Press release

Hats off to Uruguay, countries in ASEAN must not be daunted by Big Tobacco

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) congratulates Uruguay in its historic win against legal challenges brought about by tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI).

12 July 2016, In February 2010, PMI filed a case against Uruguay with the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), challenging its comprehensive anti-tobacco legislation.

To protect public health, the Uruguayan government passed legislation requiring tobacco companies to apply 80% pictorial health warning on cigarette packs and limit the sales of cigarettes to only one variant per brand to prevent misleading descriptors such as “light” and “mild”. These measures are in line with the global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In addition, Uruguay introduced 100% smoke-free public and workplaces, public transportation and within the outdoor premises of health and educational institutions.

“This win for Uruguay is an important precedent and inspiration especially for other low- and middle-income countries all over the world. Countries in Southeast Asia that are planning to push for bigger pictorial health warnings (PHW) and standardized tobacco packaging like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore should not be intimidated by Big Tobacco. They should be emboldened by Uruguay’s victory and proceed with their plans,” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of SEATCA.

SEATCA’s ‘Tobacco Packaging and Labelling Index’ released in May 2016 found that while all ten ASEAN countries require pictorial warnings on tobacco packs, only four countries (Brunei, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Thailand) require warnings larger than 75%. The FCTC recommends that health warnings be as large as possible and include pictures to effectively communicate health harms of tobacco use.

Uruguay was brave to allow only single brand variants for display and sale – i.e. only one kind of Marlboro, no menthol, lights/gold, black, etc. – to prevent deception and reduce attraction of consumers. For example, to target young girls, tobacco companies introduce “mild” and “slim” cigarette brands.  Governments can take a leaf from Uruguay’s experience and ban this tactic to protect minors from becoming lifelong smokers.

Tobacco companies also oppose comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), which are proven to reduce tobacco use. In Indonesia, sports and music events are still sponsored by tobacco companies. In the Philippines, tobacco companies have taken advertising at points-of-sale to ridiculous extremes. In Malaysia tobacco companies use fancy display counters to launch new brands. Only Thailand, Singapore, and Brunei have banned pack displays at points-of-sale.

“A case of David vs. Goliath, Uruguay proved that all governments, big or small, can comply with the WHO FCTC and safeguard the health and wellbeing of their citizens in the face of tobacco industry bullying. We extend our heartiest congratulations to the President and government of Uruguay for standing up to a powerful tobacco giant and winning,” said Ms. Ritthiphakdee.

Suing a government is a known intimidation tactic because most governments in low and middle-income countries simply do not have the funds for protracted and expensive legal challenges by rich tobacco companies.

According to the WHO, tobacco causes six million preventable deaths worldwide each year. In the ASEAN region about 470,000 deaths are due to tobacco use.

DepEd Philippines applauded in protecting school children from tobacco

1 July 2016, The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) today welcomed the Philippine Department of Education’s (DepEd) directive, released 28 June, protecting school children from the harms of tobacco use and the snares of the tobacco industry.

Department Order 48 s2016: Policy and Guidelines on Comprehensive Tobacco Controlprescribes rules on how parents, teachers, and school officials of private and public schools can facilitate tobacco control enforcement, such as the ban on selling and advertising tobacco within 100-meters of school perimeters and prevent tobacco industry’s CSR activities.

The policy directs school officials with the assistance of the Parent Teacher Associations to enforce the guidelines through the monitoring and reporting mechanisms of the Child Protection Committee that was established to prevent child abuses under the DepEd’s Child Protection Policy. School officials are required to monitor for violations and report to local governments accordingly to ensure that the school children are not exposed to tobacco products, its advertisements and marketing strategies, and the tobacco industry’s so-called CSR, that will lure them into a lifelong addiction.

“With this DepEd directive and much needed support from the school community now is a good time to stand  against the tobacco industry,” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of SEATCA.

In the World Health Organization (WHO) Report “Youth and Tobacco in the Western Pacific Region: Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) 2005-2014, the Philippines ranks 15th out of the 22 countries surveyed with 13.7 percent of those aged 13 to 15 years old using tobacco products. The Philippines was also found to have an accessibility rate of 37.3 percent, putting it in the 14th place among the 15 countries with available estimates.  “The WHO report will be a good baseline to monitor the impact of this guidelines,” Ms. Ritthiphakdee added.

