Opposing Goals: The Tobacco Industry vs. Public Health


Author: Vivienne Brandt, ASH Policy and Communications Intern

In 2003, the World Health Organization concluded negotiations of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which reaffirmed the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of health. This international treaty lays out the best practices to end the tobacco epidemic. FCTC Article 5.3 obligates Parties to “protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry,” recognizing that involving tobacco companies in the regulation of their own products undermines public health.

The tobacco industry blatantly attempts to interfere with public policy. To illustrate, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company said, “Company strategy: defeat or limit legislative attempts to increase cigarette taxes, restrict cigarette advertising and promotion, limit smoking opportunities and regulate industry matters.” Moreover, in 2019, Altria and JUUL backed a Tobacco 21 bill in Arizona that would have blocked cities, towns and counties from regulating the sale of tobacco products. Instead of prioritizing public health, tobacco companies prioritize preemption because they have less influence at the local level.

In response to continual violations of the spirit of Article 5.3, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) created the ​​U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 to show that U.S. tobacco companies continue to work behind the scenes to kill, weaken, or delay legislation proven essential to reducing tobacco use. In other words, the U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index emphasizes why the tobacco industry should not be involved in tobacco legislation.

One year following the release of the U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index, ASH plans to create a detailed lobbyist tracker. ASH aims to develop and maintain an online advocacy toolkit, using publicly available data in each state to track key indicators of tobacco industry interference in public policy. Looking through each individual state, ASH has researched every lobbyist working for the tobacco industry and documented all conflicts of interest. This research will shed light on the people with whom public policy makers should not associate. Along with the tobacco industry lobbyists, ASH identified tobacco control advocates within each state, such as the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network, and Tobacco-Free Kids, which are paid lobbyists on our side. It became apparent that, in many states, the tobacco industry lobbyists far outnumber the tobacco control advocates.

Lawmakers across the United States should actively reject tobacco industry misinformation, donations, and other forms of influence. Advocates should seek to expose the activities of tobacco industry lobbyists and front groups.

As a society, we must prioritize our collective health over the profit of a few, and that begins by excluding the tobacco industry from policy making.