You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our site.


Philip Morris agreement with Spanish police: undermining the FCTC?

2 Dec, 15 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

On 29 October, Philip Morris Spain signed an agreement with the Spanish police to fund equipment including underwater cameras, night vision systems, and scanners for verifying authentication and tracking of tobacco products. The agreement also includes support during inspections and seizures of counterfeit products to assess possible illegal activities regarding the entire production and distribution chain, as well as research and studies about illicit tobacco.

The agreement takes place against the backdrop of a hotly contested battle for the European Commission’s approach to track and trace technology to meet the requirements of the revised European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Unlike the WHO protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (which the EU has signed, but not ratified), the TPD doesn’t exclude the tobacco industry from a central role in fighting illicit tobacco. The track and trace system supported by the TPD also doesn’t require secured markings on tobacco packages.

The tobacco industry is arguing for its own technology Codentify – a system developed by Philip Morris and licenced at no cost to BAT, Imperial Tobacco Group and Japan Tobacco International – against a Swiss company SICPA. Officials at the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, have already thrown support behind Codentify and expressed concern that the SICPA technology may be incompatible with working agreements currently in place with the tobacco industry to combat smuggling.

OLAF’s support ignores significant concerns about the adequacy of Codentify, particularly its use of relatively unsecured equipment and potential for codes to be used more than once. Use of Codentify also opens up the possibility that investigations and inquiries could be transparent to the tobacco industry, and therefore potentially beneficial in shaping its reponse.

OLAF has noted that efforts to disrupt illicit tobacco rely on the input of the industry, a situation created by anti-smuggling agreements between tobacco companies, the EC and EU member states. The agreements were enacted with companies from 2004, following a case in the 1990s in which cigarettes were legally exported from the US and later appeared on the black markets of countries such as Italy, Spain and other European countries. The anti-smuggling agreements, due to expire in 2016, require tobacco companies to control their supply chain and set penalty payments for cigarette seizures. The agreements have generally been ineffective due to a range of loopholes, particularly because customs officials rely on industry to determine counterfeit cigarettes.

In the mid 1990s, it was estimated that 16% of the Spanish cigarette market was illegal. This was reduced to 2% in 2001, following a focused operation which included inter-jurisdictional cooperation, coordinated customs activity and participation in the EU investigation of cigarette smuggling by transnational tobacco companies. The main source of illegal cigarettes had been products from transnational tobacco companies supplying Spain via seaports. A 2014 OLAF report suggests that the illicit tobacco market in Spain has re-emerged and is fuelled by contraband originating in Gibraltar.

There is a lack of technical expertise in tracking and tracing in many European countries, creating a significant opportunity for the industry to step in and fill the gap. In addition, a comprehensive two year strategy and action plan to tackle illicit tobacco published by the EU in June 2013 – which aims to target supply and demand in illicit products, decrease smuggling incentives (primarily through tax harmonisation), improve security of the supply chain through tracing and tracking, and strengthen and coordinate enforcement – has no new budget allocation.

Philip Morris is likely to benefit from the agreement with the Spanish police in several ways. Apart from the obvious public image benefit of being seen to support strong law enforcement, providing apparently welcome assistance to police agencies in individual countries in Europe helps to cement the industry’s positioning as an essential partner in the fight against smuggling. Supplying research and ‘academic’ advice provides an opportunity for PMI to shape law enforcement expertise based on research favourable to its position.

In 2011, Philip Morris gave a donation of $23 million to Interpol; as with that donation, this agreement with the Spanish police generates goodwill within law enforcement and makes it appear that Philip Morris is part of the solution rather than a root cause of the problem.

Additional links:

Tasmania: Legislation drafted to implement a Tobacco Free Generation

4 Nov, 14 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Kathryn Barnsley

Breathe Well, Centre of Research Excellence for Chronic Respiratory Disease and Lung Ageing, University of Tasmania

In 2012 we reported that Tasmania was leading the way towards an endgame for smoking, by developing mechanisms for implementing the Tobacco Free Generation proposal (TFG).

