It is urgent to protect children and youth from the interference of the tobacco industry!

On World No Tobacco Day, we again call for the development and implementation of public health policies to be free of interference from tobacco companies. It is urgent that the Argentine State prioritize the well-being and health of its population, and especially those who are the focus of the marketing strategies of this industry, that is, children and youth.

Tobacco and nicotine products are lethal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 8 million people die each year due to the consumption of these products and 1.3 million people die from just being exposed to second-hand smoke. For its part, Argentina’s epidemiological context is not far behind. According to the latest World Youth Tobacco Survey (2018), our country has one of the highest prevalence rates of tobacco addiction in the region: 20.2% of adolescents smoke. As if that were not enough, the age of initiation into consumption is already between 12 and 15 years.

Although it is well known that tobacco kills up to half of those who consume it, States are permeable (and sometimes even complicit) to the wide range of interference strategies deployed by tobacco companies. In general terms, these strategies seek to hinder the processes of advancing more protective norms of the right to health, undermine existing regulatory frameworks, take advantage of certain legal loopholes, as well as the ineffectiveness of State control mechanisms and, Finally, -the greatest purpose- to increase their profits and generate the necessary conditions to guarantee the sustainability of their businesses.

In Argentina, the interference of the tobacco industry is present, mainly, through the permanent and sustained lobbying of authorities of the National State and the provinces, the sabotage of legislative processes, the misrepresentation of scientific evidence along with the construction of confusing narratives that They seek to position their products as having reduced risk and the generation of economic threats in the face of the development of policies that seek to regulate their activity.

Without going any further, the push and pull that is taking place within the framework of the debate over the Bases bill in the National Congress which, among other things, implies a reform in the tax structure on tobacco products, are a clear example of the way in which this interference materializes. Both the exchanges between legislators and the media coverage have focused on the economic damages that one or another tobacco company would suffer if the reform were to advance, without taking center stage the negative impact that public health would suffer with a tax modification of these characteristics. -which enables the presence of very cheap cigarettes on the market, hindering the reduction of consumption- and, least of all, the great scandal that represents the fact that public power intervenes (or rather, plays a decisive role) in decision-making. any tobacco industry.

Although this has been the case of interference that, in recent days, has acquired greater notoriety, it is also possible to find other cases that reveal that progress towards better regulatory frameworks is, historically, a process fraught with obstacles. In this sense, the numerous draft regulations stand out that, after the sanction of the National Tobacco Control Law in 2011, were presented in the National Congress with the purpose of strengthening the response of the Argentine State to marketing tactics. of the tobacco industry. Despite the different presentations by various political parties and the important efforts of civil society to promote them, none of them achieved legislative treatment, losing their parliamentary status.

Along these lines, the large number of failed attempts to get the Argentine State to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) deserves special mention. A survey of the databases of the Chamber of Deputies and Senators of the Nation showed that, between 2003 and 2022, 33 bills were submitted – 15 in the Senate and 18 in the Deputies –, postulating accession to the Framework Agreement and without None of them managed to reach the plenary session. This instrument and its ratification by the National State are necessary and urgent as it would allow for a comprehensive framework for the implementation of policies aimed at reducing supply, demand and health, social and environmental damage caused by products. tobacco and nicotine. In addition, it would provide effective tools to protect public health policies against the commercial interests of tobacco companies, as well as individuals or other organizations that work to promote the interests of this industry. Even though the positive and strategic implications of being part of the Framework Convention are more than evident, our country is the only one in South America and one of the few in the world that is not yet part of it.

That said, it is worth asking: what are the consequences of allowing the deployment and interference of these practices within the States and, particularly, the Argentine State? Who is really harmed?

Although our country has a regulatory framework that in preventive matters has adopted certain restrictions on marketing, the protection of smoke-free environments and the prohibition of emerging products (such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products), the truth is is that these regulations have become outdated in the face of an industry that is constantly renewing itself and that spends millions of dollars on amplifying and diversifying its marketing strategies. Added to this is the almost non-existence of oversight mechanisms by the State, which prevents the identification of violations of existing regulations, the application of sanctions to offenders and, ultimately, a serious weakening of the progress that – after many efforts – the Argentine population managed to achieve tobacco control policies.

This situation is especially critical for the protection of children and youth, who, because they are in a stage of training and development, are highly vulnerable to the manipulative practices of the tobacco industry. This deepens if regulatory frameworks and state responses are insufficient to combat them.

Industry strategies are diverse. The launch of innovative and sophisticated products, the construction of narratives that position them as the “alternative” to quit smoking, the organization or presence at massive events or parties, and the use of social networks together with the hiring of influencers for their promotion have a single purpose: to naturalize – especially among young people – the consumption of tobacco and nicotine products, create a new generation of consumers and maintain a captive audience among those who already suffer from this addiction.

There is no doubt that tobacco industry interference undermines efforts to reduce the tobacco epidemic in our country. For this reason, we reiterate that the ratification of the FCTC by the Argentine State would represent a fundamental step to reverse this situation, as well as a firm commitment to the health and quality of life of its youngest population.

Protecting public health policies from the stalking of corporate interests in this industry is the most challenging aspect of tobacco control and, at the same time, the most urgent and necessary. The Argentine population needs the commitment of all social actors and political forces so that their rights are prioritized. It is no longer possible to continue waiting.


Clara Diaz Yofre Maga

Merlo Vijarra


Maga Merlo, magamerlov@fundeps.org