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.

Press release: Campaign to expose big tobacco’s lobby front may save millions of lives in lower-income countries

‘International Tax and Investment Center’ (ITIC) forced to withdraw claims of association with World Bank, IMF, tax authorities and major multinationals

[London] Today, an unprecedented joint movement of leading international development and public health organisations including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Christian Aid and Save the Children, declared a major success in their campaign against the tobacco lobby.

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 has the potential to be – quite literally – a killer. ITIC has targeted developing countries as the major growth markets for tobacco; it is in these countries where the death toll will be greatest, if the tobacco lobby succeeds.

Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that it works closely with leading international organisations, multinationals and global professional services firms. The campaign to expose ITIC as a front for tobacco interests, coordinated by the Tax Justice Network, ASH (UK) and the FCA contacted all the groups named by ITIC, described the ITIC’s role as a lobbyist for tobacco and asked the groups to disassociate themselves from ITIC. The letter that was sent can be viewed here.

The organisations that responded overwhelmingly expressed support for the the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, and in many cases outlined their dismay at the claims made by ITIC.

International organisations

Previously, ITIC regularly claimed – including on the very front of their website – that “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.”[1]

itic-front-250416
Front page of ITIC’s website, archived in April 2016

Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said:

“I am writing to confirm that the World Bank Group (WBG) does not have a formal partnership with ITIC. We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC (on November 29 and December 1, 2015), requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage, and also remove the World Bank Group’s logo from several other pages and PDFs on their website. I am pleased to note that this request has been complied with by the ITIC… I appreciate all of your strong advocacy for better global public health policy on tobacco, which has been extremely important to ensure better regulation of tobacco and to save lives. We look forward to working together towards the same goals.”

The International Monetary Fund stopped short of full disassociation, but wrote: “We understand your concerns with the work of the ITIC on tobacco… [W]e have asked them to clarify the nature of our interactions with them on their website.”

This involved, again, the removal of nearly all references and above all the claim on the site’s front page of ‘working closely together’. The World Customs Organisation wrote that “ITIC is not a partner”, and references have also since been deleted from the ITIC website (except a quote from 2011).

Perhaps most damning of all was the response from the African Tax Administrators’ Forum (ATAF), a key regional body, whose executive secretary Logan Wort said:

“Allow me to state categorically that ATAF does not partner, cooperate nor collaborate with the ITIC in any way, and has no intention of doing so.  Officials of the ATAF Secretariat had attended two of its meetings a few years ago in order to establish its motives and how the organisation functioned, however we soon distanced ourselves from the ITIC, with the ATAF Council also directing the Secretariat to inform all ATAF members of this decision, and warning them against associating with the organisation…

“We are thus well aware of the activities of the organisation and find its objectives and modus operandi to be in direct conflict with everything that ATAF stands for.  In recent discussions with officials of the World Health Organisation, we were also in full agreement that higher taxes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco use among vulnerable populations.

“We had also requested the ITIC to remove the ATAF logo from its website and all of its publications. Should we find that the ITIC has continued to abuse our logo or (mis)informed stakeholders of any association or partnership between our respective organisations, we will demand, in the strongest of terms, that they desist with this practice.  Rest assured of our full support for this campaign.”

ITIC’s claimed ‘sponsors’

Before the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, ITIC listed around a hundred multinationals, global professional services firms and national authorities on its roster of sponsors. While some have told the campaign they will continue with their support, such has been the response that ITIC has now removed the list entirely from their website – so it is no longer possible to see which supporters remain.

Nestlé said that it had ceased to make any contribution to ITIC in 2014, but that the letter had drawn their attention to the fact Nestlé’s logo was still displayed on ITIC’s website, so “we have taken action on this.” Similarly, the law firm Pinsent Masons said there was “no on-going relationship with ITIC, having last engaged with the organisation in 2013.” The Qatar Financial Center thanked the campaign for highlighting the claims on the ITIC website, and said: “we will write to ITIC formally to request the immediate removal of our name from their list of sponsors and any promotional materials or publications; we will also consult with Qatar’s Ministry of Finance on any further action that needs to be taken.”

However, Carlsberg told campaigners: “we do not plan to participate in the activities mentioned in your letter. We have our policy of Responsible Drinking and other projects are beyond our plans.” IBM said: “The policy issues discussed in your letter fall outside the scope of, and do not directly impact, IBM’s business.”

Research organisations

ITIC’s approach has often involved working with or funding existing think tanks or research centres, in order both to draw on their credibility and in some cases to generate new findings that support the case against strong tobacco tax measures – notably, by suggesting that high tobacco taxes will simply lead to growth in illicit trade. Most prominent amongst these has been Oxford Economics, whose chair Adrian Cooper told campaigners in May: “I can assure you that we consider all such representations very seriously and we will table your letter for a discussion with our Board.” Subsequent requests for an update or Board response have not been replied to.