Those who are familiar with the Tobacco Free Generation proposal by Professor Jon Berrick and his colleagues, will be aware that the tobacco-free generation proposal advocates legislation precluding the sale and supply of tobacco to individuals born after the year 2000.

In 2012 Hon Ivan Dean, a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council moved a motion in support of this proposition, which was carried unanimously.

The Minister for Health, Michelle O’Byrne at that time was interested in the idea and referred it to the Children’s Commissioner for consideration and consultation with the generation of children who would be affected by the proposal. The idea attracted international attention.

There was a change of government in May 2014, and the Labor/Green government lost the election. The Liberal Party (which in Australia is the more conservative party) is in power for the next four years. The Report of the Children’s Commissioner was not released before the election, and a new Commissioner was not appointed until recently. Liberal governments in Tasmania have a good record on tobacco control legislation, and initiated the measure to make it illegal for tobacco companies to tell “lies” about the health effects of tobacco.

In September Hon Ivan Dean announced that he would introduce a Private Members Bill to put the Tobacco Free Generation idea back on the agenda. It is unusual for Private Members Bills to emanate from the Tasmanian Upper House, the Legislative Council, and it will have to be approved in that chamber before going to the House of Assembly, controlled by the Government.

If passed, the law would come into effect in 2018 and over time the sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products would be gradually phased out. It is important to emphasise that smokers would not be criminalised or penalised. It is the commercial sales of cigarettes that would be phased out over the next forty years, and only the sellers would be subject to penalties.

The tobacco industry have tried to paint this proposal as “prohibition” and argue that black markets will emerge, and compared it to alcohol prohibition in the USA in the 1930s. Imperial Tobacco have responded to newspaper stories by hyping up the black market arguments, somewhat of an irony considering their convictions for smuggling in Canada and lambasting by a Parliamentary Committee in the UK.

The process is that the Bill will be tabled in the Tasmanian Parliament in November 2014 and will be debated next year – 2015, when the community and politicians have had time to consider it. The Bill, Clause Notes and Fact sheet will be able to be viewed on the Tasmanian Parliament website in late November 2014. It will be titled Public Health Amendment – Tobacco Free Generation Bill 2014.

China’s investment in Africa: consequences for tobacco control?

23 Sep, 13 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor



Sue Lawrence, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Recently, China’s economic growth recently may have fallen below its expected 6% rate, but it is more of dip than an indication of decline. Its pursuit of new markets is likely to continue undeterred (1) and this may have spillover effects for tobacco control.

China’s outward investment ‘going-out’ policy (also known as the ‘go global’ strategy) fulfills its quest for raw resources such as oil, gas, metal ores, copper, iron and steel. The policy has naturally led it to Africa, rich in raw resources and hungry for investors. Foreign direct investment in Africa is growing; in 2005 inflows totalled 31 billion USD (2). Trade between China and Africa is growing at an estimated 30% per year, with raw commodities from Africa flowing out, and economic cooperation to build factories and roads flowing in.  Eighty-two percent of Chinese investment is from state-owned enterprises, and focuses on investing in countries rich in natural resources and weak institutions  (3). Country stability, corruption and presence of other foreign investors are not factors in Chinese decisions about where to invest. From 2004 to 2006, China invested 288 USD million into Sudan, considered one of the world’s least democratic countries (3).  Based on principles of “non-interference with a country’s internal affairs”, it is less concerned with countries with unstable economies (2).

