Under normal circumstances doctors will not be thanking the tobacco industry, nor will health departments be endorsing any charities from tobacco companies. But these are not normal times. Citizens and governments of practically every country are vulnerable and facing unprecedented challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic. The tobacco industry is actively exploiting these vulnerable times and has stepped up its CSR activities across the ASEAN region.
The TI Monitoring (TIM) team from the ASEAN region identified examples (see table below) examples of TI activities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam this past several weeks. There is a range of charity the TI is conducting (Table 1), including the following:
- Handing out monetary donations to health department and medical professionals;
- Donating an ambulance to the Indonesian Red Cross although the International Red Cross Federation has a clear policy of non-engagement with the tobacco industry;
- Donating equipment, such as scanners, to the police department.
- Coursing donations through prominent NGOs to assist the poor.
- Donating masks, water, alcohol sanitisers to city officials.
In Indonesia, where about 240,000 people die from tobacco related diseases every year, the third largest tobacco company, PT Djarum, donated an ambulance to the Indonesia Red Cross. While the Red Cross conducts much needed and valued emergency relief during calamities or pandemic, it appears the Indonesian chapter is unaware of its parent body’s policy of non-engagement with the tobacco industry.
The Philippines has about 16 million smokers and the local subsidiary of Philip Morris International, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC), controls over 70 percent of the cigarette market. It appears the Joint-Memorandum Circular between the Department and Health and the Civil Service Commission, which provides a code regulating public officials to meet with tobacco industry when only strictly necessary, is being undermined under current circumstances. PMFTC has catapulted itself to the forefront with the donations to city officials and the health department. Even the Philippines National Police, who are enforcement officers who implement smoke-free public places, have become recipients of PMFTC’s charity.
In Vietnam, while CSR activities by tobacco companies are allowed, their publicity is prohibited. However, the charitable donation from Vinataba to Bach Mai hospital to fight the Covid-19 pandemic has side-stepped prohibition and received publicity in the media with the representative of Bach Mai Hospital thanking the tobacco company.
The cruel twist here is that it is the smokers who pay for all these so-called charity from the tobacco companies. Sadly, smokers and vapers are more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) and health departments are warning smokers to quit smoking and vaping. Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies on the other hand are not warning their customers to stop purchasing their tobacco products.
WHO FCTC Article 5.3 warns governments to protect their public health measures from the tobacco industry’s interference and this includes rejecting charities from the industry.
In these trying times, there is also some tobacco control measures shining through. The mayor of General Luna town in Quezon in the Philippines has ordered a temporary ban on the sale and purchase of cigarettes starting 30 March as part of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the province. This is in line with the warning from WHO and health departments that the smoking, vaping or using e-cigarette is harmful to the body, including the respiratory and cardiovascular system.
If you have a story or photo of courage in resisting the tobacco industry, share with us. Send to: email@example.com
Table 1: Examples of TI related CSR activities from ASEAN countries
7 April 2020
PT Gudang Garam handed over an ambulance to Indonesian Red Cross in Kediri
Gudang Garam’s Director of Human Resources and Public Services said this is a perfect time to be able to provide help that is useful in a Covid-19 pandemic situation. Kediri City Government hoped Gudang Garam can help in maintaining the blood supply managed by Red Cross in Kediri during this pandemic.
2 April 2020
PT Djarum’s Bakti Sosial Djarum Foundation provided assistance in the form of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for medical personnel in Kudus Regency, Central Java to handle COVID-19 patients. The assistance with a value of more than Rp1.5 billion (94,500 USD) was given to the Kudus COVID-19 Prevention and Handling Task Force Team. Program Manager of Bakti Sosial Djarum Foundation, said this assistance is to express their concern for the community and environment in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
7 April 2020
JTI – MyKasih raises RM 3mil for Food Aid
The MyKasih Foundation, a private charity organization, raised RM 3 million (692,000 USD) to assist the poor with food aid in Pahang, Kelantan, Perak and Selangor. Key donors include individuals, as well as corporations such as Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Malaysia.
26 March 2020
Myanmar traditional cheroot producers association
donate cash to the National Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),
Ministry of Health and Sports in Nay Pyi Taw received donation of K 35million (25,000 USD) from the Myanmar traditional cheroot producers association. The Union Minister for Health and Sports Dr Myint Htwe, received the donation and thanked the donors. (Translated by Kyaw Zin Tun, Global New Light of Myanmar, 26-03-2020)
16 March 2020
The Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation Inc. (JVOFI – funded by PMI) donated thermal scanners through Philippines National Police personnel at border checkpoints.
27 March 2020
Lucio Tan (LT) Group, Inc. donated ethyl alcohol, bottled water and face masks to frontline health workers leading the fight against COVID-19. The LT group, through “Help Flows” is supported by LT Group member firms Asia Brewery Inc., Eton Properties Philippines Inc., PMFTC Inc.’s Embrace CSR program, Tanduay Distillers Inc., Philippine National Bank and sister company Philippine Airlines.
28 March &
1 April 2020
PMFTC donation to the Philippines National Police. Facebook posting thanks PMFTC for their 10,000 face mask donation.
1 April 2020
Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, through his Facebook account, thanked PMFTC for its donation of 10,000 pieces of surgical masks to their province. He also admitted that he personally sent a text message to PMFTC to request for these masks.
1 April 2020
The Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation Inc. (funded by PMFTC), facebook posting – donates personal protective gears to the City of Baguio, Baguio-PNP and PNP-National Headquarters. Donations to PNP-HQ claimed that it was facilitated by Sen. Bato dela Rosa.
9 April 2020
PMFTC donated 50 collapsible hospital beds to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. These will be installed at the converted Subic gym as SBMA prepares for a possible surge in Covid-19 cases.
27 March 2020
Vinataba financially supports Bach Mai hospital in the fight against Covid-19
Vinataba presented VND300 million (12,788 USD), 1,000 medical protective clothes and 2 mobile disinfection chambers to Bach Mai hospital, to support the work on preventing Covid-19 in the hospital. Dr Pham Manh Hung, Director of Vietnam Heart Institute and Dr Hoang Thi Phu Bang, representative of Bach Mai Hospital expressed their sincere thanks to Vinataba.