What are the end-products of undue corporate influence over public policy and decision-making that tip the scale of power away from governments and the people in favor of private interests? Government systems that benefit specific industries above their citizen’s own well-being. One classic and the best example of this manipulation is the tobacco industry—almost nobody does it better.
Other times, the tobacco industry’s direct interference with economic and public health policy is wide-reaching and sits very close to the surface
But how they do it varies from country to country. In some instances, tobacco companies throw their corporate weight behind one specific initiative but hide their involvement several layers below the surface. Such has been the case in Pakistan. The global tobacco industry has been suspected of using a front group to push the government’s use of a cigarette tracking and tracing system that likely allows the industry to be secretly involved in cigarette smuggling. Other times, the tobacco industry’s direct interference with economic and public health policy is wide-reaching and sits very close to the surface. Bangladesh serves as a useful case study of the many ways powerful industries—and “Big Tobacco” especially—seek to exert influence in order to secure their profits. These examples serve as valuable lessons for other countries.
Lesson One: How the Industry Delays and Denies Proven Tobacco Control Measures
Raising taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective means of reducing its use. So when the Bangladesh government attempted to tax bidis, locally made, hand-rolled tobacco products, the industry fought back.
To counter the tax increase, which would make their products more expensive and lead to declining sales, the Bangladesh Bidi Owners Association met with the Finance and Commerce Ministers to propose a tax reduction—essentially blocking it—and their influence succeeded. Bidi prices remained unchanged in the fiscal year 2018-19 budget, allowing the tobacco industry to deny the government greater tax revenues and to undermine an effective tobacco control measure.