What does this investment mean in terms of tobacco control? China has always been a unique policy actor in the tobacco control arena.  The Chinese National Tobacco Company (CNTC) is of critical importance to China.  It employs over 4 million people as farmers, factory employees or retailers, and produced1.7 trillion cigarettes in 2009 for China’s 350 million smokers. In an effort to go global,  the CNTC reformed their import-export system in 2007 and created the China National Tobacco International Company (CNTIC) (4). Recently, the CNTIC  created a joint venture with the North Carolina to buy top quality Virginia flue-cured tobacco (5).  Moreover, in order to comply with international standards for the export  market, efforts are being made to lower tar levels (4). China’s cigarettes are high in heavy metals (arsenic, lead and cadmium) due to the high metal content in the soil (6).

China’s domestic tobacco control policies are porous, an issue which should be a red flag for tobacco control in host countries. The  1992 advertising ban, which bans broadcast and print advertising, was shown to be flimsy and easily circumvented (7). Even an updated version following the ratification of the FCTC was weak: ‘prohibition of the introduction of tobacco vending machines’ was implemented in two administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, but merely prohibited new machines, while allowing existing machines to remain (8). With loopholes that big, point of sale advertising prolific (7) and lack of compliance to work-place smoke-free policies (9), raising the alarm on China’s possible curtailing of African host nations policies is justified.

Tobacco growing is already a target. China imports tobacco from Zimbabwe and in turn, helped Zimbabwe process its tobacco into cigarettes in preparation for export (10).  Influence of tobacco policies from transnational tobacco companies has been well documented (11–18)  however, influence from states, less so.  China has signed the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) and could possibly be held accountable for its actions should the enforcement instruments be enacted.  China has proved that it can and will evade national legislation on labour laws as it has done in Zambia over mining laws (19) . External actors are a challenge plus, local policies may not have been implemented or enforced due to what are perceived as more pressing priorities.  As Collin notes, ‘tobacco control’s exclusion from the core priorities of leading international health and development donor agencies has been seen as contributing significantly to the difficulties involved in securing adequate funding to support  FCTC implementation in resource poor settings”  (Collin, page 276,  2012). China’s attraction to hosts with unstable, weak infrastructures, which has a tendency to evade legislation to achieve aims, combined with a host country whose policy implementation resources are diverted elsewhere and you have a potent opportunity for exploitation.

China signed the FCTC 2005. The FCTC upholds signatories to suggested tobacco policies to protect citizens from advertising, smoke-free workplaces, bans smoking in restaurants and bars, and urges control of smuggled products (8). Chinese officials have met with political and finance ministers  for investment opportunities in  South Africa, Angola, Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Libya  Senegal, Liberia, Egypt and Morocco (2). Of those countries, only Morocco and Tanzania have not ratified the FCTC with the former having signed but not ratified. Smoking prevalence rates vary in Sub-Sahara Africa with South Africa,  Kenya and Malawi with a quarter of the male population smoking and the latter two countries with long histories of tobacco growing and transnational tobacco investment (11,21)  Countries with lower rates such as Nigeria (10%) and Liberia (14%) and Uganda (16%) who are keen to invest with China should do as Zambia President Sata did and set firm limits on investment. President Sata implemented strong labour policies, increased minimum wage and changed taxation in order to protect Zambia’s copper wealth (19).

Conflict zones are potentially ripe for exploitation. Evidence indicates rampant smuggling of cigarettes to buy arms in central and eastern Africa and the black market is said to 15% of the total cigarette market (22).  Transnational tobacco companies have been accused of knowingly engaging with smuggling (12,22–25) and with China’s penchant for instability, may be an opportunity to good to resist.

