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New Report Outlines Increase in Tobacco Companies Interfering in U.S. Public Health Policymaking
Safeguards are Needed to Ensure Public Health Goals are Prioritized Over Industry Profits
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 5, 2023 – Today, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) released the 2023 U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index which uses seven topical indicators to score the growing level of tobacco industry interference in U.S. public health policymaking against globally agreed upon best practices. This 4th edition of the Index shows a trend of increased interference by tobacco companies and their front groups to slow or weaken public health regulations.
“The tobacco industry continuously undermines public health efforts aimed at addressing the harmful effects of tobacco use to protect their market interests, so the U.S.’ worsening score is unfortunately not a surprise,” said Nichelle Gray, Lead Author of the Index and Manager of Engagement and Special Programs at Action on Smoking and Health. “To safeguard public health interests, it is imperative that tobacco companies are actively excluded from the policymaking process.”
Tobacco companies will always prioritize their profits over public health, and the interference examples outlined in the Index reflect just that.
“For decades, the tobacco industry has operated through front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to buy direct access to our state lawmakers in order to push for industry-friendly legislation that directly harms our communities,” said Juliana Broad, Investigative Reporter at The Center for Media Democracy. “Although tobacco giants like Altria claim to be in the business of ‘tobacco harm reduction,’ it’s clear that their only interest is their bottom-lines, and they will keep using any avenues available to them to rig laws in their own favor.”
One example from South Carolina is from 2023 when industry-backed legislation was introduced with the aim of restricting local governments from imposing additional regulations on tobacco products. Senator Lawrence K. Grooms, who received campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, was one of the bill’s proponents. Despite concerns about diminishing the authority of local communities in enacting tobacco-related legislation, the bill passed the South Carolina subcommittee to the detriment of long-term public health regulations in the state.
The Index indicators were established by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), the Global Center for Good Governance (GGTC) and Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) to align with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which clarifies the overt conflict of interest and threat to public health that exists when tobacco companies are permitted to influence the regulation of their own deadly products.
Each of the seven Index indicators is scored on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 meaning a greater level of interference, and comes with a customized recommendation for improvement in that area. The U.S. score of 76/100 indicates a high level of interference and an increase from previous years.
To better mitigate tobacco industry interference and strengthen tobacco control policies in the U.S., the 2023 Index report recommends the following comprehensive measures:
- Raising awareness of the WHO FCTC provisions on industry interference,
- Implementing longer cooling-off periods for public officials transitioning to lobbying,
- Closing loopholes in ethics guidelines,
- Relying on independent studies for FDA drug approvals,
- Adopting a code of conduct for officials,
- Educating lawmakers on industry interference, and
- Mandating disclosure of philanthropic donations.
Accurate reporting on industry interference fosters an environment conducive to effective lawmaking. It promotes transparency and accountability among lawmakers and regulatory entities. In the U.S., like most nations, the tobacco industry thrives in secrecy, shielding its policy-influencing strategies from public scrutiny.
By implementing the 2023 Index recommendations, the government can address conflicts of interest, promote transparency, and protect public health through improving tobacco control policies.
ACTION ON SMOKING AND HEALTH
Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. ash.org
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Previous Editions of the Index