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Tobacco industry's ITGA fights FCTC implementation in the Uruguay negotiations
  1. Mary Assunta
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mary Assunta, Director, International Tobacco Control Project, Cancer Council Australia, P.O. Box 4708, Sydney, NSW 2001, Australia; mary.assunta{at}cancer.org.au

Abstract

Objective To illustrate how the tobacco industry' front group, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), mobilised tobacco farmers to influence the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP4) negotiations and defeat the adoption of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Articles 9 and 10 Guidelines and Articles 17 and 18 progress report.

Methods A review of COP4 documents on Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18 was triangulated with relevant information from tobacco industry reports, websites of British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and ITGA, presentations by tobacco industry executives and internal industry documents from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library website.

Results Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco rejected Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines claiming that banning ingredients in cigarettes will render burley leaf less commercially viable making tobacco growers in many countries suffer economic consequences. They claimed the terms ‘attractiveness’ and ‘palatability’ are not appropriate regulatory standards. The ITGA launched a global campaign to mobilise farmers to reject the draft Guidelines at COP4 in Uruguay. Tobacco producers, Brazil, Philippines, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, sent large delegations to COP4 and participated actively in the negotiation on the draft Guidelines. Partial Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 on product regulation and disclosure were adopted. COP4's work on Article 17 provides guidance on viable alternatives, but the ITGA is opposed to this and continues fight crop substitution.

Conclusion Despite ITGA's international campaign to thwart the Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 and a strong representation from tobacco-growing countries at COP4, the outcome after intense negotiations was the adoption of Partial Guidelines and work on Articles 17 and 18 to proceed.

  • FCTC
  • ITGA
  • COP
  • tobacco farmers
  • advocacy
  • surveillance and monitoring
  • tobacco industry documents
  • tobacco industry
  • low-/middle-income country
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Introduction

Using front groups to fight tobacco control measures is a well-known tobacco industry strategy.1–3 Transnational tobacco companies failed in their efforts to derail the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has pushed tobacco control higher up the policy agenda of countries. As governments step up their efforts to implement the FCTC and its related Guidelines, the tobacco industry is fighting back using a constituent that still has political mileage: tobacco growers. Research has documented the industry's efforts to use its front group, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), to fight the FCTC before its adoption and thwart national tobacco control initiatives by exaggerating the impact of tobacco control measures on farmers.4

In 2010, the tobacco industry re-energised the ITGA, arming it with a new and targeted global campaign to challenge FCTC implementation, particularly of Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18. This campaign manifested in a two-pronged approach: claiming that product regulation will result in a drop in global demand for tobacco leaf and mobilising farmers in developing countries to delay, dilute and defeat the progress of work on FCTC implementation by targeting the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP4) in Uruguay.

At COP4 in November 2010, Parties were set to adopt, among others, the FCTC draft Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 on the regulation of contents of tobacco products and product disclosure, and a progress report on Articles 17 and 18 on viable alternatives to tobacco cultivation. The industry mobilised farmers from low- and middle-income countries to lobby Parties to reject both the Guidelines and the progress report.

Article 9 of the FCTC addresses testing, measurement and regulation of the contents and emissions of tobacco products, while Article 10 deals with disclosure to governments and the public of such contents and emissions. Canada, the European Union (EU) and Norway, acting as key facilitators, together with 22 partner countries drafted the Guidelines. These elaborated on Articles 9 and 10 to assist Parties in meeting their obligations in the implementation. The Guidelines regulate the use of ingredients designed to make a tobacco product more attractive, such as flavouring agents that increase the palatability or ingredients that create an impression that tobacco products can have health benefits. The Guidelines aim to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, their addictiveness and their overall toxicity.5 The Guidelines do not call for a ban on any type of tobacco leaf. In 2009 when Canada took steps to implement Articles 9 and 10 and passed legislation6 banning the use of specified additives, including most flavouring agents that make tobacco more attractive to the young, it drew the ire of the tobacco industry. While the Canadian legislation bans flavours, it does not ban any type of tobacco leaf.

A Working Group, comprising the EU and 18 countries, prepared a progress report on Articles 17 and 18, which set out broad principles on economically viable alternatives to tobacco growing, such as best practices in sustainable alternatives, promoting opportunities for economically viable alternatives and the protection of these polices from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry and leaf companies.7 The report also laid down the framework for obtaining effective strategies for alternative crops and livelihood, such as removing barriers to diversification, curtailing policies that promote and support tobacco farming and developing educational programmes for growers and workers.