What should the response be in terms of tobacco control? China’s investment into Africa is seen by many as the new development donor, providing welcome infrastructure and technical advice (2,10,19). However, this investment process may have dire consequences for tobacco control if left unchecked.  For every ray of sunshine, a shadow is cast and African states with existing tobacco control policies left unimplemented and unenforced may do well to protect their investments.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Professor Nadia Molenaers at the University of Antwerp


1.           Young A. China’s Finance Minister Says Second Half Growth Could Drop Toward 6% And Hints That Official 7.5% Estimate For 2013 Is Too High. International Business Times [Internet]. 2013 Jul 12; Available from:

2.           Biggeri M, Sanfilippo M. Understanding China’s move into Africa: an empirical analysis. Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies [Internet]. Routledge; 2009 Feb 1;7(1):31–54. Available from:

3.           Kolstad I, Wiig A. What determines China’s outward FDI? Journal of World Business. 2012;47:26–31.

4.           Glogan T. China-Still a Mecca for the tobacco industry. Tobacco Journal International [Internet]. 2008 Jan;Accessed July 16, 2013. Available from:

5.           Southeast Farms Press. China Tobacco International to open North Carolina office. Southeast Farm Press: Timely Reliable Information for Southeast Agriculture [Internet]. 2013;Accessed July 17, 2013. Available from:

6.           O’Connor R, Li Q, Edryd Stephens W, Hammond D, Elton-Marshall T, Cummings M, et al. Cigarettes sold in China: design, emissions and metals. Tobacco Control. 2010;Suppl 2:i47–i53.

7.           Yang Y, Li L, Yong H, Borland R, Wu X, Li Q, et al. Regional differences in awareness of tobacco advertising and promotion in China: findings from the ITC China Survey. Tobacco Control. 2010;19:117–24.

8.           World Health Organization. Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [Internet]. 25 June 2013 11:54 CEST. 2013 [cited 2013 Jul 16]. Available from:

9.           Ma J, Apelberg B, Avila-Tang E, Yang G, Ma S, Samet J, et al. Workplace smoking restrictions in China: results from six country survey. Tobacco Control. 2010;19:403–9.

10.        Besada H, Wang Y, Whalley J. China’s Growing Economic Activity in Africa [Internet]. Cambridge Massachusetts; 2008 p. 33. Available from: Africa.pdf

11.        Patel P, Collin J, Gilmore AB. “The law was actually drafted by us but the Government is to be congratulated on its wise actions”: British American Tobacco and public policy in Kenya. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2007 Feb 1;16 (1 ):e1–e1. Available from:

12.        Skafida V, Silver KE, Rechel BPD, Gilmore AB. Change in tobacco excise policy in Bulgaria: the role of tobacco industry lobbying and smuggling. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2012 Nov 10; Available from:

13.        Smith KE, Gilmore AB, Fooks G, Collin J, Weishaar H. Tobacco industry attempts to undermine Article 5.3 and the “good governance” trap. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2009 Dec 1;18 (6 ):509–11. Available from:

14.        Gilmore AB, McKee M. Moving East: how the transnational tobacco industry gained entry to the emerging markets of the former Soviet Union—part II: an overview of priorities and tactics used to establish a manufacturing presence. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2004 Jun 1;13 (2 ):151–60. Available from:

15.        Grüning T, Weishaar H, Collin J, Gilmore AB. Tobacco industry attempts to influence and use the German government to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2012 Jan 1;21 (1 ):30–8. Available from:

16.        Lawrence S, Collin J. Competing with kreteks: transnational tobacco companies, globalisation, and Indonesia. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2004 Dec 1;13 (suppl 2 ):ii96–ii103. Available from:

17.        Assunta M, Chapman S. The tobacco industry’s accounts of refining indirect tobacco advertising in Malaysia. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2004 Dec 1;13 (suppl 2 ):ii63–ii70. Available from:

18.        MacKenzie R, Collin J, Sriwongcharoen K, Muggli ME. “If we can just ‘stall’ new unfriendly legislations, the scoreboard is already in our favour”: transnational tobacco companies and ingredients disclosure in Thailand. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2004 Dec 1;13 (suppl 2 ):ii79–ii87. Available from:

19.        Spilsbury L. Can Michael Sata tame the Dragon and Channel Chinese Investment towards Development for Zambians? Journal of Politics & International Studies [Internet]. 2012;8(Winter):238–78. Available from:

20.        Collin J. Tobacco control, global health policy and development: towards policy coherence in global governance. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2012 Mar 1;21 (2 ):274–80. Available from:

21.        Kweyuh P. Tobacco expansion in Kenya-the socio-ecological losses. Tobacco Control. 1994;3:248–51.

22.        Titeca K, Joossens L, Raw M. Blood cigarettes: cigarette smuggling and war economies in central and eastern Africa. Tobacco Control. 2011;20:226–32.

