Sponsorship is a common marketing tool used by the tobacco industry. It is one of several strategies of the industry to increase sales or halt decreasing sales due to expanding tobacco control regulations. An important aspect of the sponsorship strategy is to create a more positive public image of the industry as it has suffered heavily in recent decades. Tobacco companies try to improve this negative image by sponsoring public events like music festivals, exhibitions or party conventions.
In Georgia, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) now appears as partner of a media award for journalists who have been working on Corporate Social Responsibility. The media competition called “Journalists for Corporate Social Responsibility 2019” was held by the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG) and aims “to promote active and accurate media coverage of CSR and raise awareness about the CSR concept”. Five Georgian journalists were honored as “Journalists for Corporate Social Responsibility 2019”. The prize was awarded on 18th of February 2020 as part of the CSRDG programme “Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative”. The programme itself is funded by the European Union and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS). KAS is the German political foundation of the ruling conservative party CDU. CSRDG is a Georgian NGO which aims to strengthen civil society and to contribute to the economic development of the country. Its main activities are funded by the European Union and the German church-based NGO Bread for the World.
According to the newspaper Georgia Today, JTI is a partner of this award. Additionally to the award winners, JTI nominated two journalists who will be sponsored to attend the European Publishing Congress in Vienna, Austria in October 2020. At this congress, media and business representatives will discuss trends in the media sector. The Romanian branch of JTI, Japan Tobacco International Romania, is listed on the congress website as award winner in the section “Social Media” by the European Corporate Media Award. JTI Romania has a similar programme for funding journalists in Romania. Since a new tobacco control legislation came into effect in Georgia in May 2018, the advertisement, sponsorship and promotion of tobacco products is strictly prohibited.
Furthermore, sponsoring activities by the tobacco industry are contrary to Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Georgia is a party to the FCTC since 2006. Nonetheless, it is one of the European countries with the highestsmoking rates. Every year, 11,400 people die from the consequences of tobacco use, 2,100 alone from secondhand smoke. Georgia is an associated member of the EU and therefore is not subject to its tobacco product regulation directives. Anyhow, these directives are recommended by the EU to its associated members.
The FCTC Implementation and Monitoring Center in Georgia has asked CSRDG to publicly distance themselves from this partnership with JTI, as the Center confirmed to Unfairtobacco in an Email. Furthermore, the Revenue Service of Georgia was informed. According to the Implementation and Monitoring Center, JTI´s sponsoring directly violates Georgian law on tobacco control on advertisement. The penalty for violation can be around 1,700 USD. In a media statement the Center called on the Revenue Service to penalize JTI and organizations related to the award winning ceremony. Also the journalists who won attendance at the Vienna conference were asked to publicly reject JTI’s support. EU officials in Georgia, the KAS and other donor organizations were asked to exclude the tobacco industry in their activities or grant proposals.