British American tobacco’s erosion of health legislation in Uzbekistan (2006)

Author: Anna B Gilmore

Uzbekistan shows how countries that privatise state owned tobacco industry can be manipulated by global companies

In 1994 Uzbekistan’s tobacco industry was privatised in a closed deal enabling British American Tobacco (BAT) to establish a production monopoly.1 While completing this deal, BAT learnt that Uzbekistan’s chief sanitary doctor, Mr Iskandarov, had issued Health Decree 30, a potentially highly effective piece of tobacco control legislation that would have banned tobacco advertising and smoking in public places and introduced health warnings. BAT responded aggressively, delaying completion of its investment until the decree was replaced with a voluntary advertising code.

Until now BAT has implied that it developed the code without prompting and presented it as an example of “the company’s responsible attitude to its advertising practices.”2 We have obtained evidence from BAT corporate documents released after litigation in the United States3 that shows how BAT in fact developed this code when overturning health legislation that would have served to protect the health of the Uzbek population. Its behaviour highlights broader concerns about the influence of transnational tobacco companies over health policy when they invest in low income countries. A description of our methodology is available on bmj.com.

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