Global Health Governance and the Commercial Sector: A Documentary Analysis of Tobacco Company Strategies to Influence the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (2012)

Authors: Heide Weishaar et al.

Abstract

Background: In successfully negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the World Health Organization (WHO) has led a significant innovation in global health governance, helping to transform international tobacco control. This article provides the first comprehensive review of the diverse campaign initiated by transnational tobacco corporations (TTCs) to try to undermine the proposed convention.

Methods and Findings: The article is primarily based on an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents made public through litigation, triangulated with data from official documentation relating to the FCTC process and websites of relevant organisations. It is also informed by a comprehensive review of previous studies concerning tobacco industry efforts to influence the FCTC. The findings demonstrate that the industry’s strategic response to the proposed WHO convention was two-fold. First, arguments and frames were developed to challenge the FCTC, including: claiming there would be damaging economic consequences; depicting tobacco control as an agenda promoted by high-income countries; alleging the treaty conflicted with trade agreements, “good governance,” and national sovereignty; questioning WHO’s mandate; claiming the FCTC would set a precedent for issues beyond tobacco; and presenting corporate social responsibility (CSR) as an alternative. Second, multiple tactics were employed to promote and increase the impact of these arguments, including: directly targeting FCTC delegations and relevant political actors, enlisting diverse allies (e.g., mass media outlets and scientists), and using stakeholder consultation to delay decisions and secure industry participation.

Conclusions: TTCs’ efforts to undermine the FCTC were comprehensive, demonstrating the global application of tactics that TTCs have previously been found to have employed nationally and further included arguments against the FCTC as a key initiative in global health governance. Awareness of these strategies can help guard against industry efforts to disrupt the implementation of the FCTC and support the development of future, comparable initiatives in global health.

Read more: PLoS Medicine