Campaigner reactions

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH UK), said: “This is a fantastic victory. For years, this tobacco industry-funded tax think tank has bolstered its credibility by claiming the support of major global organisations – and now those claims have been revealed as completely hollow. We should no longer be surprised at the tobacco companies being liberal with the truth, but the willingness to misrepresent relationships is still striking. Nobody should take this outfit or its claims seriously – least of all, public officials.”

Dereje Alemayehu, chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ), said: “For developing country policymakers, the claim of working closely with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank carry a great deal of weight. Now these organisations have demanded that ITIC stop making these misleading statements, people can see the true picture – that this is just one more lobby group, pretending to offer technical analysis but really just pushing an agenda. And a particularly poisonous agenda at that.”

Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said: “We need to expose how the tobacco industry funds third parties to do its lobbying. Every lobbying success of Big Tobacco causes a delay in life-saving measures in developing countries. This wave of public disassociations should send a clear message to the ITIC that being a spokesperson for the tobacco industry runs counter to global movement to reduce tobacco use.”

Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network said: “If current trends persist, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide annually by the year 2030, with 80 percent of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries. If ITIC’s loss of credibility undermines their ability to influence for Big Tobacco, in a way that reduces that by just 5%, it would save 400,000 lives a year.”

Notes

[1] Quotation from ITIC website as at 18 November 2015, currently available in archive from: http://web.archive.org/web/20151118225508/http://www.iticnet.org/.

[2] Quotations from ITIC website as accessed at 8 July 2016.

Additional notes for editors

  • The organisations involved in the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts are: 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.
  • This press release and the original letter sent to companies and organisations can be accessed at http://taxtobacco.org.

Contacts

Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network: +44 7982 236863 and alex@taxjustice.net

Deborah Arnott, ASH (UK): +44 7976 935 987 and deborah.arnott@ash.org.uk

Big tobacco, little kids: “They got lips? We want them.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming seventh FCTC COP, we came across this striking speech from the sixth COP, by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

Can’t help but wonder what ITIC are planning this time.

Most recently, and in a particularly brazen move, the tobacco industry brought its agenda and it its voice here to the heart of tobacco control. Yesterday, the International Tax and Investment Centre, whose board of directors includes several tobacco companies, convened Parties and Observers to discuss tobacco tax and price policies without fully disclosing their vested interests.

Please, do not be fooled by them.

Their agenda, at least, is easy to see: to undermine your power, your efforts to adopt the robust, expert-driven proposed guidelines on tobacco tax and price policy. These guidelines, when used to implement the treaty’s Article 6, will protect children and young people, in particular, from initiating tobacco use.

There is an exchange of views recorded in the mountains of internal industry documents that are now in the public domain. Let me share with you one such document. It records a discussion – an internal discussion – about whether the industry should consider children as part of its market. I remember very well one reply, which I would like to quote directly: “They got lips? We want them.”

So ladies and gentlemen, this is the kind of tobacco industry tactic. They just want more and more market share. They could not care less if they are killing children.

Upcoming launch

In just two weeks, from 7-12 November, the 7th Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC COP 7) takes place in Delhi. It’s a big moment for building on international efforts to curtail tobacco use, and the enormous health damage it causes.  As ever, the tobacco lobby has been working to prevent effective counter-measures… but this year, we’ve been working to limit their lobbying effectiveness.

Tobacco taxes, correctly managed, are the key tool in preventing tobacco use – and so in reducing the massive health costs. With tobacco companies increasingly focused on lower-income countries as ‘growth’ markets, it is some of the poorest people in the world who will bear the brunt of any success.

Tobacco tactics are well known – including the purchasing of research findings, the promotion of alternative public health threats, and scaremongering about the risks of taking serious action. Key is the ability to present industry messages as if they were objective and neutral, to convince policymakers not to block the selling of – in effect – death. These same tactics are increasingly in play in lower-income countries, in defence of what is often a higher degree of space for tobacco companies to maneouvre. Because taxes are such an important part of that policy space, the battle is especially fierce here.

Tax Tobacco for Life is a project of the Tax Justice Network, set up precisely to combat these machinations of Big Tobacco.  We’re now on the point of a full public launch. We’ve brought together a global coalition of public health and tax justice organisations for a first major campaign action. We think that together – and with your support – we can do some serious damage to the ability of Big Tobacco to lobby against effective tobacco taxes – which can in turn save millions of lives around the world over the coming years.

Watch this space, and our twitter feed @TaxTobacco

 

Tobacco tax: “a major threat to our existence”

Tobacco tax, per the World Health Organisation, is now recognised as the single most effective measure in fighting ‘the global tobacco epidemic’. But Big Tobacco saw this a very long time ago – which makes you wonder what they’ve been doing about it… Continue reading “Tobacco tax: “a major threat to our existence””