Tobacco Companies, Public Policy and Global Health

Tobacco use remains the most important avoidable cancer risk worldwide. Eliminating tobacco use could prevent an estimated 30% (3.8 million) of all cancer cases including 90% of all lung cancer cases.  If current trends continue, tobacco deaths will rise from 5 to 8 million people annually by 2030, more than 80% of whom reside in low- and middle-income countries. Concerted efforts since the late 1990s have been made to strengthen tobacco control worldwide through higher taxation, ingredients disclosure, labeling including graphic warnings, and anti-smuggling measures. The adoption and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has been a key part of this effort.

However, our research to date has shown that tobacco control is influenced by ongoing and evolving processes of globalization. Globalization is the intensified interconnectedness of societies worldwide, through closer and denser economic, social, technological and environmental linkages. As described by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Handbook of Globalization Indicators, globalization “refers…to a dynamic and multi-dimensional process of economic integration whereby national resources become more and more internationally mobile while national economies become increasingly interdependent.”  This process has been a major facilitator of increased tobacco use in emerging markets, while established markets such as the US have faced the dynamic challenge of regulating an industry that has benefited from increased crossborder flows of trade, finance, communications and populations.  As globalization and the tobacco industry continue to evolve, tobacco control must adapt accordingly.

The purpose of this project is to support the strengthening of tobacco control policies by generating new knowledge of how the tobacco industry has adapted to and, in turn, shaped the global economy. Amid ongoing and evolving processes of globalization, the health burden from tobacco-related diseases has risen worldwide.  While stronger tobacco control policies have begun to be adopted by many governments, effective regulation of the tobacco industry at the national, regional and global levels has become more difficult to advance without fuller understanding of the structure and activities of the tobacco industry amid globalization. The proposed research thus aims to understand the dual and dynamic relationship between the tobacco industry and globalization. This new knowledge will, in turn, be used to inform the strengthening of tobacco control policies both nationally and, through collective action across countries, regionally and globally as part of emerging institutions for global health governance.

This project will analyze how the tobacco industry has been affected by, and adapted to, developments in the global economy through corporate restructuring, operational rationalization, new product development, creation of new marketing modalities and other strategic measures. We will demonstrate how the industry has changed its practices in response to the global economy. Second, new insights will be developed on how the tobacco industry has itself shaped the global economy by influencing the terms of trade agreements, policies of key global economic institutions, and ‘framing’ of trade and economic policies.  We argue that understanding the effects of the globalizing world economy on transnational tobacco companies (TTCs), and conversely their shaping of the global economy, is essential to strengthening public health measures to reduce the global disease burden from tobacco use.


Key project areas

  • Health policy
  • Corporate actors (especially tobacco, alcohol, food industries)
  • Evidence informed policy making, trade and health, multi-level governance
  • -Study design

Study design

  • Qualitative case studies (interviews and documentary analysis)


  • International/Global


  • 2013-17

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Kelley Lee


  • Ongoing

Funding source

  • NIH

Project partners

  • Simon Fraser Uuniversity
  • York University
  • MacQuarie
  • San Diego State

For more information on this project please contact Ben Hawkins.

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