Tobacco Fact-sheet: Tobacco Companies Engage in CSR to Promote Company Interests

Cigarette smoking
A tobacco smoker used to illustrate the story.

Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship, Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) promotes the view that “firms should strive to make a profit, obey the law, be ethical, and be a good corporate citizen.”2  Tobacco companies, however, are not like other companies. Tobacco is the only consumer product that kills one half of its users when used as directed.1 The idea that tobacco companies can be ethical while promoting a disease-producing product is fundamentally contradictory. The  Framework  Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world’s first global public health  treaty,  establishes  a  policy  framework  aimed  to reduce the devastating health, economic, and social impacts of tobacco.3  Article 13 of the FCTC requires Parties to implement and enforce a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, including a complete ban on CSR.4 

Tobacco Companies Engage in CSR to Promote Company Interest 

Tobacco companies claim that they engage in CSR because they are concerned corporate citizens. However, tobacco company internal documents reveal the true goals of industry- sponsored programs, which are to boost profits and drive company interests.5, 6  In reality, CSR activities cost tobacco companies  very  little  in  relation  to  their  annual  profits. For example, in 2009, Philip Morris International (PMI) charitable contributions amounted to USD $22.7 million, while its profits were USD $6.3 billion, and British American Tobacco (BAT) spent USD $22.3 million on CSR compared to the USD $4.8 billion it earned in profits.7-10

Tobacco Industry Goal: To create positive public opinion about the industry.

•  Tobacco  companies  want  to  give  the  impression  that they are just like any other big company: responsible and concerned about the satisfaction of their customers and stakeholders.5, 11

•  CSR serves to counteract negative press and create positive public perceptions of the tobacco industry and tobacco issues, without changing actual company behavior.12, 13

Tobacco Industry Goal:   To  gain political  influence in order to weaken tobacco control legislation.

• In Philip Morris’ 1999-2000 State Legislative Plan for Alabama, its strategy sought to “expand contacts with key administration officials and legislators” by “supporting their philanthropic events and causes…” and “extending invitations to attend PM sponsored charitable events.”14

“ These tobacco industry  programs  that  seek to contribute to a greater social good urge the question: how can tobacco companies reconcile their main aim, to gain a maximum  profit  by producing and selling a deadly product, with the goals of Corporate Social Responsibility: business norms, based on ethical values and respect for employees, consumers, communities  and the environment?” World Health Organization, 20031

Tobacco Industry Goal: To gain access to youth for market research, to normalize brands, and prevent effective anti- tobacco campaigns.

• Tobacco companies seek to sponsor youth anti-smoking campaigns so that they can do extensive market research on teens’ attitudes towards smoking. 5 Their campaigns also ensure that the tobacco company is in control of the design and goals of the programs, guaranteeing good publicity and access to youth markets.13, 15

Tobacco Industry Goal: To protect itself from litigation or law suits.

•  An internal Philip Morris document states that “we need to get ahead of the curve on public expectations of a corporation. That will reduce the risks of law suits and improve our standing, when we are sued, as a ‘responsible corporation.”16

Tobacco Industry CSR Tactics

The tobacco industry conducts CSR in a variety of ways to gain maximum public exposure and influence.

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Tobacco companies engage in philanthropic activity, aiming to improve their public image as contributors to the greater societal good. Some companies have even set up philanthropic foundations to fund their efforts.17

Education: In China, schools funded by tobacco companies carry slogans such as “Aspire to contribute to society/Tobacco helps you become a talent,” clearly linking tobacco to  success  in  the  opinion  of  schoolchildren.18

Tobacco companies support educational activities. However, many children are denied education as their parents spend money on tobacco, or as they leave school to work in tobacco agriculture and manufacturing.

Health: Carlos Slim currently sits on the board of directors of PMI and is the former owner of CIGATAM, Mexico’s largest tobacco company. The Slim Family Foundation helped establish the Instituto Carso de Salud (Carso Health Institute) in Mexico with a $500 million pledge. The Institute’s priorities address treatment of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer;19 tobacco use is a leading cause of both.

