Toxic Dependence: How industry shapes tobacco control policies to its advantage

Based on analysis of publicly available information, interviews with participants, and other sources, the authors establish and describe a mechanism of conveying messages and interests of tobacco industry to decision makers in Bulgaria, which distorts health policies in its favor. Annually the tobacco industry kills nearly 8 million people world over through chronic non-communicable diseases directly or indirectly caused by the use of its products. Governments’ determination to limit and eliminate tobacco use is irreversible since the entry into force of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) ratified by Bulgaria in 2005.

To keep profiting, tobacco companies send false and manipulative messages to governments and society. They deny and undermine anti-tobacco measures, challenge their effectiveness, and construct an appealing image of their industry. They oppose increasing excise duties and claim that their smokeless tobacco products reduce the harm of tobacco use. We reveal how these misleading messages reach society, mass media, and especially tobacco control policy decision-makers.

Intermediaries play a key role in the process. These are organizations, companies and individuals who receive funding, grants and donations from the tobacco industry. They formulate recommendations and messages to the industry’s convenience, which influence the forming of tobacco control policies, or simply polish the industry’s image.

Possible intermediaries include law firms which submit opinions to public hearings that favor the industry. Actors such as the National Patient Organization or Arbilis – a health conference organizer and health journals’ publisher – also perform intermediary functions. At least two think tanks funded by the tobacco industry have actively influenced the government to mitigate and prevent tobacco control policies: The Institute for Market Economics and the Center for the Study of Democracy. Other leading scientific and research institutions are also recipients of funding from tobacco companies.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris Bulgaria (PMB) funds a year-long charity program of the BCause Foundation in the tobacco-producing regions of Bulgaria, using its accomplishments to build its positive socially tolerable image – a practice explicitly defined as inadmissible sponsorship by the FCTC Implementation Guidelines for Article 13. 24 Chasa, Trud, and many other media organizations accept the tobacco industry’s sponsorship while promoting its interests and messages in their content. The reputable business newspaper Capital organizes events sponsored by a tobacco company while accommodating its corporate reports and messages on its website.

The ultimate recipients of all these are institutions and individuals who formulate or implement the state’s tobacco control policies – including MPs, the ministries of economy and finance, and the Customs Agency among others. Adults, young people, pupils, students, specialists, scientists and experts, as well as doctors and medical professionals, are also affected.

Specific cases used for this analysis include: debates and decisions to refuse or minimize excise duties on heated tobacco products; a recent proposal for the establishment of a National Council for Coordinating the Implementation of the FCTC; insinuations that increasing excise duties should boost illicit trade or that heated tobacco products are safer; as well as grants, projects and corporate social responsibility which “whitewash” the image of the tobacco industry.

The full text of the report is available here.