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Nepal charity rejects $400,000 tobacco industry ‘donation’ after pressure from tobacco control advocates

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The Union congratulates the Kathmandu Institute of Child Health (KIOCH) for rejecting a ‘donation’ of US$ 400,000 and declining a partnership offer from Surya Nepal Private Limited, the country’s largest tobacco company.

The donation was offered for a new children’s hospital, but tobacco control advocates moved quickly, preventing the company’s duplicitous attempt to improve its public image while simultaneously marketing its deadly products.

On hearing of the proposed partnership, The Union, Action Nepal, Nepal Health Journalist Forum, APCAT media, and other civil society partners acted swiftly and mobilised media partners to urge KIOCH Chairman Professor Dr Bhagawan Koirala to immediately cancel the agreement talks.

Dr Koirala, who is also the President of Nepal Medical Council, cancelled the partnership and rejected the donation on 23 April, within eight hours of mounting protests and media exposure.

“This is  yet another victory against the tobacco industry and its nefarious attempts to clean up its image through so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities,” said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Director of The Union Asia Pacific Office. “The message is loud and clear: tobacco industry tactics to undermine public health will not be tolerated.”

He added: “While the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Tobacco preys on vulnerable, financially stricken governments, tempting them with donations and sponsorships. But there are no free gifts, and the industry’s real motivation is to boost its profits and secure a seat at the table during policy negotiations.”

Dr Singh Bam noted that a rapid, well-coordinated civil society response—and substantial media support (including over 30 news articles)—was key to blocking the partnership and convincing KIOCH to reject the money.

This is not the first time Surya Nepal has attempted to undermine tobacco control. In 2011, the company challenged the directive requiring that 75 percent of cigarette packs be covered with pictorial health warnings. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of public health and against the industry.

In 2015, the tobacco industry again challenged the amended Directive to increase the size of pictorial health warnings from 75 to 90 percent. This litigation has not yet been resolved by the Supreme Court.  

Public health and civil society groups must remain vigilant—27,000 people die each year in Nepal from tobacco-related diseases.