Tobacco industry's human rights makeover: an archival review of British American Tobacco's human rights rhetorical veneer

Tob Control. 2022 Jun 15;tobaccocontrol-2022-057337. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2022-057337. Online ahead of print.


Background: British American Tobacco (BAT) released an industry-first human rights report in 2020, which extolled the efforts and objectives of the tobacco industry giant for promoting human rights. How BAT came to brand itself as a human rights champion, being a leader in an industry long accused of enabling human rights violations from leaf-to-stub including profiting from a product which inherently violates the right to health, is unknown. Exploring BAT's evolution through reviewing its materials and Tobacco Industry Documents could shed light on their development and what it means in the tobacco control and human rights context.

Methodology: We reviewed publicly available materials from BAT as well as conducted archival research in the Tobacco Industry Documents digital archives at University of California San Francisco. We focused on how and when BAT used terms such as 'human rights', 'right to health', 'sustainable development goal' and 'harm reduction' as well as 'Framework Convention on Tobacco Control'.

Results: We reviewed 48 BAT publications and 45 documents from the Tobacco Industry Documents archives. These materials demonstrate both BAT's increasing utilisation of human rights language as well as BAT's reuse of the same language, concepts and general rhetoric. BAT has not engaged significantly or meaningfully on the human right to health.

Conclusion: BAT's increasing use of human rights rhetoric does not appear to reflect a shift in the company's human rights positions, particularly with respect to the right to health of consumers and BAT's lack of impactful measures to eliminate the harms of its tobacco products.

Keywords: Global health; Human rights; Tobacco industry; Tobacco industry documents.