Cambodia’s top-selling cigarette firm achieved dominance by courting senior political figures and vigorously opposing public health legislation, according to a study published this month in medical journal Global Public Health.
Twenty years after moving into Cambodia, British American Tobacco Cambodia (BATC) controls 40.3 per cent of the cigarette market.
Through analysis of internal industry documents available through the global Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, by Drs Ross MacKenzie and Jeff Collin examined the strategies employed by BATC to reach the top spot.
The documents from the mid-1990s revealed a strategy focused on “handling government officials both at provincial and national levels on a variety of topics”.
Mac-Kenzie and Collin found that BATC’s greatest asset in managing those relationships was its chairman, Oknha Kong Triv, whose real value, they assert, was “his connections to the inner circle around the CPP”.
Related strategies involved funding the Hun Sen Forestation Nursery and BAT’s regional marketing director thanking the prime minister for his “vision, wisdom and leadership”.
MacKenzie and Collin believe BATC’s lobbying paid off. The government, they report, gave the company generous preferential tax treatment and a willing ear to listen to its concerns on policy matters.
Cambodia’s 2005 ratification of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control should have made further exploitation of those relationships impossible.
Article 5.3 of the convention requires signatory nations to protect health policy from the “vested interests of the tobacco industry”.
Yet in a 2010 conversation with the Post, Kun Lim, BATC’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs, praised government officials for their “commitment to listen” and a 2007 internal document spoke of the “culture of partnership” between the company and state.
Yel Daravuth, who heads the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative in Cambodia, believes that while Article 5.3 has been adopted by Cambodia on paper, there is a lack of proper guidelines.
“It’s very important [to have specific guidelines] because it will tell the government what they should do, what they should not do and how restricted they are. If they want to [meet with tobacco executives], they have to be very transparent,” said Daravuth.
Cambodia Movement for Health executive director Dr Kong Mom said in an email the tobacco industry persistently attempts to railroad policies that would curb their position.
“Recently, the tobacco industry in Cambodia established an alliance called Association of Tobacco Industry of Cambodia aiming at interfering in the development and implementation of the law on tobacco control and its regulations. It is not the matter of which company is more or less aggressive than other companies, but they work together to protect their vested interest,” Mom wrote.
The Ministry of Health’s vice chief of tobacco and health, Kong Sam An, could not be reached yesterday. A BATC representative hung up when a Post reporter called for comment.