“Schools are in a uniquely powerful position to reduce the serious harms of smoking. Children spend almost a third of their waking time in school. Preventing children from using tobacco is imperative in combating the tobacco epidemic. This Philippine policy is a noteworthy example to all the countries in the Southeast Asian region on creating and strengthening tobacco-free policies in accordance with various lifesaving provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA’s FCTC Program Director. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 80,000 and 100,000 children worldwide start smoking every day – roughly half of whom live in Asia. On average, smokers in the Southeast Asian region started smoking before the age 20. Because of the addictive power of nicotine, children who start smoking at a young age end up bringing the habit into adulthood.

SEATCA joint press statement with HealthJustice Philippines and New Vois Association of the Philippines on stopping ITIC’s Tax Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia!

21 May 2016, Health groups warn: Upcoming Jakarta tax forum backed by the tobacco industry Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), HealthJustice Philippines (HJ) and New Vois Association Philippines (NVAP) alerted the public today of the ties that bind the tobacco industry and the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC), which is behind the 13th Annual Asia-Pacific Tax Forum on May 23, 2016 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“ITIC gets funds from four of the world’s biggest tobacco companies. That fact alone raises a red flag. The event could be used as a venue to discredit health and tobacco control policies like the sin tax law and give policymakers the false impression that these are ineffective,” said Atty. Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HJ.

The ITIC also organised the 12th Asia-Pacific Tax Forum in May 2015 in New Delhi, India. It was participated in by key officials from numerous countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, France, Bhutan, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, United States, United Kingdom, Pakistan.

“Last year, we revealed that ITIC actually receives monetary support from the British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Ltd., JTI Group, and Philip Morris International. The same group is about to hold a similar event, which could be used as a conduit for the tobacco industry’s commercial interests,” cautioned Emer Rojas, President of NVAP.

“We must be on guard against manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry to sabotage implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), particularly relating to tobacco taxation. The gains of the sin tax to safeguard public health must be protected,” Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA’s FCTC Program Director, said.

Reyes added that the tobacco industry invests huge sums of money to derail, weaken, and delay the implementation of tobacco control laws and intimidate governments and health organisations to give in to their demands. The World Health Organization, in its website, attests that “The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy. The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly product.”

Is BAT also bribing government officials in ASEAN countries?

Bangkok, 4 December 2015: A recent BBC investigation that exposed evidence of bribery at British American Tobacco has relevance for Southeast Asia. According to the investigative report, BAT illegally paid politicians and civil servants in countries in East Africa. The payments were revealed when a whistle blower who worked for BAT in Kenya for 13 years shared hundreds of secret documents.

BBC’s evidence indicates that BAT money has been used to:

  • Corrupt national parliaments;
  • Get information on – and make changes to – tobacco control legislation;
  • Get market information and intelligence to undermine competitors.

In return for the illegal payment to a Burundian senior civil servant, BAT wanted a draft copy of the country’s Tobacco Control Bill. An email from a contractor working for BAT says the official would be able to “accommodate any amendments before the president signs”.

Under the UK Bribery Act, British companies can be prosecuted for bribery anywhere in the world if they fail to take steps to prevent it. BAT could also face prosecution and huge fines in the US. According to UK’s Transparency International bribery expert, Jeremy Carver, this will now set inquires in motion about BAT’s operations globally so that everything they’re doing all over the world is now being scrutinised by prosecutors in the UK, the USA and anywhere they are operating.

BAT sells cigarettes in practically every country in the ASEAN region and has dominant cigarette market share in Malaysia (62%), where it also has a manufacturing facility, and significant market share in Cambodia (40%) and Vietnam (26%).

“In the light of this recent expose, BAT’s activities in countries where it is operating must be investigated by local anti-corruption authorities,” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). “Tobacco companies apply pressure on governments and undermine any effort to strengthen tobacco control.” All ASEAN countries are equipped with anti-corruption laws, which can be applied for any corrupt practices such as bribery of public officials.

