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Memoranda of understanding: a tobacco industry strategy to undermine illicit tobacco trade policies
  1. Eric Crosbie1,2,
  2. Stella Bialous2,
  3. Stanton A Glantz2,3
  1. 1 School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada, USA
  2. 2 Center for Tobacco Control Research and Educatio, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  3. 3 Department of Medicine (Cardiology), Cardiovascular Research Institute, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Stanton A Glantz, Department of Medicine/Cardiology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-1390, USA; glantz{at}


Objective Analyse the transnational tobacco companies’ (TTCs) memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on illicit trade and how they could undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (Protocol).

Methods Review of tobacco industry documents and websites, reports, news and media items using standard snowball search methods.

Results Facing increasing pressure from governments and the FCTC to address illicit tobacco trade during the late 1990s, TTCs entered into voluntary partnerships embodied in MoUs with governments’ law enforcement and customs agencies. One of the earliest known MoUs was between Philip Morris International and Italy in 1999. TTCs agreed among themselves to establish MoUs individually but use the Italian MoU as a basis to establish similar connections with other governments to pre-empt more stringent regulation of illicit trade. TTCs report to have signed over 100 MoUs since 1999, and promote them on their websites, in Corporate Social Responsibility reports and in the media as important partnerships to combat illicit tobacco trade. There is no evidence to support TTCs’ claims that these MoUs reduce illicit trade. The terms of these MoUs are rarely made public. MoUs are non-transparent partnerships between government agencies and TTCs, violating FCTC Article 5.3 and the Protocol. MoUs are not legally binding so do not create an accountability system or penalties for non-compliance, rendering them ineffective at controlling illicit trade.

Conclusion Governments should reject TTC partnerships through MoUs and instead ratify and implement the FCTC and the Protocol to effectively address illicit trade in tobacco products.

  • Globalisation
  • Illegal Tobacco Products
  • Public Policy
  • Tobacco Industry
  • Tobacco Industry Documents

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  • Contributors SB conceptualised the study. EC and SB collected the raw data and EC prepared the first draft of the manuscript. SB and SAG contributed to revisions of the paper.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute grants 2T32 CA113710 and R01CA087472 and the University of Nevada Reno.

  • Disclaimer The funding agency played no role in the conduct of the research or the preparation of this article.

  • Competing interests EC and SAG have nothing to declare. SAB consults with the WHO FCTC Secretariat which promoted the ratification of the Protocol.

  • Patient consent Not required.

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