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The Union Latin America Office 2020 Highlights

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The Union in collaboration with global partners published Smoking in times of COVID-19”. The report answers two key questions, ‘Are people who smoke more at risk of acquiring a SARS-COV-2 infection and developing COVID-19?’ and ‘Do people who smoke have a more severe evolution or worse prognosis if they acquire COVID-19?’.

The document concluded that taking into account the available information, it is pertinent to note that people who smoke and users of inhaled substances would have greater risks in the COVID-19 pandemic. Also that quitting smoking becomes a relevant preventive measure to better defend against SARS-Cov-2. Finally, The Union held a webinar to present the report.


The Union collaborated with the Center for Studies on Tobacco and Health (CETAB/ENSP/FIOCRUZ) to develop a COVID-19 and SMOKERS thematic panel. The panel was built and made available with data science and artificial intelligence techniques for massive and automated search of mentions (posts, news, comments, etc.) about the COVID-19 pandemic in digital media and social networks.

The Union also supported the CETAB/ENSP/FIOCRUZ to launch the new website for the Observatory on Strategies of the Tobacco Industry and the report on the Observatory's four-year activities.


The Union, in coordination with grantee Fundacion Anaas, facilitated the creation of a virtual course for graduate students enrolled in the Health Management programme at Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. The course was a platform that coordinated a network of 32 students in eight regions to collect information. As a result, the students reported more than 4,000 observations. The network allowed key aspects of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to be monitored, such as: tobacco products prices at the point of sales, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) ban, packaging, and labeling, and illicit trade.

In addition, students received brief instructions on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) market and were able to provide the first systematic inventory of these novel products in Colombia.

Furthermore, this virtual course has the possibility that more people can be trained in the future as it is hosted on the university's online educational system. This grant was supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.

El Salvador

The Union contributed to the publication of an academic paper in the BMJ Tobacco Control journal. Price and expenditure elasticity of cigarette demand in El Salvador: a household-level analysis and simulation of a tax increase was led by economist Guillermo Paraje. The paper concluded that increasing tobacco taxes has the potential to decrease consumption in El Salvador and raise fiscal revenues. It also found the tobacco tax burden in El Salvador is one of the lowest in Latin America and the social costs of tobacco consumption largely exceed the tobacco tax revenues. Thus, an increase in tobacco tax could significantly decrease the number of smokers and reduce the burden of tobacco-related diseases and deaths. This grant was supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.


The Union, in collaboration with grantee Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, published scientific report “The ENDS Repository”. The report analysed the latest scientific literature between 2017 to 2019 related to ENDS products. Thus, the repository informed both decision-makers and society in general about the scientific evidence around these products. At the same time, it exposed potential conflicts of interest in studies financed by the Tobacco Industry. For example, one of its conclusions was that having links to Industry (in the form of contracts, grants, scholarships, or research support) increases the probability that an article presents a favourable conclusion to vaping by 21 times. This grant was supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.


The Union, in alliance with grantee Ethos Public Lab, published five investigative journalism reports on national media. The reports explored the interference techniques the Tobacco Industry set in motion within the Mexican context. Specifically, the reports expanded on tactics to attract the youth with influencers, during  COVID-19, to interfere with taxessmoke-free environments,  and financing pro vaping groups.

For the last report on vaping groups, a video was produced which exposed the connection between the Tobacco Industry and these groups for the first time and was shared globally. As a result of these reports, an opinion piece was published in the Washington Post.

The grant established and strengthened partnerships with allied tobacco control organisations. These partnerships allowed more in-depth recommendations for transparency and accountability mechanisms within the Mexican judicial system, which derived from analysing the investigative journalism reports, article 5.3 of the FCTC, and the revision of local legislation, rules and regulations. As a result, the grant was able to produce a technical document shared with decision-makers, with very specific recommendations aimed at strengthening tobacco control policies. This grant was supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.


Three government ministries in Mexico were awarded with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) prize for World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), in recognition of the country’s recent decisions to increase tobacco tax and to ban the import of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs). Both achievements were supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.