Poverty: In Malaysia, BAT Malaysia donates money to underprivileged Malaysian students, farming families, and a women’s shelter, claiming to be concerned about poverty and society’s well-being.20  However, smoking makes the world’s poorest even poorer; in Malaysia, smoking two packs a day costs an average poor person approximately 30% of his or her income.21

Disaster Relief: In Indonesia, Sampoerna Tobacco used the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi as a promotional event by dispatching rescue workers, vehicles, and tents with Sampoerna’s logo on them to the site of the disaster.22

Youth Anti-Smoking

Most tobacco companies engage in youth smoking prevention programs, claiming to be responsible companies concerned about youth smoking. However, their programs are ineffective at preventing smoking and often actually encourage youth to smoke by portraying smoking as an adult activity, making it even more attractive to youth, and failing to talk about the health effects of smoking.1

• Tobacco companies promote their youth anti-smoking campaigns by talking about how much money they spent and how many youth they reached, NOT youth smoking rates.23-25

•  Tobacco company-sponsored youth anti-smoking campaigns have never been shown to be effective in reducing youth smoking. In fact, they can make youth more likely to smoke.25

• Youth anti-smoking campaigns sponsored by tobacco companies tend to focus the blame on parents, youth themselves, and retailers who allow youth to buy tobacco from them, rather than on the actual culprits: tobacco marketing strategies aimed at youth, and the addiction that results from the nicotine in tobacco.23, 25, 26

• Tobacco  companies  use  their  youth  anti-smoking campaigns to undermine or compete with more effective campaigns sponsored by the government or NGOs.24

Self-named “responsible corporate citizens,” Pakistan Tobacco Company and Lakson Tobacco Company sponsored  this youth smoking  prevention campaign. (Pakistan, 2006)

Farming Programs

Tobacco companies support programs in tobacco growing communities where education is low and living conditions are poor to distract from the fact that tobacco company practices perpetuate debt and poverty.27

•  In  Malawi,  a  major  tobacco  growing  country,  BAT co-founded the Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Foundation, claiming to be concerned with the issue of child labor in agriculture. The Foundation, however, made no meaningful changes to agricultural practices, and BAT has not changed its buying practices. BAT and PMI together are estimated to make $10 million in profits from child labor each year in Malawi alone.28

Environmental Programs

Tobacco companies claim to be environmentally responsible but tobacco farming and manufacturing is bad for the environment.29, 30 

• In Bangladesh, BAT participates in annual reforestation programs, donating saplings to be planted and touting its responsible agriculture.31  However, cutting down trees for fuel during the tobacco curing process accounts for

30% of annual deforestation in Bangladesh32, making BAT’s contribution of saplings a superficial attempt to draw attention away from the environmental problems it is causing.

Why CSR should be banned

CSR works in favor of the tobacco industry by:

•  Helping the tobacco industry gain political influence and diminish effects of legislation.5, 15

•  Normalizing tobacco and brands, especially to children.5

•  Increasing youth approval of smoking.25

•  Undermining tobacco control attempts to expose tobacco companies for what they are—companies that prey on vulnerable populations—and vilifying tobacco control advocates.13

•  Distracting from the negative effects of tobacco.11

Key messages

Article  13  of  the   Framework Convention on Tobacco   Control    requires   a   complete   ban on all forms  of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship,  including CSR.  CSR  done by  the tobacco industry should be banned.

CSR   works  in  the   tobacco  industry’s   favor by  building   goodwill  with   policymakers  and the public,  countering negative attention surrounding its  deadly products, and  defusing opposition from tobacco control advocates.

The  devastating harm  to  societies and  families caused by tobacco-caused death and  disease greatly  outweighs the  overall  benefits of  philan- thropy or sponsorship of social causes.

Tobacco  consumption negatively affects those living  in  poverty, and  any  financial   contribution made by  companies responsible  for  increasing the health harms and financial burden of this population will not alleviate poverty, environ- mental, or  health   issues and  is  likely  to  make them  worse.


(1) World Health Organization. Tobacco Industry and Corporate Responsibility… an Inherent Contradiction. Tobacco Free Initiative2004.

(2) Carroll AB. Corporate social responsibility: Evolution of a definitional construct. Business & Society. 1999;38(3):268-95.

(3) Framework Convention Alliance. What is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control? Framework Convention Alliance;  [cited 2011 Jan 25]; Available from:  

(4) World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Guidelines for implementation: Article 13, para.3, 25-28. Geneva: WHO; 2009.

(5) Landman A, Ling PM, Glantz SA. Tobacco industry youth smoking prevention programs: Protecting the industry and hurting tobacco control. American Journal of Public Health. 2002 June;92(6):917-30.

(6) Collin JaG, A. Corporate (Anti)Social (Ir)Responsibility: Transnational Tobacco Companies and the Attempted Subversion of Global Health Policy. Global Social Policy. 2002;2(3).

(7) Philip Morris International (PMI). 2009 annual report. New York: PMI; 2010. Available from:

(8) British American Tobacco. Corporate social investment. BAT; 2011 [cited 2011 January 31]; Available from:

(9) Philip Morris International. Charitable contributions.  2009 [cited 2010 July 1]; Available from:

(10) British American Tobacco. British American Tobacco Annual Report 2009. 2009.

