Obscure awards for a desperate industry

14 April 2016

From New York to Jakarta to Manila, the tobacco industry seems to be handed awards left, right and centre – that is the impression the industry is creating for itself in the media. The tobacco companies desperately need awards and recognition to redeem their public image.

We look at a few recent awards, some of which are obscure to general public. In November last year for example one news report said Philip Morris International (PMI) was recognised as a “Global leader in tackling climate change”. PMI was reportedly in the “A” List for top performers and the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) for “quality and transparency of reporting”. How strange, considering the tobacco industry is a known polluter.

Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded waste product in the world. Researchers estimate every year one to two-thirds of the cigarettes butts, i.e. between 2 and 4 trillion cigarettes, are tossed into the surrounding environment, buried in landfills, or dumped into storm drains. PMI should not be praised, instead it should pay for the pollution it causes as outlined in this research paper.

‘Top employer’ is another award the tobacco companies are routinely obtaining for so called “excellent work environment and exceptional development opportunities for employees”. A business based on selling a highly addictive product is lucrative to the tune of many billions and can offer big perks to employees. PMI was recognized as aTop employer in Europe and in the Middle East by the Top Employers Institute, as wasJTI.

Poor people form the bulk of smokers, especially in Indonesia, a country which is a huge profitable market for PMI. Government officials are oblivious to the fact that it is the smokers who ultimately pay the tax on tobacco. In January this year, the Ministry of Finance awarded 4 tobacco companies for being the top tax payers (90%) in 2015.PMI’s PT HM Sampoerna tbk, which controls about 35% of the Indonesian cigarette market, paid the largest tax of approximately Rp67 trillion (US$5b) it collected from smokers.

In the Philippines, the second largest tobacco company, Mighty Corp, was runningpublicity articles in the media announcing it will receive an award from the Philippine Council of Management Research Institute (PHILCOMAN) for a range of over-exaggerated and embellished claims of contributions, such as “adherence to nationalism, leadership and governance, and religious activities”.

Mighty Corp reminded the public again and again that it was going to receive an award. A closer look revealed one of Mighty’s own member of the Board of Trustees was also the Chair of the PHICOMAN’s 40th Congress, and awarded his own company. The obvious conflict of interest was lost on those giving and receiving the award.

In addition to getting obscure awards, the industry also creates its own awards. PMI’s Philippines subsidiary, PMFTC, runs its own Bright Leaf Awards for Agriculture Journalism from which it gets its stock feature stories and photos on tobacco growing to promote in the media all year round. The prize for last year’s competition included cash, an ipad and a four-day paid holiday to Hanoi, Vietnam. See here how this media tactic circumvents a ban on tobacco promotions in the media and runs foul to the government’s efforts to get tobacco growers onto alternate livelihoods.

Tobacco companies need awards desperately so they can publicise their name in the media repeatedly – a poor attempt to repair the devastation, disease and suffering their business causes to society.

Previous ASEAN Tobacco Watch updates can be found here.