23.        Collin J, LeGresley E, MacKenzie R, Lawrence S, Lee K. Complicity in contraband: British American Tobacco and cigarette smuggling in Asia. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2004 Dec 1;13 (suppl 2 ):ii104–ii111. Available from:

24.        Nakkash R, Lee K. Smuggling as the “key to a combined market”: British American Tobacco in Lebanon. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2008 Oct 1;17 (5 ):324–31. Available from:

25.        LeGresley E, Lee K, Muggli ME, Patel P, Collin J, Hurt RD. British American Tobacco and the “insidious impact of illicit trade” in cigarettes across Africa. Tobacco Control [Internet]. 2008 Oct 1;17 (5 ):339–46. Available from:


UK Department of Health invites former BAT executive Kenneth Clarke to speak on “Trade for Better Health”

26 Nov, 12 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Kelley Lee

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

In an email invitation to its “Health is Global, Partners Forum”, held on 22 November 2012, the UK Department of Health expressed pleasure that The Right Honourable Kenneth Clarke QC MP (Minister without portfolio and Trade Envoy) would speak on Trade for Better Health. The one-day meeting is an annual event bringing together key partners concerned with the UK’s Health is Global Strategy.

The DOH’s Global Health Team, however, could not have picked a more controversial British politician to headline its annual partners’ meeting. Clarke has been a Member of Parliament since 1970, serving as minister under the Thatcher, Major and now Cameron governments. His popularity has, in large part, been due to his personae as a somewhat jovial uncle. The controversy that has dogged his career, some argue preventing him from becoming Prime Minister, has been his close relationship with the tobacco industry.

After leaving office in 1998, Clarke became a director and deputy chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT), a position he occupied until 2007. The release of internal company documents led to allegations that he accepted hospitality from BAT while Chancellor of the Exchequer, in one case, thanking then BAT Chairman Patrick Sheehy for a “note and folder”, and promising to discuss it with the Treasury.

After joining the company, he played a leading role in expanding access to overseas markets such as Vietnam. When allegations broke of the company’s complicity in cigarette smuggling, Clarke defended BAT to the House of Commons Health Select Committee as “a company of integrity” and “an extremely good corporate citizen”. Evidence of smuggling has continued to accumulate including on Vietnam.

Upon returning to office as Justice Minister in 2010, and allegedly under pressure from business lobby groups, Clarke was accused of trying to delay and limit the jurisdiction of the Serious Fraud Office under the Bribery Act 2010.

All of this would suggest that Clarke is no friend to any strategy to promote “global health”. Yet the evident delight of the Global Health Team in inviting Clarke may reflect a shift in how the DOH is interpreting its mandate under this strategy. Launched with much fanfare by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008, development lay at the heart of the Labour government’s global health strategy. As described in The Lancet, “better health in poor countries is good for our own health, as well as being essential to improving wellbeing and tackling poverty globally.”

Under the present Coalition government, and during a period of economic austerity, global health has cosied up to trade policy.  Global health is a market opportunity, in other words, for UK plc to earn a few pounds.

This latest incarnation of Clarke, as a global health partner, is perhaps unsurprising. After all, Clarke is no stranger to irony. As health secretary from 1988-90 he remained infamous for his cigar smoking and less than healthy lifestyle. He was chancellor, responsible for ensuring that Customs and Excise were not cheated of its revenue, throughout the period when BAT is accused of smuggling billions of cigarettes worldwide. He was the company director who brokered the BAT-sponsored creation of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University. However, this didn’t stop the company maintaining operations in Burma and Uzbekistan.

