Tobacco companies sponsor community activities and projects that are associated with the poor. However no amount of community work can exonerate an industry peddling a product that is addictive, causes diseases, and brings early death.
Annually the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly produces a list of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities and these can be done through government departments/agencies or via government non-tobacco-related health initiatives (e.g. nutrition, malaria, disaster relief, etc.). PMPMI supports the Excise Department on various occasions. Basing on the same strategy, PMPMI provided relief funds for typhoon victims in 2007 and 2008 in the Philippines. Lucio Tan’s Foundation sponsors an annual series of medical conference that is open to the public and it also actively provides for disaster relief and medical missions to obtain good public standing and gain approval from the Philippines government.
CSR is very much alive in Cambodia and Vietnam in the form of subsidy to farmers, houses for the poor and disaster relief aid. In 2007, BAT Cambodia organized a study tour for members of parliament to Kompong Cham.18 Similar type of industry sponsored study tour for government officers is also an on-going event in Vietnam.
In Malaysia, BAT had a Youth Smoking Prevention (YSP) Programme which ceased after the government launched its ‘Tak Nak’ (Say No) campaign in 2004. However, in the Philippines over the past nine years, PM has been conducting a YSP with the University of Asia and the Pacific under the theme “I am S.T.R.O.N.G.”. YSP was also carried out in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam between 2005 and 2006.
PM in Thailand has been funding and holding drugs prevention programmes. It also has offered scholarships, educational, art or sport programmes, environmental initiatives and research programmes. BAT (Malaysia) offers scholarships to selected students and conducted reforestation programmes just as in Cambodia, except that in Cambodia the industry also carried out career development talks. What the industry refrained from highlighting is the fact that despite the reforestation programme, it is an industry that uses much natural resource – wood – to cure tobacco leaves, produce paper for various parts of the cigarettes, its packs, and even the filter which actually is cellulose acetate.
Between 1994 and 2007, PMPMI held its PM Philippines Arts Awards and in 2007 and 2008, it introduced the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards. Recent contribution to schools also manifested in the form of donation of three Toyota Corollas by PMPMI to support the Department of Education’s Adopt-a-School Programme 2008 by PMPMI through its affiliate, Philippine Band of Mercy (PBM). Fortune Tobacco Corp. also donated to the Adopt-a-School programme.
In 2007, while continuing to promote its cancer-causing products, PMPMI ironically presented a cheque to a cancer group based in Bantangas where its manufacturing plant is located.
During that same year, many press releases were issued by PMPMI when it opened a Regional Warehouse in Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The story highlighted to boost the Philippine economy and failed to mention the addiction and deaths its products cause. To facilitate its public relations effort, reporters were invited to tour the PMPMI factory and subsequently a late evening documentary on a major television network featured the plant tour.
‘Educational’ tours for journalists to factories or farms are effective in building networks with the press and projecting a good image for both the government and the public. In December 2006, PM Thailand sponsored and organised such a tour for a group of journalists from the Association of Economic Journalism to visit the Royal Flora Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, while exposing them to its PM-sponsored youth and environmental programme.
In 2008, the industry in Indonesia presented journalism awards to improve its relationship with the press and ultimately press coverage. The industry needs the press to keep its good image alive in the public eye.