STOP Tobacco Industry Watchdog Exposes Industry Allies That Undermine Public Health

Close to 100 groups in 22 countries exposed for supporting industry efforts to derail tobacco control 

U.S. and U.K. are headquarters for nearly half of front groups, third parties and “astroturf” organizations

New York and Bath, United Kingdom (July 23, 2019) — A new database released by STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) reveals dozens of groups from around the world aiding the tobacco industry in its considerable efforts to subvert public health policies. These groups of tobacco industry allies act as lobbyists, spokespeople and validators against smoke-free workplace protections, tobacco tax increases, health warnings, and restrictions on youth marketing. They usually claim independence but often have direct financial links to tobacco companies.

STOP investigators verified 93 organizations in 22 countries, with dozens more still under investigation, that promote the industry’s agenda. The largest concentration of tobacco industry allies was in the United States and the United Kingdom, but groups were identified across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, highlighting the global effort to interfere with tobacco control policies.

“Tobacco companies are so untrustworthy that they need other organizations to carry their messages to policy makers and consumers,” said Anna Gilmore, Director at STOP and the Tobacco Research Group at University of Bath. “This new database exposes these relationships so that governments and advocates don’t get tricked into believing those messages are credible.”

The tobacco industry has a long history of funding pro-business, anti-regulatory issue groups and think tanks to build credibility and influence. STOP researchers identified allies in four categories, indicating both their level of industry alignment and activity:

  • Front groups: Organizations that claim independence but are established, funded or controlled by corporate interests. These groups have the strongest alignment with the industry.

Examples: Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (U.S.), International Tobacco Growers Association (Portugal)

  • Astroturf groups: A specific type of front group that recruits real or fake supporters to give the impression of grassroots support for an industry-friendly issue or policy.

Examples: Forest (U.K.) 

  • Third Parties: Organizations undertaking a lobbying or public support role on behalf of tobacco companies and are receiving financial contributions from those companies.

Examples: Americans for Tax Reform (U.S.), Libertad y Desarrollo (Chile), Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Zambia) 

  • Supporters: Organizations confirmed to support industry-friendly policies but, due to a lack of financial transparency, can’t be confirmed as a third party.

Examples: Federation of All India Farmer Associations (India), Fundación Atlas 1853 (Argentina), Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (Pakistan), Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indonesia)

“Deception is the strategy and working through allies is the tactic,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President at STOP and Vital Strategies .  “Tobacco companies are desperate to build credibility and will continue to recruit new allies. We urge the global health community to send us names and evidence so we can expose the truth about these organizations.”

“No country is immune to industry interference in health policy, either directly or through these groups,” said Nuntavarn Vichit-Vadakan, Director at STOP and Chair at Global Center for Good Governance on Tobacco Control. “By shining a light on industry allies, governments can be better prepared for their arguments and misinformation.”

“The tobacco industry is the single biggest barrier to reducing disease related to tobacco use,” said Gan Quan, Director at STOP and head of Tobacco Control at The Union. “STOP is wholly dedicated to providing information and tools that make it easier to sort the truth from the lies.”

The database can be viewed by name, location, classification or type. New evidence or tips on new or existing groups can be provided here.

Information sources

STOP researchers used academic sources and journals, government reports, financial filings, news articles, legal documents, and organizations’ own material to compile the database.  To help assess financial transparency, STOP used the Transparify rating of funding transparency. All organizations listed are rooted in evidence available on Tobacco Tactics. 

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) 

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and is partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco ControlThe Union’s Department of Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies. Learn more at exposetobacco.org.