A study funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies has found tobacco companies actively lobby against possible new restrictions including smoke free public places and larger health warnings, as well as being against any tax increases on the cost of cigarettes.
Tobacco companies were also found to be providing ministers and officials with free trips, hospitality and free tickets to sporting events.
Presenter: Catherine Graue
Speaker: Jeanie McKenzie, advisor tobacco policy and health, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, SPC
MCKENZIE: After having known for at least 50 years that tobacco is addictive and that it kills half of its users, they're still undertaking very underhand methods in the Pacific and elsewhere, and as you say a number of those are against the international treaty on tobacco control, all these countries have signed up to the framework convention on tobacco control.
GRAUE: So I've mentioned there in the introduction evidence of lobbying, buying and giving free gifts. What sort of things are government officials and politicians being promised by these tobacco companies?
MCKENZIE: It varies enormously from I suppose what people might consider to be small gifts or free lunches literally in some cases, to trips, to meetings and conferences to an area where it's a lot greyer and it's not possible to see exactly what's going on where there's possibly bribes and corruption, and the possibility of money changing hands. So there are lots of agreements being made in the Pacific, so memorandums of understanding and letters of agreement sometimes between government officials and the tobacco industry, in which the tobacco industry tries to make sure that national policy and laws are very favourable to them. If I can give you just a couple of examples that we found; one example relates trying to get an agreement with the taxation office that the price of cigarettes would not increase significantly over the next ten years, which of course is completely the opposite of what the framework convention on tobacco control is really requiring countries to do. It's asking countries to make sure that there are real and regular price increases on tobacco. And another example was trying to encourage the government to undertake a one-year pilot to sell very small packets of cigarettes that have ten cigarettes, which of course we know are very attractive for children, under this trial period to just see if it can produce single sales of cigarettes. And we later found out that they were interested in doing this because they had a collapse of both small, what we call kids packs of cigarettes. So some very underhand activities going on.
GRAUE: The study has found that they're are also taking advantage perhaps of some of these countries when they're in the most vulnerable state and providing funding for disaster relief, and trying to I guess show that they're investing in corporate responsibility, but you I guess have your doubts?
MCKENZIE: I think that's right. This is not their core business and this is a very sensitive area of course because when countries have had a disaster they obviously need immediate support and often of a financial kind. But this behaviour is literally just the behaviour of wolves in sheep's clothing I think you could say, it's designed to sort of gain a veneer of social responsibility, to basically divert attention from the fact that they are producing a lethal product, it's all intended to make the companies look like they're socially responsible, that they're part of the community, that they're making a contribution. But I think countries are wise to this. We've been working with countries who had been accepting donations in the past who've decided not to do that as a result of the project.
GRAUE: I was going to ask what kind of scope is there for I suppose these tobacco companies and these actions to be investigated and perhaps brought to justice if they are found to be doing the wrong thing?
MCKENZIE: Well there's probably more opportunity to actually shame companies for doing the wrong thing because many of their activities are not legal at all, and under the global law, under the framework convention there's a particular piece of that law that states very clearly how the government and tobacco industry is supposed to relate to each other. It's supposed to be an open and transparent communication but what's happening at the moment is very underhand, communications going on in the sidelines, and the framework convention outlines very clearly that any negotiations that happen between tobacco industry really has to be at the government's request. What they don't want is for the tobacco industry to start interfering with national policy and particularly the national laws, which is what they've been doing, that's really interference and that's what needs to be stopped in its tracks. Often the countries in the Pacific they don't have a lot of expertise necessarily or the time and the capacity to sort of deal with tobacco industry people coming to make suggestions about how the legislation, the laws needs to change. So this needs to stop and many countries have been very active indeed to try to sort of make sure that all interactions with tobacco industry are above board and only done for legitimate reasons.