Journalist Spotlight

Aditya Kalra on Reuters investigation into Philip Morris' lobbying tactics

A recent two-part Reuters investigation into the lobbying and marketing tactics of Philip Morris International Inc revealed that the company has for years run a secret global campaign to undermine the World Health Organization’s anti-smoking treaty, which was designed to save lives by curbing tobacco use around the world, and targets young adult smokers in India in ways that government officials say violate the country’s anti-smoking laws.

The findings are based in part on one of the largest-ever leaks of tobacco industry documents. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, correspondent Aditya Kalra offers a look at how the team reported the story.

Q. How did the team get started on this story?

A. Tobacco has been an area of interest for us, and as we were looking into how the industry markets its products, we uncovered a trove of Philip Morris documents. The documents showed that Philip Morris was deploying massive resources to subvert the World Health Organization’s anti-smoking treaty. It has turned out to be one of the largest-ever tobacco industry leaks.

Q. What types of reporting were involved in the story?

A. Our team of reporters worked in 14 countries on these stories. It was important to tap a very broad network of sources to find out more about the tobacco industry’s strategies.

We talked to everyone from farmers and government officials to anti-smoking activists and tobacco industry executives around the world. And we conducted data analysis of the changing composition of national delegations to the world tobacco treaty, with advice from our data journalism desk.

Q. What was the hardest part about reporting the story?

A. The hardest part was to figure out how exactly the company executed its plans on the ground. This was essential to bring the story alive.

During the WHO treaty meeting last year in November, the team spent hours reporting on how tobacco industry executives engaged with the delegates from different countries. That included many hours spent in hotel lobbies in New Delhi where delegates and tobacco executives were staying. It was hard at times, but worth it.

Q. Why did you think this was an important story to tell Reuters customers and readers?

A. The story was important for both the public at large and our clients. That’s because it involved Philip Morris International, one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, and its campaign against the WHO anti-smoking treaty which is designed to save lives.

The secret nature of Philip Morris’ efforts made it a more compelling story to tell.

Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?

A. It always keeps me excited and on my toes. There’s always a story behind every company, every government and every industry, just waiting to be told. I don’t think any other profession can match the adrenaline rush you get when you break a big story.

Q. What is your beat/job and what do you find most fulfilling about it?

A. As a reporter on the South Asia Enterprise Team, I spend a large amount of time looking for evolving business trends or changing policy landscapes. Though I’ve closely tracked India’s healthcare and economic policies in the past, the freedom of writing across different beats has helped me learn more about them.

Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?

A. I don’t think so – it’s one of the perfect jobs. You get to meet new people, learn new things almost daily and spend time investigating things which have been brushed aside but are of significant interest.

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