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Conflicts of interest in tobacco control in India: an exploratory study


Introduction The government of India introduced a tobacco control legislation in 2003 and is a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. However, anecdotal evidence points to the government's conflicting interests in tobacco control and trade. This research seeks to scope instances of conflicts of interests within the government and analyse how they operate in the Indian context.

Methods We conducted an exploratory study analysing documents over a 2-year period. We scanned media reports related to tobacco, documents of the tobacco industry, information retrieved from governments using the Right to Information Act and relevant websites. The data were analysed through thematic coding.

Results 100 instances of conflicts of interest were found and classified under six categories: public support for the tobacco industry by government institutions or individuals; stakeholding or ownership of tobacco companies by government functionaries; individuals holding positions both in tobacco companies and the government; formal partnerships between the tobacco industry and public agencies; conflicting policies; and incentives available for the tobacco industry. These instances occur at all three levels of government: the individual, institutional and policy levels.

Conclusions Conflicts of interest are rampant in India and operate in many different ways. These conflicts can lead to negative consequences for tobacco control with far-reaching effects. Varied strategies using legal, administrative and legislative tools need to be adopted to manage conflicts of interest.

  • Tobacco industry
  • Public policy
  • Low/Middle income country
  • Denormalization

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