Case Studies

Mexico: Tobacco Control Advocates Effectively Counter the Tobacco Industry During Tax Campaign

The Issue

The tobacco industry in Mexico historically has a strong presence in influencing the government. In 2009, the tobacco industry successfully blocked a significant tobacco tax increase by lobbying the largest and most influential party in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies at the time, the Partido Revolutionario Institucional (PRI).

Following this public health defeat, tobacco control advocates launched a well-coordinated campaign to promote a tax increase in 2010. Again, the measure was strongly opposed by the tobacco industry, particularly by British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI). Tobacco Industry tactics used to block efforts in 2010 included:

  • Issuing statements claiming that an increase in taxes would dramatically increase illicit trade.
  • Threatening to close company operations in Mexico.
  • Using tobacco growers’ associations as front groups to influence public perception by promoting inaccurate data of how a tobacco tax increase would negatively impact farmers.
  • Lobbying legislators to oppose the public health measure.

Partners

The InterAmerican Heart Foundation/ Fundación InterAmericana del Corazón México (FIC) partnered with groups such as the Mexican Council Against Tobacco/ Consejo Mexicano Contra el Tabaquismo (CMCT), Tobacco-Free Mexico Coalition/Red México Sin Tabaco, Center for Economic Teaching and Research/ Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), and Códice.

In addition, the tobacco control groups in Mexico worked closely with government institutions such as the Ministry of Health/Secretaría de Salud, and National Institute of Public Health/ Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (INSP). Intergovernmental agencies and international organizations, such as the Pan American Health Organization, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, also played a crucial role supporting in-country partners.

Strategies

Actions taken to counter tobacco industry interference were fully integrated into a broader tax advocacy campaign which included advocates meeting with legislators; releasing economic reports and other data to inform the public, counter false industry arguments and maintain positive media coverage; conducting public opinion polling to measure public support for the tax increase; partnering with leaders of congressional health commissions on political forums on tax; and publishing an open letter in a leading newspaper endorsed by coalition members and international tobacco control groups.

Strategies pursued to directly counter tobacco industry interference included:

  • A political champion, Senator Ernesto Saro Boardman, emerged early on and was equipped by advocates with all the evidence and support necessary to counter tobacco industry arguments in the media and with colleagues in the legislature and push the tax proposal in the legislature.
  • CIDE released an evidence-based report highlighting tactics used by the tobacco industry to interfere in the passage of strong tobacco control legislation. Advocates also quickly responded to tobacco industry claims using international and country-specific evidence.
  • A mass media campaign was launched in the fall directly before the vote and used multiple tactics including print and social media to encourage legislators to cast their vote in favor of public health and not in favor of tobacco industry interests.

Key Messages Used

  • Higher tobacco taxes save lives, discourage youth initiation and bring in more revenue for the government.
  • Each year the government spends more than 45 billion pesos to manage the diseases caused by smoking, yet the revenue raised by tobacco taxes is currently only 23 billion pesos.
  • Smoking kills more than 60,000 Mexicans each year.
  • 7 out of 10 Mexicans support a tobacco tax increase.
  • Vote yes to the tobacco tax increase and choose to protect the health of those you love over tobacco industry profits.

Outcomes

  • In October 2010, Mexican legislators voted overwhelmingly to raise the tobacco tax by seven pesos. The final vote tallies were 430 in favor and 11 against in the Chamber of Deputies and 70 in favor and 10 against in the Senate. Due to this victory, tobacco taxes now make up 69.2 percent of the retail price of cigarettes and the average price per pack increased to $35.74 pesos (up from $26.52 in 2009),an increase of 34.8 percent.
  • Advocates successfully countered tobacco industry arguments and convinced the public and legislators that protecting public health was more important than protecting tobacco industry profits.