Brazil: Advocates Successfully Counter Tobacco Industry Front Groups and Misinformation Campaign
The tobacco industry often uses tobacco farmers as a front group to campaign against tobacco control measures. With Brazil being the second largest tobacco-growing country in the world, farmer front groups are continually utilized by the tobacco industry. Recently, the tobacco industry used Brazilian farmer front groups as an integral part of its campaign against tobacco control regulations proposed by the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA). One of the first of its kind, the regulations proposed by ANVISA banned all additives to tobacco, including sugars and flavors such as fruit and menthol, which make cigarettes more palatable and attractive to youth.
Following ANVISA's announcement of the regulations, the tobacco industry began an extensive campaign to derail and weaken the proposed regulations. During its campaign, the tobacco industry:
- Launched a paid media campaign, claiming that the proposed regulations were an attack on family farmers, would increase illicit trade and would limit consumer choice.
- Organized the submission of over 250,000 comments supportive of the tobacco industry position during ANVISA’s public commentary period. Most of the submissions were identical and were eventually admitted as only one comment.
- Delayed ANVISA’s public hearing to discuss the proposal in October, 2011 through a court injunction and further delayed final approval of the proposal in February 2012 by flooding the ANVISA Board of Directors meeting with tobacco industry allies.
- Bused over 300 tobacco growers to ANVISA’s first public hearing to speak out against the regulation and continually used farming front groups to protest the proposals in the media.
- Introduced legislation in Congress to remove ANVISA’s authority to regulate tobacco products and held hearings critical of the ANVISA proposal in tobacco growing Congressional districts.
- Funded a study published by Fundação Getulio Vargas, a prestigious Think Tank, which primarily argued that tobacco additives have no negative health effects. The report further argued that banning additives would increase illicit trade of contraband cigarettes and therefore decrease government revenues as well as put small farmers and small retailers out of business. The arguments from the report were used by members of Congress that supported the tobacco industry efforts to strip ANVISA’s authority to regulate tobacco products.
Tobacco control advocates, civil society and international heath organizations worked closely to counter tobacco industry attacks and to support ANVISA’s development of strong regulations. Local partners involved in the campaign included the Alliance for Tobacco Control, Brazil (ACT Brazil) and the National Commission for Implementation of the FCTC (CONICQ), as well as tobacco farmers supportive of tobacco control from the Department of Socio-Economic Rural Studies (DESER). International organizations included the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and Johns Hopkins University.
As part of a comprehensive year and a half advocacy campaign, advocates successfully countered every tobacco industry attack to weaken ANVISA’s regulations.
- ACT Brazil launched a mass media campaign to counter the tobacco industry’s paid media campaign, listing reasons for the need to restrict tobacco companies’ use of additives.
- To counter arguments about harms to tobacco farmers, advocates from DESER organized tobacco growers to testify at ANVISA’s final meeting in March in support of the regulations.
- In response to the Fundação Getulio Vargas report on the proposed regulations, CTFK, PAHO, Johns Hopkins and ACT Brazil wrote a comprehensive paper undermining the tobacco industry’s arguments and presenting evidence on the public health benefits of banning additives. The report was distributed to members of Congress as well as the Presidents of the Senate and House of Deputies.
- Partners wrote letters to ANVISA, to President Rousseff, and to Minister of Health, Dr. Alexandre Padilha, emphasizing Brazil’s obligation to strong tobacco control measures as a Party to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and reframing the issue to show that additives are used to lure youth to start smoking.
- Letters were sent by the international community in support of ANVISA’s work, highlighting the importance of the regulations in combating the tobacco epidemic in Brazil and in protecting youth. The letters also encouraged the Agency to move forward on its proposal to ban additives despite successful efforts by the tobacco industry to the delay their finalization.
- Throughout the campaign, ACT Brazil lobbied targeted legislators, encouraging them to protect ANVISA’s authority to regulate tobacco. Read more about how advocates specifically countered the industry attempt to remove ANVISA’s authority.
Key Messages Used
- The tobacco industry’s primary concern is its own profits, not the wellbeing of farmers or the health of Brazilian citizens.
- Brazil has been a strong regional and global leader in tobacco control, and must support ANVISA’s authority to continue to promote and implement effective tobacco control policies.
- Additives such as sugars and fruity flavorings make tobacco products more palatable and attractive to youth. Banning tobacco additives will substantially reduce the addictiveness of tobacco products and prevent youth smoking.
- By acting to implement strong tobacco control policies, ANVISA will help prevent the tobacco industry from luring children and teens to begin using tobacco products.
- On March 12, 2012, ANVISA passed final regulations prohibiting the use of any additives in tobacco products in Brazil except sugar- the first country in the world to do so. Regulations prohibit flavored and scented cigarettes, including menthol, which are currently used to lure teens and make tobacco more palatable for first-time users.
- Tobacco control partners successfully countered tobacco industry attempts to weaken the ANVISA regulations through strong lobbying and by presenting sound evidence to counter misinformation disseminated by the tobacco industry and its allies.
- Tobacco farmer front groups and arguments that ANVISA regulations would harm Brazil’s tobacco framing community were effectively silenced when tobacco control groups partnered with tobacco farmers supportive of tobacco control measures.
- Media advocacy efforts, letters written by leading international health organizations in support of ANVISA tobacco control measures, and direct pressure from the Director General of the WHO generated public support for tobacco control and pressured the Brazilian government to finalize strong regulations.