He is now minister without a portfolio which, it would seem, gives him a free hand to have a jovial laugh at the expense of the DoH’s global health strategy.

European Parliamentary Committee and Japan Tobacco: a violation of article 5.3 of the FCTC?

11 Oct, 12 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Andrew Rowell and Anna Gilmore

Bath University, UK


On 17 September 2012, the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control held a public hearing on tobacco smuggling under the auspices of its Hercule III programme. Hercule III’s primary operational objective is to improve ‘the prevention and investigation of fraud, smuggling and counterfeiting, especially of cigarettes, by enhancing transnational and multi-disciplinary cooperation’.

Despite the European Commission being a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and thus obligated to abide by the treaty’s Article 5.3 which aims to protect policies ‘from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry’, the first speaker on the main panel on preventing smuggling was Steve Payne, Director of Anti-Illicit Government Relations at Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

Payne’s talk was on “the state of play, possible solutions and emerging threats” from the view of the “affected tobacco industry”. The industry has long tried to paint itself as a victim of tobacco smuggling – hence the word ‘affected tobacco industry’ in the title. This is despite the overwhelming evidence of its likely complicity in tobacco smuggling.

Due to JTI’s own alleged involvement in smuggling, the company agreed to pay $400 million in 2007 and signed an agreement with the Commission to combat smuggling and counterfeiting. Despite this, in November 2011, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a network of investigative journalists in Eastern Europe, unveiled the results of a major investigation into JTI’s apparent continued complicity in cigarette smuggling. The investigation, which was based on dozens of leaked documents, alleged that Russia and Middle East were the “hub of smuggling by JTI distributors”.

JTI’s own investigators said that JTI “did almost nothing” when faced with reports of “apparent rampant smuggling” and specifically that their distributors smuggled tobacco through Russia, Moldova, the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Middle East.  In one of the documents the head of the JTI’s compliance team wrote “JTI management has not lived up to the ‘zero-tolerance policy’ of smuggling” and, “in those cases that touch on smuggling into or via the European Union, has specifically and repeatedly violated (its obligations under the European Commission agreement of 2007)”.

Steve Payne, the person who spoke at the EU seminar, is copied in on some of the leaked documents published by the OCCRP. This includes one document where JTI’s director of corporate security, Nigel Espin, when presented with potentially incriminating documents suggesting that JTI employees were smuggling, warned that “JTI has no desire to obtain, retain or otherwise become privy to information proprietary to any investigative agency.”

Moreover, OLAF, the European Commission Anti-Fraud Unit, is currently investigating JTI over these allegations, but will not disclose what it has found. In addition, OLAF is also investigating JTI for possible sanctions busting and whether the tobacco giant broke rules by selling cigarettes to a firm linked to cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Given JTI’s history and these on-going fraud investigations, you might ask why JTI was invited to the European Parliament to give its point of view, including on ‘solutions’ to smuggling. Inevitably, given the industry’s ongoing efforts to reduce tobacco taxation levels, his presentation glossed over alleged industry involvement and instead identified high tax as the primary reason for smuggling.

Such claims contradict recent evidence from a pan-European survey which showed that price was not significantly related to levels of illicit tobacco use. Yet, although this survey was funded by the European Commission and provides some of the only independent data on illicit tobacco in Europe, its authors were not invited to give evidence.

If JTI’s alleged complicity in illegal activity was not enough to deter regulators, some might argue that the event violated Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Moreover, in a blog post, the OCCRP noted that: “it’s a bit ironic that JTI took the EU’s hearing as an opportunity to slam the illegal tobacco trade. Then again, maybe they’re just miffed about the boom in competition.”

TC blog homepage

TC Blog

Analysis and debate of the latest tobacco control research findings and policy developments. Visit site

Creative Comms logo

Latest from Tobacco Control

Latest from Tobacco Control