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27 Jun 2018

A new study from the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group has exposed evidence that big tobacco is still facilitating tobacco smuggling, while also trying to control a global system aimed at preventing it.

The research draws on leaked documents. It also investigates industry front groups and details elaborate lengths the industry has gone to control to undermine a major international agreement, the Illicit Trade Protocol.

The Protocol aims to protect public health by stopping the tobacco industry from smuggling tobacco, but the University of Bath research shows how tobacco companies are trying to get around it by employing elaborate scam techniques.

Released in June, the research paper was published in the journal Tobacco Control and it calls on governments and international bodies to crack down on the tactics of big tobacco companies.

It requires governments being much more vigilant in ensuring that the systems designed to control tobacco smuggling are free of industry influence.

The study argues that despite the tobacco industry claiming to have changed and to be themselves the victims of counterfeit tobacco (and have lobbied to work with governments to help tackle counterfeit tobacco), it is still facilitating tobacco smuggling.

Approximately two thirds of smuggled cigarettes may still derive from industry, the study states. It highlights how companies have developed their own track and trace system, known as Codentify, and lobbied around the world for it to adopted, while at the same time creating front groups and paying for misleading data and reports.

The University of Bath’s research has revealed: 

  • Big Tobacco funding (through a front group) the World Customs Organisation’s conference on illicit or smuggled tobacco;
  • Philip Morris International (PMI) setting up a $100 million fund for research on illicit tobacco, which funds organisations whose previous reports on tobacco smuggling have already been widely criticised; and
  • PMI funding INTERPOL to promote Codentify.

Leaked documents show the four major transnational tobacco companies hatched a joint plan to use front groups and third parties to promote Codentify to governments and have them believe it was independent of industry. It also reveals how these plans were put into action. For example, the study reveals how a supposedly independent company fronted for British American Tobacco (BAT) in a tender for a track and trace system in Kenya.

Professor Anna Gilmore, Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, explains: “This has to be one of the tobacco industry’s greatest scams. Not only are tobacco companies still involved in tobacco smuggling, but they are positioning themselves to control the very system governments around the world have designed to stop them from smuggling. Their elaborate and underhand effort, implemented over years, involves front groups, third parties, fake news and payments to the regulatory authorities meant to hold them to account.

“Governments, tax and customs authorities around the world appear to have been hoodwinked.  It is vital that they wake up and realise how much is at stake. Our simple message is this: no government should implement a track and trace system linked in any shape or form to the tobacco manufacturers. Doing so could allow the tobacco industry’s involvement in smuggling to continue with impunity.”

The report’s co-author Andy Rowell said: “By analysing new leaked documents from the tobacco industry and other contemporary evidence, it’s clear that the masters of deception are up to their old tricks. The evidence suggests the industry is still facilitating tobacco smuggling, whilst trying to control the international system to stop smuggling. But authorities should not let the sly old tobacco fox look after the hen house.”

To access the peer-reviewed paper see: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-054191

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 27 Jun 2018