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“Top employer”: To produce a product that kills half its customers

26 January 2024

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is boasting its achievement in receiving certification as top employer for the 10th consecutive time. But in its announcement, it omitted providing a more complete the picture of what its 46,000 employees located all around the globe do at work everyday – produce, promote and market a product that kills more than half its customers prematurely.

JTI is among the top tobacco companies operating in the ASEAN region selling billions of sticks of cigarettes (Table 1).

 Table 1: JTI’s market share among ASEAN countries

 

Top company in the country

JTI market share (%)

JTI cigarette sales 2022 (Million sticks)

Cambodia

1

22.5%*

1,983.0

Malaysia

2

25.4%

1,270.0

Myanmar

2

3,157.6

Philippines

2

26.4%

17,210.0

Singapore

2

24.3%

488.9

Thailand

2

4.0%*

2,084.2

Vietnam

5

0.1%

*Source: GlobalData 2023; https://tobaccowatch.seatca.org/index.php/2016/09/26/ti-market-share-2/

In Cambodia, JTI is the top tobacco company selling nearly 2 billion sticks of cigarettes and has been found to violate the ban on tobacco advertising by using media to promote “JTI” to mean “Join the Idea” to do promotions and undermine stronger tobacco control measures such as tax increase.

In Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Singapore, where JTI is the No.2 tobacco company, despite bans on tobacco advertising and promotions, JTI has brand managers and marketing directors to promote its brands in the country. This is to support increased sales of tobacco which will frustrate the efforts of the governments to reduce tobacco use and protect public health.

In the Philippines, JTI was recognized for its CSR activities through an event organised by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority under the purview of the Department of Trade and Industry. Such an endorsement of a tobacco company is in violation of the Civil Service Commission-Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular which limits public officials’ interaction with the tobacco industry to only when strictly necessary for regulation and control.

In Indonesia, where the bulk of the 65 million smokers smoke kretek cigarettes, it was taking JTI a while to increase sales and grow its profits selling white cigarettes. Hence in 2017, JTI acquired local kretek cigarette manufacturing company PT. Karyadibya Mahardhika and its distributor PT. Surya Mustika Nusantara. JTI now claims to have grown from an importer company to one of the biggest manufacturing companies in the Indonesian tobacco industry. However, data on tobacco companies in Indonesia indicate the top 5 tobacco companies shows several companies controlling the tobacco market.

As the year rolls out, other transnational tobacco companies are expected to trumpet their “top employer award” too as if it is a good thing to shout about.

Every year, globally, more than 8 million people die from tobacco related diseases while millions more suffer from its devastating effects on health, economy and the environment. Big Tobacco has not accepted liability for these deaths and suffering, instead is maintaining addiction to nicotine by persuading smokers to switch to their new range of nicotine products which are still harmful.

In 2022, the revenue size of the global tobacco products market was US$912 billion and is projected to increase in the coming years (Table 2).

Table 2: Top tobacco companies globally*

 

Stick sales**

Revenue (US$)

BAT

605 billion

34.06 billion

PMI

621 billion

31.76 billion

Imperial Brands Plc

 

21.57 billion

Japan Tobacco Inc

519.4 billion

20.23 billion

ITC Ltd

 

8.88 billion

KT&G Corp

14.8 billion

4.49 billion

*Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/259204/leading-10-tobacco-companies-worldwide-based-on-net-sales/

**Source: https://www.tobaccoasia.com/features/combustibles-not-burnt-out-yet/

This is a predatory industry that will not stop marketing its harmful product. Governments must be serious about the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control if they want to see faster declines in tobacco use. SEATCA’s FCTC Scorecard shows while some governments are making good progress, there is no room for complacency and governments need to fast track their efforts.

 

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