While some studies have documented the ITGA's activities during the main FCTC negotiations,8 ,9 the ITGA's efforts to thwart FCTC implementation at the Conference of the Parties (COPs) have not been examined. This paper reviews how the ITGA launched an international campaign mobilising farmers to lobby governments to represent its views at COP4 and influence the decisions of that process in its favour.

Methods

Data for this paper come from several sources. The websites of British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International (PMI) and ITGA were searched for their positions on Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18. The author attended the COP4 negotiations in Punta Del Este, Uruguay (15–20 November 2010), and followed the daily proceedings and reviewed all formal documents distributed. Information pertaining to Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18 from these COP4 documents was triangulated with relevant information from industry-related reports, such as Tobacco Reporter and Tobacco International and press reports. Presentations by tobacco industry executives made at the World Tobacco Asia Conference in Jakarta, 27–28 October 2010,10 which the author attended, were also analysed. Additionally, tobacco industry documents were obtained from searches conducted on the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library website,11 in December 2010. Initial key search word ‘itga’ entered in this website produced 2065 hits. The ITGA head, Antonio Abrunhosa, and key tobacco industry executives (Watson and Shabanji) were identified, and using the snowball method,12 additional searches were conducted. Key words ‘itga AND Watson AND shabanji’ produced 107 hits; ‘abrunhosa AND Watson’, 63 hits. From these, documents that were relevant to illustrate ITGA's role, relationship with the tobacco industry and their activities were selected. Data were analysed by reviewing all materials, comparing them with one another for consistencies and contrasts, and the information gleaned was synthesised to identify patterns.

Results

Background on global tobacco leaf production

Tobacco leaf production in developed countries is declining. Traditional exporters, namely the USA and the EU, are losing export market share, and the developed countries are becoming major importers of tobacco leaf. The USA and the EU are among the largest importers.13 The USA, which is among the world's largest producers of burley tobacco, is facing a decline in production. Between 1989 and 2009, US burley production declined by about 60%. Malawi and Brazil are now producing more burley than the USA (table 1).

Table 1

Top 10 tobacco leaf producers 200914

Tobacco leaf production in developing countries continues to increase, expanding their share in world production from about 76% in 1991 to 87% in 2010.13 China is the world's largest producer with about 2.9 million tonnes in 2010. The Food and Agriculture Organisation notes that in developing countries other than China, tobacco consumption increased from 1.8 million tonnes in 1991 to 2.4 million tonnes in 2010.13

Tobacco growers in developing countries are effectively competing internationally (table 1). Malawi has steadily increased its exports to over 150 000 tonnes in 2010 from 113 000 tonnes in 1998. In the past 2 decades, Malawi has demonstrated its strong production capacity and its ability to compete favourably with other tobacco-exporting countries. Zimbabwe, the largest tobacco leaf producer in Africa, can maintain its strong position relative to other exporting countries because it can reduce production costs.

Tobacco leaf purchase is planned in advance, and international supply of tobacco leaves is influenced by the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry and international leaf merchants' trading practices result in situations of either oversupply or undersupply of leaves,15 which in turn affects the production levels and prices in individual countries. According to the industry's report, leaf-producing countries such as India, Bangladesh and Tanzania took advantage of increased prices and increased their leaf production (to meet the 2008 shortage) by 30%, 50% and 58%, respectively.15 Zimbabwe, though it had dramatic leaf production declines since 2000, exported about $360 million worth of tobacco in 2010, almost $200 million more than in 2009.15 Other African countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi also increased their production. When leaf prices and purchases are beyond the control of local growers, any international plan that is perceived to threaten their livelihood or their sales garners their attention.

