The studies which were published in the BMJ journal, Tobacco Control, and supported by grants from Cancer Research UK, have indicated that besides the fact that the world’s major tobacco companies are still facilitating tobacco smuggling, they also attempt to control the global system that may prevent it, whilst funding studies that overestimate the levels of such activities.
Last March, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that it was investing $20m in an agency named Stop (Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products), which would monitor the tobacco industry, and expose any irregular activities.
Subsequently last week, the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group, was named as one of the leading research resources for this agency, with this global partnership particularly aiming to detect any irregularities across low and middle income countries. Following this, the group released two studies indicating shady practices within the tobacco industry.
Tobacco industry controls smuggling track and trade system
The first study released by this research group, draws onto leaked documents, indicating that the tobacco industry is undermining a major international agreement, by going to great lengths to control a global track and trace system, the Illicit Trade Protocol, which is designed to stop the tobacco industry from smuggling tobacco.
“This has to be one of the tobacco industry’s greatest scams: not only is it still involved in tobacco smuggling, but big tobacco is positioning itself to control the very system governments around the world have designed to stop it from doing so. The industry’s elaborate and underhand effort involves front groups, third parties, fake news and payments to the regulatory authorities meant to hold them to account,” explained the Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, Professor Anna Gilmore.
Big tobacco-funded research overestimates smuggling activity
The second study released by the research group, examined the data and reports on illicit tobacco trading that the tobacco industry itself has funded, and found that this data routinely overestimates the levels of tobacco that are smuggled.
“Despite far-reaching concerns over industry-funded data on this topic, tobacco companies continue to spend millions of pounds funding research into the illicit tobacco trade. As recently as 2016 Philip Morris International’s PMI IMPACT initiative pledged 100 million USD for this purpose. Yet, if industry-funded data consistently fails to reach the expected standards of replicable academic research, we must question if it has any use beyond helping the industry muddy the waters on an important public health issue,” said second author Dr Karen Evans-Reeves.
Governments urged to crack down on tobacco industry’s irregular practices
Based on these findings, the research team is calling on governments and international bodies, to take a closer look at Big Tobacco’s practices and ensure that any systems designed to research and control tobacco smuggling are completely independent of the industry. Additionally the researchers are urging authorities to ensure that there is no conflict of interest within any front organisation for the industry.
“Governments, tax and customs authorities around the world appear to have been hoodwinked by industry data and tactics. It is vital that they wake up and realise how much is at stake. Tobacco industry funded research cannot be trusted. No government should implement a track and trace system linked in any shape or form to the tobacco manufacturers. Doing so could allow the tobacco industry’s involvement in smuggling to continue with impunity,” pointed out Professor Gilmore.
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