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Japan Tobacco corporate social responsibility activities misleadingly claim to advance Sustainable Development Goals
  1. Tomoyasu Hirano
  1. Institute for Cancer Control, National Cancer Center, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tomoyasu Hirano, National Cancer Center, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan; tohirano{at}

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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015, is a collective plan of action to achieve the agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) via 169 targets. SDG 3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for the entire population of all age groups.1 One of the measures to achieve this goal is strengthening the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in all countries (Target 3.a). Implementing the WHO FCTC and other best tobacco control measures is essential to meet Target 3.4: a one-third reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable diseases. The WHO FCTC is one of only three international conventions included as a specific target in the SDGs.2

Article 13 of the WHO FCTC requires a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS). According to the Conference of Parties guidelines for implementing Article 5.3 and Article 13, corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities by the tobacco industry should be banned as they are a type of TAPS.3 4 In other countries, the tobacco industry’s efforts to promote CSR activities have been reported and analysed.5 6

Japan Tobacco (JT) continues to engage in CSR activities and aggressively advertises its contributions to SDGs across the nation and internationally.7 Previous studies have demonstrated that the tobacco industry’s CSR advertising distorts perceptions and influences editorial content to be more favourable for tobacco industry interests.5

Recently, as evident from Japanese regional print and broadcast media, attempts have been made to create a favourable public perception of the tobacco industry through SDG-oriented initiatives. An advertisement published in the Fukushima Minpo newspaper on 15 May 2022 stated that the JT Fukushima Branch is committed to the achievement of SDGs.8 It was also declared that the company would ‘promote CSR and SDGs initiatives that are more closely integrated with our local base in Fukushima Prefecture’, in addition to the existing activities such as ‘promotion of separate smoking environments’, ‘let’s love our towns by picking up [littered cigarette butts] campaign’ and ‘support for the reconstruction of East Japan [which suffered extensive and severe structural damage due to the earthquake and tsunami)’ (figure 1).8

Figure 1

Advertisement of JT Fukushima Branch in the 15 May 2022 edition of Fukushima Minpo newspaper. CSR, corporate social responsibility; SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals.

On 10 May 2022, Kochi Sansan Television reported that Kochi City presented a letter of appreciation to JT for donating an outdoor smoking area in Kochi City’s Central Park.9 Although the news report did not mention the SDGs, a clear association with them was visually implied when the scene showed a letter of appreciation being presented by the city mayor to JT branch manager with the city’s SDG campaign wallpaper in the background (figure 2).9 The city’s collaboration with the tobacco industry for the smoking area also plainly violates Japan’s obligation under WHO FCTC Article 5.3 and implementing guidelines, which pertain to the national government and subnational-level authorities.4

Figure 2

News video produced by Kochi Sansan TV on 10 May 2022. The JT branch manager is presented in front of Kochi City’s SDG campaign banner (with Kochi City official logo mark at the bottom right). JT, Japan Tobacco; SDG, Sustainable Development Goal.

In these advertisements, JT’s claim about the company’s belief regarding both smokers and non-smokers accepting one another and ‘mutually coexisting in society’ might be a simple act to normalise tobacco smoking in public places by increasing the social acceptability of smoking.10 The author believes that there would be a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between claims about ‘coexistence’ in JT’s CSR and the public health policy to meet specific targets in the SDGs. Education on sustainable development has been promoted in all schools since 2020 through new courses.11 Elementary, junior and senior high school students have started learning about SDGs. The deceptive claims of the tobacco industry regarding SDGs may mislead vulnerable minors. The industry’s encouragement and promotion of designated smoking rooms/areas8 9 is an intrinsic threat to Target 3.a of the SDGs. Tobacco industry entities can contribute to the SDGs by complying with the obligations and underlying intentions of the WHO FCTC and implementing guidelines, and by desisting from all CSRs and TAPS immediately.2–4 They should also contribute to the WHO FCTC by ceasing the sale of tobacco and other nicotine products. As multinational companies are especially active in low/middle-income countries, they need to address the negative commercial determinants of health attributable to their conduct by stopping their lobbying, CSR, marketing activities and tobacco product sales in every country.5 12 They must quit obstructing progress and instead support the implementation of the WHO FCTC and, in particular, the MPOWER measures in all the countries.13 Comprehensive and strictly enforced TAPS ban and regulations to preclude the tobacco industry’s promotion of claimed CSR activities should be implemented, as required for all Parties to the WHO FCTC.

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  • Funding This study was funded by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare under the Fund for Tobacco Research and Analysis Project. This study was a component project commissioned by the National Cancer Center (R4).

  • Competing interests None declared.

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