Campaign victory disarms big tobacco’s lobby front in developing countries

Press release: Embargoed until 22nd May 2017, 12.01pm BST

Update: see further discussion of this major result at Tax Justice Network.

The International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) has been forced to stop accepting any further tobacco sponsorship

For more than two decades, big tobacco companies have used the neutral-sounding ‘International Tax and Investment Center’ (ITIC) to promote their agenda around the world. Since tax policies are the single most powerful measure to reduce tobacco consumption, and the inevitable deaths that follow, the influence of ITIC on public officials and finance ministers can be – literally – a killer. ITIC has targeted developing countries as major growth markets for tobacco; it is in these countries where the death toll is the greatest if the tobacco lobby succeeds.

But no more.

Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers were its claims of association[1] with IMF, World Bank, tax authorities and major multinationals. But after a successful campaign last year which was coordinated by the Tax Justice Network, ASH (UK) and the FCA, [2] ITIC was forced to withdraw these claims of association and many of the organisations and groups named also took action to disassociate themselves from ITIC, including the African Tax Administrators’ Forum and the World Bank.

Today, after this very public campaign the ITIC has decided they will no longer accept tobacco executives on their board and will end all tobacco company sponsorship.

This follows the announcement last November by the UK government of £15 million of funding to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat to support implementation of the treaty with a focus on tax measures. The Sustainable Development Goals include a commitment to supporting the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and tobacco taxes are cited as a means of both reducing smoking prevalence and providing a revenue stream for development. You can read more on that here and here.

Deborah Arnott of ASH (UK) said:
“This is a major blow to Big Tobacco’s modus operandi of covert lobbying under neutral-sounding cover. Tobacco taxes have been endorsed by the United Nations and the World Bank as an effective and important means to reduce tobacco consumption and health care costs, as well as providing a revenue stream for financing for development in many countries. ITIC has realised it is no longer credible to take Big Tobacco’s dirty money to lobby against tobacco taxes and about time too.”

Alex Cobham, CEO of the Tax Justice Network added:
“The joint campaign of development, anti-smoking and tax justice groups first managed to reduce the ITIC’s traction with lower-income country governments, by getting groups like the World Bank and Nestle to stop their names being used to mislead. Now we’ve actually eliminated what is big tobacco’s main lobbying channel in many lower-income countries. ITIC will no doubt seek to take credit for this shift – but nobody should forget that this is an organisation that has lobbied for big tobacco for decades. This shows that ITIC should not be trusted by governments to advise on taxes – whether tobacco or otherwise.”

Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said:
“ITIC’s decision to end tobacco sponsorships and remove tobacco executives from its board is an important step in the global fight against tobacco use, which kills six million people worldwide each year. ITIC must also end any lobbying against countries’ efforts to increase tobacco taxes, which is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco use and the death and disease it causes. By serving as a front group for tobacco companies, ITIC has given undeserved credibility to the industry’s deceptive arguments against tobacco taxes. These harmful activities must end completely. ITIC’s decision also sets a good example for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations that have helped the tobacco industry fight life-saving policies around the world. They, too, should sever all ties with the tobacco industry.”

The tobacco companies have long funded think tanks and consultancies to influence policy debates on the sly. Today’s success should serve as a warning to those groups. Those who take funding to work on behalf of an industry whose success can be measured in global mortality rates will feel increasing public scrutiny.

Contacts

Deborah Arnott, ASH (UK): deborah.arnott@ash.org.uk; +44 (0)7976 935 987
Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network: +44 (0)7982 236863; alex@taxjustice.net
Caroline Renzulli, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids: +1 202 296 5469; crenzulli@tobaccofreekids.org

Notes

[1] “ITIC works closely with ministries of finance, customs services and tax authorities in 85 countries, as well as international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Customs Organization, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
[2] The signatories to the original campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts via ITIC were: Action on Smoking and Health, (UK); Action on Smoking & Health, USA; Action on Smoking and Health, Scotland; African Tobacco Control Alliance; Association of Directors of Public Health, UK; British Heart Foundation; British Lung Foundation; CAFOD; Cancer Research UK; Christian Aid; Faculty of Public Health, UK; Framework Convention Alliance; FRESH; Global Alliance for Tax Justice; Health Poverty Action; InterAmerican Heart Foundation; International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; Latindadd; Save the Children; Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA); Tax Justice Europe; Tax Justice Network; Tax Justice Network – Africa; and Vital Strategies.

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