Support from alcohol or tobacco businesses: between demand and ethics

Article published on March 2, 2010
community published
Article published on March 2, 2010
Social players, the receivers of support from tobacco or alcohol businesses, say that they do not think that potential intentions of “sensitive” businesses to support artistic and educational projects should withhold them from accepting the support. Such support is sometimes considered to be decisive for a project to be implemented or not, and the question of ethics should be answered only for oneself.

During discussion about the support from alcohol, tobacco, pharmacy and gambling businesses, which was held on 20 August, the supported, supporters and representatives of related institutions and organizations did not find a unanimous consensus on how such support should be assessed. However, Sergejus Muravjovas, head of the Transparency International division in Lithuania, noted that it is necessary to speak about acceptable and unacceptable forms of problematic support – not about refusal or necessity of such support.

“Speaking about support – is it ethical or not? For five years we have been carefully planning the whole project (addiction prevention project Aš galiu (I can) – editor’s note) so that not a single schoolchild, in no way could find out that the project was supported by a tobacco company (Philip Morris Lietuva – editor’s note). To my mind, if they find it out it would be a terrible crime from our part. Such is our internal ethical attitude”, Girvydas Duoblys, director of the Civil Initiatives Centre, chairman of the board of the Coalition of Non-governmental Organizations Galiu gyventi (I can live), stated.

Girvydas Duoblys, one of the authors of the project Aš galiu (I can), told that support from tobacco company made the implementation of the project possible and assured that no intentions of the sponsor had any influence to the project. He also noted that if the project became argument of the company in political discussions regarding, for example, excise duty, it would be the matter of the politicians not to yield to the interests of the group concerned.

Participant of the discussion Aurelijus Veryga, president of the Lithuanian National Alcohol and Tobacco Control Coalition, was much more critical when speaking on the issue of support from alcohol and tobacco businesses. According to his assessments, even if projects manage to bypass direct advertising companies benefit from such support during political discussions. Besides, Aurelijus Veryga doubted that the content of the project Aš galiu (I can) was independent from tobacco company.

“In fact, it is the project of Philip Morris: we can find their correspondence, it is available in the internet, etc. It is another discussion; but the world has already decided long ago that such things should not happen”, he said.

According to A. Veryga, the state possesses mechanisms to control problematic support: it allocates a certain share of taxes to support, distributes the support through its funds and by doing so, prevents companies from having a direct influence to the content of projects.

When discussing problematic support, Audronis Imbrasas, director of the Lithuanian Dance Information Centre, who was one of the organizers of the festival Naujasis Baltijos šokis (New Baltic Dance), rhetorically debated if it is moral to accept money redistributed by the politicians if it is immoral to accept support directly from business.

“For me, in this situation the influence of certain political forces to the society seems much more dangerous than this one (the one of the supporters – editor’s note)”, A. Imbrasas noted.

Šarūnas Bagdonas, chairman of the Lithuanian Parent Forum, emphasized the importance of non-governmental foundations: money is supposed “to have a smell”, therefore, an intermediary could serve as an instrument to change that “smell”. According to his assessment, foundations that play the role of intermediaries between business and non-governmental organizations could solve the problems of ethics, which could hardly be unanimously regulated by codes.

“When things come to the assessment “good” or “bad” without taking into consideration law, avoidance of taxes, etc., if there is “good” or “bad” – these are the matters of worldview, their organization is rather diverse and perhaps there is no code that would help to choose. (…) Then, to my mind, certain intermediary foundations would, however, be a technically correct solution. Catholic Church is a fundamental example here – donations are collected from people of various reputations but the reputation of the institution itself remains irreproachable”, Š. Bagdonas suggested.

Vaiva Budrienė, representative of the producer of spirits Stumbras, viewed the problematic situation from a different angle. She expressed dissatisfaction that according to laws, the company is obliged not to inform about the support granted; therefore, support turns into charity.

“People should understand that we are a private company, not a charity organization. Support never pays dividends but we are a private, legally acting body and we would like to participate in social life, unfortunately, today we feel like being prevented from it”, V. Budrienė said.

The company MG Baltic – manager of Stumbras – is also the owner of LNK television, internet portal and several magazines. According to Dainius Radzevičius, chairman of Journalists Union, the fact that the same capital is allowed to manage “sensitive” businesses and at the same time to inform the society, although alcohol or tobacco producers are imposed restrictions regarding information about the support granted, is illogical.

On 20 August, discussion about the support from producers of spirits, tobacco or other “sensitive” products was organized by the Civic Responsibility Foundation. It is the first event out of the cycle of ten discussions about support and charity. The cycle of discussions is organized having received support from the European Economic Area and Norwegian Financial Mechanisms.