Global Tobacco Control Updates

Tobacco control advocates defeat tobacco industry attempts to undermine implementation in Costa Rica
18 Mar 2016
Research Alert

In 2012, Costa Rica overcame decades of tobacco industry interference to enact a strong, comprehensive tobacco control law. However, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco continued to interfere in tobacco control policy by trying to prevent full implementation of the law. A recent study published in Tobacco Control analyzed how the continued engagement of civil society following enactment of the law was critical to ensuring effective implementation of the law’s provisions on smoke-free environments, tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS), graphic health warnings (GHWs) and tobacco taxation. Data for the study included tobacco control legislation, news stories and interviews with key informants.

Key Findings:

In an effort to weaken and delay implementation of the law, the tobacco industry and its allies:

  • Lobbied authorities in the executive branch of government for:
    • exemptions in the regulations for the smoke-free provision of the national law; 
    • a weaker interpretation of the law’s provision on tobacco advertising at points of sale; and 
    • a delay in releasing regulations for the graphic health warning provision in the law. 
  • Claimed significant loss of revenue as a result of the smoke-free law. 
  • Disseminated pamphlets to merchants that incorrectly interpreted the TAPS ban to permit tobacco product display at points of sale. 
  • Falsely argued that the government needed to consult trade agreements such as the World Trade Organization before releasing GHW regulations. 
  • Misleadingly argued through the media that the tobacco tax increase led to an increase in illicit trade even though government sources found little to no impact on illicit trade.

In response to tobacco industry interference, tobacco control advocates, with assistance from international civil society organizations and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), responded to tobacco industry interference in several ways. Advocates:

  • Lobbied the Health Ministry to maintain strong interpretations of the smoke-free and TAPS provisions in the national tobacco control law, and secured letters from international groups about country obligations on both measures under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
  • Used media to draw attention to ongoing tobacco industry interference. 
  • Disseminated the results of a study which found that an overwhelming majority of hotel and restaurant businesses experienced little to no loss of revenue following implementation of the smoke-free law. 
  • Filed complaints with the Health Ministry about the tobacco industry’s efforts to undermine the law by directly communicating with merchants about TAPS requirements. 
  • Asked international health groups to submit a legal opinion to the government on the matter of large GHWs as technical barriers to trade; an opinion that noted that warnings were not found to be a technical barrier to trade in more than 40 countries.
  • Drew media attention to the Government’s delay in releasing the GHW regulations though a media conference and the sharing of a letter from international health groups to the President of Costa Rica requesting release of the regulations.
  • Celebrated high compliance with the comprehensive tobacco control law in the media to counter any additional tobacco industry claims about the impact of the law. High compliance was facilitated by the Health Ministry’s use of the tobacco taxes earmarked for tobacco control to promote and enforce the law.

Key Messages:

  • As low and middle-income countries progress in enacting strong tobacco control laws, the tobacco industry will work to prevent full and effective implementation of these laws.
  • Proactive engagement in the tobacco control rule-making process by civil society groups and forceful countering of tobacco industry interference when and where it occurs will prevent such interference from undermining the impact of strong tobacco control laws.
  • International civil society groups can be effective resources for advocates in low- and middle-income countries when countering tobacco industry interference in tobacco control law implementation.

Full Citation: Crosbie E, Sosa P, Glantz S. The importance of continued engagement during the implementation phase of tobacco control policies in a middle-income country: the case of Costa Rica. Tobacco Control. Published Online First: February 2016.

The article abstract [English only] is available at:

For examples of where civil society groups have successfully countered tobacco industry interference, including how advocates in Costa Rica overcame interference to enact a strong tobacco control law [English only], visit:

For a report on how the tobacco industry has used the United States Chamber of Commerce and its country-based affiliates to interfere in both the enactment and implementation of strong tobacco control laws around the world [English only], please visit:

Tobacco Control is an internationally peer-reviewed journal covering the nature and consequences of tobacco use worldwide. The journal is for health professionals and others in tobacco control and is a publication of the British Medical Journal.

If you have questions about the study or materials or how to use them in your advocacy efforts, please email


costa rica, philip morris international, tobacco industry