Since the tobacco industry’s own reports have no credibility to influence policy and legislation, the industry uses research institutions as lobby groups to reach policy makers. The industry contracts research institutions and researchers to conduct research on its behalf. They come up with pro-industry evidence which is then promoted in the media, presented to legislators, and used to push for industry friendly policies. Here are some examples of institutions and researchers who have represented tobacco industry positions in the ASEAN region.
Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), a Malaysian think tank founded in 2010, describes itself as an independent research institute committed to promoting research-backed solutions to public policy challenges.
Prior to 2015, it did not involve itself in tobacco control nor publish any materials related to tobacco. However since 2015, IDEAS has started publically voicing strong opposition to tobacco control measures in the mass media, at national and international fora and communications to international agencies. Its position on tobacco is reflective of the tobacco industry’s positions. The Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS, Mr. Wan Saiful Wan Jan, has a fortnightly column in a local English daily, The Star, which he also uses to write opinions that oppose stringent tobacco control measures.
IDEAS has vigorously opposed the following:
- Plain packaging of tobacco products; see here, here, here, here, here and here
- Excise tax increase on tobacco; see here, here and here
- Regulation of e-cigarettes; see here
IDEAS started receiving funds from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Philip Morris since 2015.
Through IDEAS, both Philip Morris and JTI have a strong lobby to oppose stringent tobacco control measures and advocate for pro-industry positions to the government.
IDEAS has also issued statements to protect intellectual property and advocated for more business friendly regulatory environment. The CEO has also been a panellist in several sessions of an international tobacco industry event, the 2015 Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum in Bologna, Italy.
International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC)
The International Tax and Investment Center, ITIC, is a Washington DC based institution whose sponsors include the major transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and JT International (JTI). The ITIC has conducted research on illicit tobacco trade in Asian countries in 2013 and 2014 funded by PMI. ITIC’s research which was done according to agreed terms of reference provided by Philip Morris Asia Ltd.
A critique has been done on both ITIC’s Asia-13 and Asia-14 research on illicit trade in tobacco to expose how there is More Myth than Fact and how the research has Failed because of flawed methodology, error and inflated data.
In September 2014, the WHO FCTC Convention Secretariat issued a Note Verbale against the ITIC. In a reminder to the Parties to the WHO FCTC, the Secretariat notes, “ITIC is not a legitimate forum to promote implementation of the WHO FCTC. It is a purported independent think tank that strives to influence governments to adopt measures in contravention of the treaty.”
In May 2015 ITIC released the ASEAN Excise Tax Reform: A Resource Manual released by the International Trade and Investment Centre (ITIC). The Manual is a tool for promoting vested interests rather than a tool designed to help governments. ITIC has been actively pushing this manual to governments in the ASEAN region.
An academic review of the Manual’s section on tobacco taxation has revealed contradictions and inconsistencies when compared against international best practices and recommendations in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 6 Guidelines on tobacco tax and price measures, which 180 governments worldwide have committed to implement. The review was released in October 2015 alerting governments that the manual cannot be trusted.
Oxford Economics (OE)
Oxford Economics, (OE), is a UK-based research institute which co-authored the two research in on illicit tobacco trade in Asian countries together with ITIC in 2013 and 2014, both sponsored by Philip Morris International. The research was conducted according to agreed terms of reference provided by Philip Morris Asia Ltd. OE has been actively promoting the PMI funded research to ASEAN countries.
Indonesia: Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF)
The Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) is a research and policy studies institution established on August 1995 in Jakarta. INDEF has taken a pro-tobacco industry position in public debates. It has publically supported the pro-tobacco bill in Parliament to protect farmers, but which will undermine tobacco control in Indonesia. INDEF has also made press statements that an increase in excise tax will trigger illicit trade in cigarettes – same fear propagated by the tobacco industry. It has also asked the government accommodate both the interests of the state and the interests of cigarette producers and find a balance.
In 2015, INDEF and the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) signed an agreement to cooperate on joint programs in Indonesia and in the ASEAN. Among the first ITIC-INDEF joint activity was the launch of ITIC’s Indonesian version of the ASEAN Excise Tax Reform: A Resource Manual, which contains contradictions and inconsistencies on tobacco tax when compared against international best practices.
This is a multinational professional services network that performs audit functions and has been the financial auditor for PMI Malaysia since 2009. PwC was also BAT’s auditors from September 1998 till February 2015. In Malaysia, PwC has conducted studies showing the economic benefits of tobacco and promoting the business to the public and the government.
Ernst & Young
This multinational professional services firm that performs audit work and is often hired by the tobacco industry to perform services for them. BAT for example hired Ernst & Young to help them improve its performance. Ernst & Young provides BAT a process of assurance on its Sustainability Reports.
Prof. Sutiman Bambang Sumitro: Professor of Biocell from Brawijaya University, Malang, East Java, promotes what he calls ‘Divine cigarettes’ or ‘healthy cigarette’. According to him, through scientific formula using nano-science, nano-technology, and nano-biology, a material called scavenger is developed to be used in cigarette filter. The formula claims to reduce smoke particle to nano scale that can capture, control and destroy free radicals. When scavenger is added to clove cigarette, the clove cigarette smoke will not trigger danger because the cigarette becomes healthy. In 2011, he gained publicity for the research through attention grabbing headlines such as ‘Kretek that heals’. Prof Sutiman’s timing in releasing the research on ‘Divine cigarette’ coincided with the health authorities formulating regulations on pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs which received much opposition from the tobacco industry and its representatives.
Prof Sutiman had engaged with Philip Morris executives. A slide presentation showing a photograph of Prof Sutiman with Philip Morris executives which was previously available on the public domain, is now unavailable.
In 2014 with the outbreak of the Ebola, Prof Sutiman, claimed that the disease could be prevented by using a vaccine derived from tobacco, and the tobacco plant turned out to have many benefits for health. He reminded the government not to fall victim to a global campaign against tobacco that could destroy the plant as it provides many benefits.
Salamuddin Daeng: a researcher, current chairman of Indonesian Political Economy Association (AEPI), and Director of Indonesia Global Justice (IGJ), has spread misleading information about the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and actively attacks tobacco control in the media. He claims to speak on behalf of small farmers. He usually repeats one argument, that Indonesia’s accession to the WHO FCTC will ruin the country’s tobacco agriculture and harm the existence of small and medium scale business in the cigarette industries.