Engagement with the tobacco industry: Guidance for local government

Engagement with the tobacco industry: guidance for local government
This publication is relevant to all local government officers and elected representatives who may be approached to interact with either the tobacco industry or people who have affiliations with the tobacco industry.


This publication sets out how local councils can manage interaction with the tobacco industry, in line with the requirements of article 5.3 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and in accordance with the WHO Guidelines for implementation of article 5.3.

We are providing guidance on what action they should take to adhere to article 5.3. This guidance should be read and followed by all local government officers and elected representatives who may be approached to interact with either the tobacco industry or people who have affiliations with the tobacco industry.

The FCTC, including article 5.3, applies across the UK government, including:

  • government departments
  • arm’s length bodies
  • agencies
  • local councils
  • any person or organisation acting on behalf of the above bodies.

This document builds upon guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care, the custodians of the FCTC for the UK Government. DHSC and the LGA strongly encourages local councils to use this guidance to support their decision making. They can also use this guidance to draft their own guidance, considering their individual circumstances and recognising the full range of policy to which article 5.3 might apply.


The FCTC is the blueprint for governments to adopt effective tobacco control. It includes both price and tax measures, as well as non-price measures, with the aim of reducing the demand for tobacco and giving priority to public health. 

The UK government was one of the first signatories of the FCTC and takes its obligations under the FCTC very seriously. The UK ratified the FCTC on 16 December 2004. In 2019 ratification was extended to Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey, and in 2020 to Gibraltar. As of April 2023, there are 182 parties to the FCTC.

In the FCTC, article 5.3 sets out how governments should interact with the tobacco industry:

In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.

Article 1 of the FCTC defines the tobacco industry as “tobacco manufacturers, wholesale distributors and importers of tobacco products”. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • organisations or individuals with commercial or vested interests in the tobacco industry
  • those that receive funding from the tobacco industry
  • those that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry, including organisations with directors from the tobacco industry
  • tobacco growers
  • associations or other entities representing any of the above
  • industry lobbyists.

WHO has developed guidelines for implementation of article 5.3 to assist parties to the FCTC to meet their article 5.3 obligations. Parties have agreed by consensus that the guidelines reflect their consolidated view on how the FCTC obligations can be properly met. All parties to the FCTC have agreed that the measures set out in the guidelines should be followed in all branches of government, including local councils.

UK government approach

There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests. Officials and elected members should exercise caution during interactions with the tobacco industry, in all cases.

All officers and elected members should be aware of their obligations under article 5.3. For the purposes of article 5.3 compliance, a trade body, association or other organisation with tobacco industry participation or funding would be considered to be part of the tobacco industry.

The UK government will not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements, nor any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests. 

Councils should also not accept, support or endorse the tobacco industry organising, promoting, participating in, or performing, youth, public education or any initiatives that are directly or indirectly related to tobacco control.

At a national level, occasional interactions with the tobacco industry will be required to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products. If interactions are required, these should be conducted with maximum transparency to demonstrate compliance with the FCTC. Such interactions should occur only when (and to the extent that is) strictly necessary, to enable effective regulation of the tobacco industry and tobacco products, and to protect and improve public health. 

Meetings and events

Officers and councillors should not attend conferences or events which are organised by the tobacco industry. Officials are permitted to attend non-tobacco industry funded events where there are tobacco industry representatives in attendance, only if their attendance is for the purposes of:

  • enabling effective regulation
  • gathering intelligence to support effective regulation
  • protecting and improving public health.

If an officer or councillor speaks at a conference or event where the tobacco industry is in attendance, they should always clearly set out their responsibilities under article 5.3 in their presentation.


Voluntary or non-binding funding to support the work of the council should not be accepted directly or indirectly from the tobacco industry, under any circumstances.


When undertaking a consultation on tobacco policy, respondents should be asked to declare any direct or indirect links to, or funding received from, the tobacco industry.


To ensure transparency in interactions with the tobacco industry, all officers and councillors should publish:

  • correspondence received from tobacco industry representatives
  • replies sent to tobacco industry representatives
  • minutes of any meetings.

The LGA advises councils to publish commercially non-sensitive correspondences and minutes of meetings held with stakeholders. Publications will be redacted using the Freedom of Information Act exemptions. As an example, DHSC currently publishes relevant correspondence related to article 5.3 of the FCTC.

Support offered

As custodians of the FCTC in the UK, DHSC will provide support across local and national government to ensure the obligations under article 5.3 are met. However, it is for individual local councils to decide on how they comply with the FCTC. DHSC officials are happy to discuss the FCTC and its implications for public authorities when assessing and implementing their own measures to protect tobacco control policies from tobacco industry interference.

Due to the difficulty of identifying who is covered under the tobacco industry, who receives funding, and who is affiliated with it, we recommend using online tools such as the Tobacco Tactics website to support decision making. This can make it easier to identify any links with the tobacco industry. Officers and members should look carefully for evidence of an actual conflict of interest, because simply being named on the Tobacco Tactics website does not necessarily mean there is a conflict of interest. 

If there is no information on Tobacco Tactics, we encourage stakeholders to conduct further proportionate due diligence and research.


