12 June 2021
The tobacco industry in Malaysia rolled out its charity, endorsed by senior officials, after which the industry obtained approval to continue production during the national lockdown. During the lockdown economic activity is limited to only essential goods and services, but clearly the tobacco industry was given an exception. This is textbook tobacco industry tactic to use its CSR activities to build its public image and exert influence on policy makers.
Three days before World No Tobacco Day, the Health Minister received personal protection equipment’ (PPE) sponsorship from a local NGO, Yayasan Salam Malaysia, (Salam) at the Ministry of Health in Putrajaya. The sponsorship, worth RM220,000 (US$54,000), was from Philip Morris International Malaysia. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Health and an executive from PMI Malaysia were present at the ceremony to receive the contribution which was promoted on the ministry’s official facebook. Salam is a regular recipient of PMI’s CSR charity for many years.
28 May 2021: Health Minister receiving charity from Salam Foundation, sponsored by PMI Malaysia
21 August 2020: JTI Malaysia contributes RM150,000 of PPE to the police, received by IGP
In August last year, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) presented RM150,000 ($37,000) worth of PPE to the Royal Polis of Malaysia (PDRM). The Inspector General of Police was presented the mock check by the CEO of JTI Malaysia.
Although tobacco is not an essential product, on 1 June 2021, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) granted permission to the tobacco industry to conduct its operations during the pandemic following the standard operating procedure provided by the government.
Tobacco control advocates were incensed by this move and expressed their objection appealing to MITI to reconsider their decision on tobacco, a non-essential item.
Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister made a confounding statement that although cigarettes are listed as non-essential, however they can be sold during this period to cater to the needs of smokers because they are “‘essential’ to cigarette addicts”.
Smoking increases the risk of COVID-19 infection and the risk of experiencing more severe COVID-19 symptoms. It is diabolical for an industry which sells a product that kills half of its customers prematurely to conduct charity focusing on health and participate in addressing the pandemic.
Every year, almost 30,000 Malaysians lose their lives due to tobacco use. There are about 5 million smokers and there is no record of how many of them were affected during COVID-19 pandemic. But the tobacco industry has permission to continue selling its cigarettes during the pandemic.
Visit https://seatca.org/world-no-tobacco-day-2021/ for the #UnFilteredTruth and ‘These numbers don’t lie’.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls these CSR activities a form of promotion (Article 13) and hence recommend they be banned. Since the CSR activities can be used to influence policy makers, the FCTC calls for these activities to be denormalized (Article 5.3).
In the ASEAN region, CSR activities by the tobacco industry during the pandemic directed at the health sector and enforcement agencies were observed in Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
In the Philippines, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp disbursed its charity through local foundations. The Civil Service Commission-Department of Health’s Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) limits the interaction of the bureaucracy with the tobacco industry to only when strictly necessary. The JMC prohibits public officials from endorsing and receiving donations from the tobacco industry.
There is now a move to introduce a bill on CSR which will remove this firewall around government officials, increasing the risk of the tobacco industry’s influence on public policy and interference with tobacco regulation. This investigative report, Is the Philippines’ CSR Bill a Trojan horse for corporate business? throws light on who is behind this bill and its potential impact on public health.
For more information on tobacco related CSR activities see Whitewashing a harmful business.