ITGA and transnational tobacco companies

Previous studies1 ,4 have documented the role of PMI, BAT and its public relations arm in the creation of the ITGA in 1984 and their continued financial support of ITGA in the 1990s as a vehicle to ‘front for our third world lobby activities’.16 ITGA was to give the industry's initiatives a human face and a Third World grassroots voice.17 The role defined for the ITGA in 1984 continues today. This role includes plans for ITGA to ‘take the offensive’, ‘not allow themselves to be bowled over’, neutralise the WHO and monitor anti-tobacco activities in tobacco-producing countries.18 The ITGA's website's name ‘tobaccoleaf’, discussed by the tobacco companies in 1996 as the first choice for a domain name,19 is still being used. Tobacco Industry support for ITGA continued into the 2000s, described by BAT as a ‘critical ongoing annual programme’.20

While the ITGA's public face champions tobacco farmers' rights, internal industry documents reveal that ITGA's creators wanted farmers to play a specific role: “We must ensure that the growers stick to politics, and do not seek to use the global organisation to gang up on manufacturers.”16 In 1988, the ITGA took a definitive position on viable alternative crops, that is, to ‘combat idiotic crop-substitution’.16 Hence, it sought to thwart any proposals or initiatives that would assist tobacco growers to shift to other crops.

The tobacco industry is still funding the ITGA21 and its current campaign against a purported plan to ban burley leaves22 as the main focus of ITGA's activities. While the ITGA positions itself as representing farmers from developing countries, its president is a burley grower from Kentucky, USA,23 whose organisation's objective is to ‘improve profitability and stability for our members (American burley farmers) and increasing production and market share’.24

Tobacco industry and ITGA reject implementation Guidelines for Articles 9 and 10

In 2010, PMI tried to persuade governments not to adopt the draft Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10.25 ,26 Among its reasons were that ‘attractiveness’ and ‘palatability’ are not appropriate regulatory standards and regulating ingredients based on ‘attractiveness’ is an untenable position. According to PMI, a ban on ingredients in cigarettes will render burley and oriental tobacco much less commercially viable and growers in many countries will suffer severe economic consequences. PMI pointed out major tobacco growers' associations, including the US association had raised concerns about how Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines contained elements from the 2009 Canadian legislation and that this would have a negative impact on producers and exporters.

Similarly, BAT claimed that there was no credible evidence to justify a ban on ingredients.27 BAT's website, under the section, ‘Exploding myths’ dismisses statements by tobacco control groups that “ingredients are used to make smoking more appealing to children and more addictive.”28 BAT provides links to ITGA, claiming “[M]any organisations feel that baseless bans could potentially cause major disruption to the livelihoods of thousands of growers of burley and oriental tobacco worldwide.” BAT's position echoes ITGA's stand that the proposed guidelines could decimate growers' livelihoods and a ban will ‘send the economies of countries that rely on tobacco export crashing, along with millions of farmers and workers whose livelihoods depend on growing tobacco’.28

The ITGA likewise claimed that the FCTC Articles 9 and 10 Guidelines, if adopted, would reduce the tobacco planted area worldwide because the ban on ingredients used in tobacco products would ‘effectively end production of blended products and thus significantly reduce demand for burley and oriental varieties of tobacco’.29 Although there is no connection between additives in cigarettes and tobacco growing, the ITGA framed the Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines to its membership as a move that would ban burley leaves.

ITGA's positions echoed PMI and BAT's position:

  • To reject Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines.

  • To reject the arguments for banning ingredients because they are not sound.

  • Banning ingredients in blended products would result in a dramatic drop in demand for burley and oriental tobacco, causing a huge destabilising effect on burley and oriental farmers.

  • To reject the recommendations of Articles 17 and 18 because the WHO has not come up with solutions and that better research and consultation are needed.29

ITGA's campaign leading up to COP4

In Asia, Indonesia is an important high growth market for PMI and BAT and remains the only Asian country that has not ratified the FCTC.30 It was used by the industry as a platform from which to launch anti-FCTC activities in Asia. In June 2010, the ITGA organised an Asia Tobacco Forum in Indonesia for selected tobacco farmers from six Asian countries.31 The Forum planned and launched a campaign against the adoption of Articles 9 and 10 Guidelines in the six countries—Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, India and the Republic of Korea. The local host of the event, the Indonesia Alliance for Tobacco Community, known as AMTI, was a new organisation created just 5 months before in January 2010.31 It served as a forum for tobacco and clove farmers, workers, consumers, retailers, associations and manufacturers of cigarettes to protect the Indonesian tobacco industry. A 12-point declaration was developed that the farmers in the region used to launch national protests in their respective countries.32 The declaration urged governments to reject the draft Guidelines of Articles 9 and 10, take a ‘balanced’32 approach to tobacco control and to adhere to regional and international trade rules to promote free and fair trade in tobacco products. It also called upon all Asian governments to urge other governments to reject the draft Guidelines, thereby plugging the campaign into ITGA's global strategy.