If you need to contact the public health team at the LGA, please email [email protected]

If you need to contact the DHSC Tobacco Control Team, please email [email protected]

Annex A: Framework Convention on Tobacco Control obligations

Summary of main points

  • Government should meet its obligations under the FCTC. Any actions that may conflict with the FCTC, locally or nationally, should be avoided.
  • Limit contact with the tobacco industry unless strictly necessary, such as in matters of regulatory significance. This includes any person or organisation that is likely to be working to further the interests of the tobacco industry.
  • All contact with the tobacco industry should be transparent, for example in public or in writing.
  • There should be no involvement or support in activities that promote the sale, export or import of tobacco or tobacco products.
  • Organisations should not invest in the tobacco industry or provide help to tobacco companies to secure incentives.
  • Organisations should not accept either direct or indirect funding from the tobacco industry, such as for community projects or capital investments. Payments, gifts and services, monetary or in-kind, offered by the tobacco industry can create conflicts of interest. They should also not accept invitations to attend or support a reception or high-profile event sponsored by the tobacco industry.
  • No endorsement of, or recommendations for, any tobacco industry organisation should be made, and care should be taken to avoid creating the impression that any such endorsement exists. Projects, activities or work funded directly or indirectly by the tobacco industry should not be endorsed and care should be taken to avoid creating the impression that any such endorsement exists.
  • Organisations should not endorse, support, form partnerships with, or take part in activities of the tobacco industry that could be described as ‘socially responsible’. For example, this could relate to public education or activities that are aimed at improving public health. Government logos (including local government logos) must not appear alongside the branding of any tobacco industry organisations, tobacco companies, or tobacco products.
  • Organisations should publish details of the meetings they have with the tobacco industry on their websites. To maximise transparency, organisations can correspond with the tobacco industry in writing and then make sure accurate records are made available for disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation.
  • Organisations should verify whether an organisation, body, group or institution that contacts them about tobacco control has any affiliation to or link with the tobacco industry. Organisations may wish to make any disclosed links transparent.

Annex B: further information about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous consumer product. One in two long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related illness. This makes smoking the single biggest cause of preventable death in England, causing nearly 64,000 premature deaths each year. It is also one of the most significant causes of health inequalities. For these reasons, tobacco warrants special regulatory treatment and is regulated differently to other goods, for example through packaging requirements and specific taxes.

There is a natural tension between the public health aim to reduce smoking prevalence and the vested interests of businesses that profit from making and selling tobacco products.

These factors have led to the FCTC, to which the UK is a party. The FCTC was adopted by the World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003 and ratified by the UK in 2004. The FCTC entered into effect in 2005 and today over 180 countries are parties to the treaty. The FCTC is the world’s first public health treaty.

The FCTC is an evidence-based treaty that sets out obligations across a wide range of areas, including:

  • taxation
  • packaging and labelling
  • education
  • tobacco cessation
  • illicit trade
  • sales to minors
  • protection from exposure to second-hand smoke
  • the need to protect tobacco control policies from the financial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

The FCTC guidelines

Parties to article 5.3 agreed the WHO Guidelines for implementation of article 5.3 to help them meet their obligations. These guidelines reflect the parties’ consolidated views of how best to implement the FCTC. The guidelines draw on evidence and the practical experience of the parties in handling tobacco industry tactics. They aim to ensure that efforts to protect tobacco control from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry are comprehensive and effective.

All parties to the FCTC, including the UK, agreed the text of the guidelines through consensus and that they should be implemented by all relevant branches of government. The agreed position is set out in the introduction to the guidelines and states:

The guidelines are applicable to government officials, representatives and employees of any national, state, municipal, local or other public or semi/quasi-public institution or body within the jurisdiction of a Party, and to any person acting on their behalf. Any government branch (executive, legislative and judiciary) responsible for setting and implementing tobacco control policies and for protecting those policies against tobacco industry interests should be accountable.

The tobacco industry and social responsibility

Recommendation six of the guidelines addresses the issue of how the tobacco industry use activities that can be described as “socially responsible” as part of their marketing and public relations strategies, which are ultimately aimed at the promotion of tobacco consumption. The recommendation is:

Denormalize and, to the extent possible, regulate activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry, including but not limited to activities described as “corporate social responsibility.

Under this recommendation, the guidelines explain that:

The corporate social responsibility of the tobacco industry is, according to WHO, an inherent contradiction, as industry’s core functions are in conflict with the goals of public health policies with respect to tobacco control.

The guidance makes a number of recommendations under recommendation 6, including that:

Parties should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in activities of the tobacco industry described as socially responsible.

How article 5.3 obligations affect you

The UK government takes its international obligations under the FCTC very seriously. These obligations have a wide reach into the work of both central government (and its arm’s length bodies) and local government, especially given local councils’ responsibilities for public health.

The international lobby promoting tobacco control is increasingly well organised. The article 5.3 guidelines recognise that civil society can play an important role in monitoring the activities of the tobacco industry. In the UK, the public health lobby (for example, Action on Smoking and Health and the Smokefree Action Coalition) seek to highlight any activity that appears to conflict with the FCTC.