BAT violated Commonwealth Games sponsorship rules in Malaysia in return for tax freeze

In return for a Commonwealth Games sponsorship deal, the Malaysian government agreed to “a freeze on government imposed excise over a similar period of five years.

BAT’s internal documents[1] reveal how BAT and other tobacco companies sponsored the 1998 Games through the Malaysian National Sports Council (NSC), contrary to the Commonwealth Games constitution that has a tobacco-free policy, and how the payments would be made without evoking public attention and be more of a “silent understanding” as proposed by the Minister of Primary Industries.

In internal BAT communications[2] parent company BAT informed its local subsidiary, Malaysian Tobacco Company, it would sponsor the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia: “The industry will channel funds through the National Sports Council (an existing organization) and not directly to the Commonwealth Games Foundation. NSC will write to the tobacco companies inviting financial contributions. Effectively, the Industry will be allowed to ‘sponsor’ the aims and work of the NSC and the Industry will seek limited publicity so that contributions can be managed as a brand operating expense, thus avoiding the need for specific disclosure in annual reports. […]The Industry is proposing to contribute RM250 mns [approximately £66 million at current exchange rates] over a five year period, beginning January 1994.”

“In August, the SEATCA released a regional Tobacco Industry Interference Index[3] which shows the industry meddling in public health remains a big problem in ASEAN countries. According to Ms. Ritthiphakdee, “Transparency is important when dealing with the tobacco industry. Many governments do not have a procedure for disclosing their interactions with the industry. This is an important first step to prevent and reduce tobacco industry interference.”

For more information, contact: 

Wendell Balderas, SEATCA Communications Manager

Email | Mobile: +639998812117

Dr. Mary Assunta, SEATCA Senior Policy Advisor

Email | Mobile: +61 400119985


[2] and

[3] Index 2015_F_11Aug.pdf


Tobacco Industry Meddles and Thwarts Tobacco Control in the ASEAN Region

Press Release

Contact: Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA FCTC Program Director,, mobile: +63(917)8862020

Tobacco Industry Meddles and Thwarts Tobacco Control in the ASEAN Region

Manila, 18 August 2015: Tobacco industry interference and meddling in public health remains a big problem in ASEAN countries. This is the main finding of the recent report,Tobacco Industry Interference Index: 2015 ASEAN Report on Implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3, released today by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). The report found that overall there is only marginal improvement in the implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 in the ASEAN region in 2013 compared to previous years (2010-2012).

Brunei Darussalam continues to deliver the best performance in ensuring its tobacco control policies are not compromised and are strictly implemented. Indonesia, on the other hand, remains at the bottom with the government allowing the tobacco industry to participate fully in the development of policies as well as accommodating its requests in delaying tobacco control measures.

Countries were ranked in the order of their implementation of protective measures, from best to poor, as follows: Brunei, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Thailand, a tobacco growing country, had the biggest improvement with the government not accepting any contributions from the tobacco industry and government officials not endorsing nor participating in so-called CSR activities sponsored by the tobacco industry. This is significant because although the government owns the Thai Tobacco Monopoly but they have managed to prevent the industry from meddling in their public health policies. There was a slight improvement in efforts undertaken by Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia and Philippines; however these are remain insufficient in the light of the grim facts of the tobacco epidemic confronting these countries.

Countries that face high levels of unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, are vulnerable to high levels of tobacco industry meddling in policy development. The Philippines however continues to show leadership in implementing a Civil Service Commission and Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC), which provides a Code of Conduct for all government officials when interacting with the tobacco industry.

“Transparency is important when dealing with the tobacco industry. Many governments do not have a procedure for disclosing their interactions with the industry. This is an important first step to prevent and reduce tobacco industry interference,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of SEATCA. “We are dealing with an industry that continues to sell a product that kills. It misleads the public and intimidates governments. Governments need to do better to protect themselves and the public’s health.”

The ASEAN region has about 125 million smokers and more than 500,000 tobacco-related deaths a year. The tobacco industry has targeted the ASEAN region, which has a large young population, to grow its profits.

Full report: Tobacco Industry Interference Index: 2015 ASEAN Report on Implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3:

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