a light on areas where WHO FCTC implementation—particularly of Article 5.3, which guards policies from industry interference—needs to be stronger.
Documenting these activities and efforts and sharing them widely is the first step toward sparking change. Once these efforts are measured or documented, they can be managed.
According to a new GGTC report, “Countering Corporate Sabotage of Health: Impact Stories on Tobacco Interference Index,” this monitoring and reporting has worked. Representatives from many countries reported significant advancements in tobacco control, and have cited their Index’s role in achieving this progress.
In some cases, the Index spurred major changes. In Mexico, the Index contributed to the approval of the General Law for Tobacco Control in December 2021, bringing an end to 13 years of inaction. The law included important, wide-reaching measures, including a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and expanding the country’s smoke-free public places. Legislative progress was also noted in Côte d’Ivoire, where the Index was cited as helping to implement plain packaging and track and trace systems that had previously been delayed.
The industry works from many angles—often out of the public eye—to try to suppress or cancel measures that would reduce tobacco use.
The Index helped lay groundwork for preventing industry interference in Lao PDR. In 2021, the government included specific measures to prevent industry influence (such as accepting sponsorships from the industry or recruiting industry professionals to join tobacco control committees) in its amendments to the Tobacco Control Act.
And in some cases, the Index helped policymakers see that industry interference was happening in the first place. In Zambia, where the industry is reported to operate “behind closed doors” when meeting with government officials, this type of interaction hadn’t previously been labeled as interference.
The indices reached the public, as well, as some indices drew media attention to the industry’s activities. In Brazil, people learned about industry interference through a podcast. In France, a tobacco control group held an awards ceremony to highlight the best in Article 5.3 implementation and the worst in interference tactics. And in Switzerland, the Index, which showed that the country received the worst ranking in the GTI, helped strengthen support for a law that would ban tobacco advertising aimed at youth.
The new report contains country-specific case studies that show even more ways the indices contributed to important tobacco control progress.
Monitoring must continue
The industry has been cited as the greatest barrier to implementing effective tobacco control measures. The onus of implementing these measures is on governments, who have an obligation to protect their citizens’ health from tobacco’s commercial interests.
To counter the industry’s interference, this type of monitoring and reporting must continue, so that countries can manage it by putting in place protective measures in accordance with WHO FCTC Article 5.3. If industry meddling is happening in your country, report it to STOP. In the meantime, sign up for STOP’s emails to stay informed about the industry’s activities around the world.