A Systematic Review of Tobacco Industry Tactics in Southeast Asia: Lessons for Other Low- And MiddleIncome Regions

Document Type : Review Article


1 Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

2 Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore


Transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) have a well-established presence in Southeast Asia and are now targeting other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), especially Africa. While the tobacco industry’s tactics in Southeast Asia are well documented, no study has systematically reviewed these tactics to inform tobacco control policies and movements in Africa, where the tobacco epidemic is spreading.

We conducted a systematic literature review of articles that describe tobacco industry tactics in Southeast Asia, which includes Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, East Timor, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Brunei. After screening 512 articles, we gathered and analysed data from 134 articles which met our final inclusion criteria.

Tobacco transnationals gained dominance in Southeast Asian markets by positioning themselves as good corporate citizens with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, promoting the industry as a pillar of, and partner for, economic growth. Tobacco transnationals also formed strategic sectoral alliances and reinforced their political ties to delay the implementation of regulations and lobby for weaker tobacco control. Where governments resisted the transnationals’ attempts to enter a market, they used litigation and deceptive tactics including smuggling to pressure governments to open markets, and tarnished the reputation of public health organizations. The tobacco industry undermined tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) regulations through a broad range of direct and indirect marketing tactics.

The experience of Southeast Asia with tobacco transnationals show that, beyond highlighting the public health benefits, underscoring the economic benefits of tobacco control might be a more compelling argument for governments in LMICs to prioritise tobacco control. Given the tobacco industry’s widespread use of litigation, LMICs need more legal support and resources to counter industry litigations. LMICs should also prioritize measures to protect health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry, and to close regulatory loopholes in tobacco marketing restrictions.




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