(11) Hirschhorn N. Corporate social responsibility and the tobacco industry: hope or hype? Tobacco Control. 2004;13:447-53.

(12) McDaniel PaM, R. The Role of Corporate Credibility in Legitimizing Disease Promotion. American Journal of Public Health. 2009 March;99(3):452-61.

(13) Leiber CL. Youth campaign for Latin America (internal industry document.) International PM. 1993. Bates No. 2503007040/7041.

(14) SGA 1999 State Legislative Plan (internal industry document.) Philip Morris. 1998. Bates No. 2065450947/1321. http://legacy.

(15) Assunta M, Chapman, S. Industry sponsored youth smoking prevention programme in Malaysia: a case study in duplicity. Tob Control. 2994;12:ii37-ii42.

(16) Parrish S, and Wall, C. Management of Corporate Issues. Memorandum (Draft 1) to Bill Webb and Geoff Bible. (internal industry document.) Morris P. 2000. Bates No. 2085292292/2298. PDF.  

(17) Putera Sampoerna Foundation. Putera Sampoerna Foundation: Achievements, milestones and awards.  2011 [cited 2011 February 1]; Available from: history-a-achievements.html.  

(18) Harmful donation? China Daily; 2009 [cited 2011]; Available from:

(19) Chapman S. Group Carso, health philanthropy, and tobacco. Lancet. 2008 April 12;371(9620):1243.

(20) Barraclough S, Morrow, M. A grim contradiction: The practice and consequences of corporate social responsibilitiy by British American Tobacco in Malaysia. Social Science and Medicine. 2008;66:1784 – 96.

(21) Assunta M. Tobacco and poverty. World Health Organization; 1999. Available from: DEF9-4140-B6F2-475DA61528B8/0/Tobacco_and_Poverty.pdf.

(22) Carless W. Indonesia: This volcano brought to you by Philip Morriss. globalpost; 2010 [updated Nov 4; cited 2011 Jan 25]; Available from: http://

(23) Wakefield M, McLeod, K, and Perry, C.L. “Stay away from them until you’re old enough to make a decision”: tobacco company testimony about youth smoking initiation. Tobacco Control. 2006;15 (Suppl IV):iv44-iv53.  

(24) Sebrie EM, Glantz, S. Attempts to Undermine Tobacco Control: Tobacco Industry “Youth Smoking Prevention” Programs to Undermine Meaningful Tobacco Control in Latin America. Am J Public Health. 2007 August;97(8):1357 – 67.  

(25) Wakefield M, Terry-McElrath Y, Emery S, Saffer H, Chaloupka FJ, Szczypka G, et al. Effect of televised, tobacco company-funded smoking prevention advertising on youth smoking-related beliefs, intentions, and behavior. American Journal of Public Health. 2006 December;96(12):2154-64.

(26) Chaiton M, Ferrence, R., LeGresley, E. Perceptions of industry responsibility and tobacco control policy by US tobacco company executives in trial testimony. Tobacco Control. 2006;15.

(27) Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). Cycle of poverty in tobacco farming: Tobacco cultivation in Southeast Asia. SEATCA; 2008. Available from:

(28) Otañez M, Muggli, M., Hurt, R., Glantz, S. Eliminating Child Labour in Malawi: A British American Tobacco Corporate Responsibility Project to Sidestep Tobacco Labour Exploitation. Tob Control. 2006 March:224 – 30. 

(29) Geist H. Global assessment of deforestation related to tobacco farming. Tob Control. 1999;8:18-28.

(30) Novotny TE, Zhao F. Consumption and production waste: another externality of tobacco use. Tobacco Control. 1999 Spring;8(1):75-80.

(31) 31. British American Tobacco. Afforestation in Bangladesh.  2010 [updated 7/5/2010; cited 2010 Dec 27]; Available from:

(32) Deb R, Sujon I. Tobacco farmers in Bangladesh: Exploitation at the hand of the tobacco companies. In: Efroymson D, editor. Tobacco and poverty: Observations from India and Bangladesh: PATH Canada; 2002.   

(33) Carless W. Indonesia: This volcano brought to you by Philip Morriss. globalpost; 2010 [updated Nov 4; cited 2011 March 23]; Available from: dispatch/indonesia/101104/indonesia-volcano-philip-morris.

(34) Barreto J. Cruzada pela consciência. Diálogo. 2009 November.

This publication is sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, CTFK.


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