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Researchers from STOP, the global tobacco industry watchdog of which The Union is a partner, have published new findings on how tobacco companies are deceiving consumers and governments by exploiting the concept of sustainability. The tactic – described by the researchers as ‘greenwashing’ – is used by controversial industries around the world to represent their environmentally destructive products and business practices as sustainable.

Tobacco companies have been using greenwashing to exploit public concern for sustainability and hide destructive practices – such as deforestation, heavy chemical use in tobacco crops and the large amount of waste produced during manufacturing – since the early 2000s.

The greenwashing tactics of tobacco companies revealed by STOP researchers include:

Use of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and exploiting the lack of international environmental regulations in lower- and middle-income countries

When developing economies cannot fully fund their own reforestation or environmental disaster responses, tobacco companies step in and offer money. When governments accept these donations, the industry can claim credit and build influence.

Lack of international environmental standards lets powerful tobacco companies pit lower- and middle-income countries against one another. When a country proposes environmental legislation, tobacco companies are able to shut down their operations and re-open in other countries where rules are more relaxed, allowing them to continue their unsustainable practices.

Use of recognition from sustainability groups to obtain legitimacy

Tobacco companies represent themselves as trustworthy and socially responsible to gain a seat at the policymaking table where they can advocate for preferential policies. Even though industry interference in tobacco control and health policy is prohibited according to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, tobacco companies seek loopholes that allow them to work with governments and policymakers.

Each of the four major transnational tobacco companies (British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands) tout their recognition from sustainability groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Yet, when the same group gives them a poor assessment, these companies withdraw their participation. For example, when BAT, JTI and Imperial all received poor ratings on disclosure and impact in 2017, all three opted out of CDP Forestry reporting.

Find out more about tobacco industry greenwashing on Tobacco Tactics— a newly revamped online resource that exposes and explains tobacco industry behaviour.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose tobacco industry strategies and tactics to undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies.


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The Tobacco Control Department is based at The Union Europe Office, Edinburgh, registered charity no. SC039880
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