In September 2010, the ITGA issued a statement, “Asian Farmers rally to oppose the ‘devastating’ World Health Organisation proposal,”29 claiming that thousands of farmers would gather to reject a proposal that threatened to make millions unemployed. The Asian farmers who participated in the June Forum in Indonesia were part of ITGA's larger coordinated campaign to undermine work done on Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18 during COP4. The threat of unemployment is a common industry scare tactic that has yet to be realised in any country that has implemented tobacco control.4 ,33 ,34

In October, the ITGA hosted a two-day international conference at the World Tobacco Asia event in Jakarta, attended by about 40 industry participants from around the world. ITGA Executive Director, Abrunhosa's presentation exaggerated the impact of the proposed ingredients ban in the Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines, predicting the following:

  • Automatic prevention of the manufacturing of American blends (Virginia + Burley + Oriental).

  • Sudden impossibility to use burley and oriental tobacco and a good portion of Virginia.

  • Subsequent negative impact on trade, revenues and employment.

  • Violation of international trade agreements (the ban would impose an unnecessary technical barrier to trade).35

According to Abrunhosa, the ITGA and Unitab (International Union of Tobacco Growers) were the only organisations that could make themselves ‘heard by governments and public institutions’, therefore, there was a need for concerted action by the sector. The ITGA concluded the meeting emphasising the need to mobilise the farmers and ‘spoil the party’ for the WHO in Uruguay (COP4).35

To rally more support for its campaign to defeat the Guidelines at COP4 negotiations in Uruguay, the ITGA put out press releases with emotive titles such as ‘World Health Organisation ploughs on with bureaucratic blunder and slams the door on 30 million farmers’,36 calling upon governments to halt the ban on ingredients in cigarettes, again claiming that it would affect millions of farmers.37–40 The ITGA also launched a signature campaign to show that farmers globally opposed the draft Guidelines for Articles 9 and 10 and progress report on Articles 17 and 18. The ITGA also mobilised farmers to attend the COP4 negotiations in Uruguay, and the farmers handed the signatures to the head of the FCTC Convention Secretariat.

Fourth session of the Conference of the Parties

The tobacco industry at COP4

Countries, Brazil, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and the Philippines, where the ITGA mobilised farmers, sent larger than usual numbers of delegates to COP4 (table 2).41 These countries are tobacco leaf exporters. The dramatic increase in delegation size of several countries, particularly non-Parties Zimbabwe and Malawi, was a stark contrast to previous years where there were very few or no delegates from these countries. These are low-income countries with small travel budgets. It is unknown whether the tobacco industry provided support for them to send more delegates.

Table 2

Size of government delegations to the Conference of the Parties (COPs)41

Among these are several low-income countries that have few resources for tobacco control. These countries also sent representatives from their Ministries of Agriculture (table 3) and the Tobacco Board42 whose main function is to protect tobacco farmers, tobacco cultivation and production. These departments in being responsible for tobacco farmers and cultivation are inevitably close allies of the tobacco industry.43–47

Table 3

Delegates from Ministry of Agriculture/Tobacco Board of selected countries to COP4

COP4 saw strong tobacco industry representation in many delegations. Several Parties, such as China, Zambia and Japan, and a non-Party, Zimbabwe, had representatives favourable to the industry in their delegations to COP4.42 China, a country that had previously included two representatives from the tobacco monopoly in its delegation, had six representatives this time. Zimbabwe and Zambia's delegations to the previous COPs that had not included any representatives from the tobacco board had one and two delegates, respectively, this time.

Possible tobacco industry influence over negotiations

The debate during the negotiations clearly divided the countries into pro-industry/ITGA and pro-tobacco control factions. Tactics to delay, dilute and defeat usually associated with the industry were observed from select countries that had industry-favourable representatives in their delegations.

