Objective: To systematically review studies of tobacco industry efforts to influence tobacco tax policies.
Methods: Searches were conducted between 1 October 2009 and 31 March 2010 in 14 databases/websites, in relevant bibliographies and via experts. Studies were included if they focused on industry efforts to influence tobacco tax policies, drew on empirical evidence, were in English and concerned the period 1985-2010. In total, 36 studies met these criteria. Two reviewers undertook data extraction and critical appraisal. A random selection of 15 studies (42%) was subject to second review. Evidence was assessed thematically to identify distinct tobacco industry aims, arguments and tactics.
Results: A total of 34 studies examined industry efforts to influence tax levels. They suggest the tobacco industry works hard to prevent significant increases and particularly dislikes taxes 'earmarked' for tobacco control. Key arguments to counter increases are that tobacco taxes are socially regressive, unfair and lead to increased levels of illicit trade and negative economic impacts. For earmarked taxes, the industry also frequently tries to raise concerns about revenue allocation. Assessing industry arguments against established evidence demonstrates most are unsupported. Key industry tactics include: establishing 'front groups', securing credible allies, direct lobbying and publicity campaigns. Only seven studies examined efforts to influence tax structures. They suggest company preferences vary and tactics centre on direct lobbying.
Conclusions: The tobacco industry has historically tried to keep tobacco taxes low using consistent tactics and misleading arguments. Further research is required to explore efforts to influence tax structures, excise policies beyond the USA and recent policies.