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“It always seems impossible until it is done,” Nelson Mandela.

In a recent message, an ASH ally used this famous quote to encapsulate the long and arduous journey they’d embarked on to advocate for their government’s complete ban of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by the tobacco industry.

But let’s take a step back. What is CSR, and why is tobacco industry CSR so unique?

Corporate social responsibility is an opportunity for the private sector to positively affect the communities they operate in.  Today, social responsibility for individuals, organizations, corporations, and more has become a driving force and tool to manage reputation.

The tobacco industry is similar yet different. They fund certain charitable causes, self-promote their donations, and cleverly refer to this marketing as CSR.  But there is no amount of charitable goodwill the tobacco industry can produce to mitigate the fact that their products kill up to half of their users (6 million across the globe annually), are an economic threat to families and governments, and if current trends persist, will kill 1 billion people (smokers and nonsmokers alike) in the 21st century.

One country has taken a stand against the extreme hypocrisy of tobacco industry CSR.  In 2008, the small African nation of Mauritius became the first country in the world to successfully ban tobacco industry CSR schemes by law (Mauritian Public Health Act of 2008).

Mauritius utilized the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) definition of “any form of contribution to any event, activity, or individual with the aim, effect, or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use directly or indirectly.” This demonstrates Mauritius’ high-level of commitment to tobacco control and public health policy, which they achieved despite the fact that the African continent and many other low- to middle- income countries are prime targets of the ever-expanding tobacco industry.

There are still over 60 countries with operating tobacco industry CSR programs specifically aimed at circumventing tobacco marketing restrictions as highlighted in the ASH Tobacco Marketing Map.

One thing is clear.

The tobacco industry cannot be allowed to continue to provide donations to the communities it is simultaneously hurting with its products. ASH tracks these marketing schemes and is working toward CSR advocacy initiatives that will help policy makers globally.

If you’ve been a witness to tobacco industry misconduct, share your story with us by submitting a message to CSR@ash.org.

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