The text of Articles 9 and 10 draft Guidelines on the concept of ‘attractiveness’ generated intense debate. The text says: ‘Attractiveness’ refers to factors such as taste, smell and other sensory attributes, ease of use, flexibility of the dosing system, cost, reputation or image, assumed risks and benefits, and other characteristics of a product designed to stimulate use.48

China, Philippines, Tanzania, Zambia and non-Parties Malawi and Zimbabwe took a pro-industry/ITGA position by challenging the inclusion and definition of the word ‘attractiveness’.49 According to these countries, the definitions for ‘attractiveness’ and ‘palatability’ provided in the draft Guidelines were too vague for implementation. The draft Guidelines identified ingredients such as sugars and sweeteners used to increase the palatability of tobacco products to users. Tanzania and Zambia wanted the term ‘palatability’ omitted from the text until more studies on how to measure ‘palatability’ and more scientific information was made available. China indicated that it could not agree to the draft Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 and since the text as a whole had not been agreed upon it would be premature to discuss it or approve the draft.49

Several Parties made interventions in favour of moving the draft Guidelines forward for adoption. Thailand, for example, appealed to the delegates not to get lost in a debate on the definition. Uganda supported Thailand, arguing that the goal of the FCTC is to protect people from tobacco products and appealed to the Parties to adopt the Guidelines. Since negotiations are resolved by consensus and not by vote, all the Parties were agreeable to the Guidelines being called ‘Partial’ and adopted ‘Partial Guidelines to Articles 9 and 10’.

Though the ITGA mobilised support to reject the progress report on Articles 17 and 18, the COP4 approved the report that outlined the framework for viable alternatives to tobacco cultivation, the protection of the environment and the health of persons.50 The report includes a principle that states tobacco growers and workers should be involved at every stage of policy development and implementation. This is contrary to ITGA's allegation that WHO was excluding farmers in drawing up solutions. China and the EU supported the proposal to enable tobacco growers to participate in the work and requested that proposals on alternative crops be based on ‘scientific evidence’. Zambia fully supported the inclusion of the farmers. The inclusion of farmers was agreeable to all, although this could leave room for the industry to exert some influence in the future work of the Working Group on Articles 17 and 18.

Conclusions

The objectives of the tobacco industry are incompatible with the primary objective of the FCTC and regulation of tobacco products under Articles 9 and 10 to reduce tobacco use. The tobacco industry and its front group, the ITGA, continue to find ways to undermine, delay and dilute the implementation of the FCTC. The industry uses vulnerable tobacco farmers from developing countries in its global campaign to fight tobacco product regulation, as outlined in the Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10. While the Guidelines aim to regulate ingredients added to tobacco that make it more palatable, the ITGA used a scare tactic to mobilise the farmers and ran an international campaign claiming the WHO sought to ban burley leaf in tobacco products and put farmers out of a job. With a strong representation from tobacco-growing countries at COP4, the debates during negotiations were intense and resulted in Partial Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 being adopted.

In reality, most tobacco farmers also grow other crops besides tobacco. However, there is a lack of documentation on the experiences of farmers transitioning from tobacco to other viable crops. Malaysian tobacco growers, for example, who are also members of ITGA, are successfully shifting away from tobacco to kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) cultivated for its fibre, which has multiple uses.51 The tobacco control community needs to engage more actively with growers especially those who are shifting away from tobacco to other viable crops. Their experiences should be documented and promoted. The Working Group responsible for preparing the report on Articles 17 and 18 and the COP will have to find an effective way of engaging with farmers without being susceptible to undue pressure from the ITGA.

FCTC Article 5.3 warns Parties about tobacco industry interference and the need to protect public health policies from the influence of the industry. Governments with tobacco industry-favourable representatives on their delegations took a consistently pro-industry position on the Guidelines at COP4, suggesting industry influence. Parties need to review their delegations to future COP sessions in accordance with Article 5.3 to prevent industry influence.

What this paper adds

  • This paper examines the ITGA, tobacco industry front group's international campaign to defeat the adoption of the WHO FCTC Guidelines on Articles 9 and 10, and Articles 17 and 18 progress report at COP4 negotiations in Uruguay.

  • Farmers from developing countries including Asia were provided with misleading information and were mobilised to fight FCTC implementation.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks the reviewers and the editor for their invaluable comments.

References

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests MA is the Director of the International Tobacco Control Project, Cancer Council Australia and Senior Policy Advisor to Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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