Philip Morris founded the ASEAN Arts Awards, a regional arts competition for artists based in countries within ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), in 1994. A decade later, the Awards have become the most prestigious arts competition in the region. Philip Morris remains the primary financial sponsor of the awards, which are also supported by the ASEAN Secretariat and 33 national art institutions throughout the region.

About the ASEAN Arts Awards

The arts competition, once an annual event, now takes place every two years. Artists are chosen to compete in the ASEAN final, following simultaneous competitions at the national level. Previous ASEAN Art Award Finals have been held in Singapore (1994, 2000), Jakarta (1995), Bangkok (1996), Manila (1997), Hanoi (1998), Kuala Lumpur (1999), and Bali (2002).

During the past decade, artists from 10 countries have been eligible to submit works, including : Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam (countries vary from year to year). Artists may submit two-dimensional forms of art up to 2 x 2 meters in size and created in the past two years. Participating countries and art organizations nominate a panel of internationally renowned judges to assess the entries. At the ASEAN level, one Grand Prize ($15,000) and five juror-choice prize award ($5,000) winners are chosen.

More than 18,000 works of art have been submitted to the competition since it started, and over 150,000 people have attended the awards.

What Philip Morris Gets Out of the ASEAN Art Awards

Publicly, Philip Morris likes to talk about its love of the arts. As Ellis Woodward, Vice President of Philip Morris Asia Limited said at the 2002 Awards:

“The ASEAN Art Awards were initiated to encourage, inspire and reward, and most importantly support, creative works by established and emerging artists within the region. It represents one of the most comprehensive and prestigious two dimensional art competitions in Southeast Asia.”

Philip Morris executives have also referred to the competition as “Art for Art’s Sake.” The company boasts on its website of supporting arts worldwide, noting that “art is a unique way for a society to define, express and understand its experience; for a company that sees itself firmly rooted in society, arts sponsorship is a given.”

But privately, the company is much more candid about the real reason for its support of the ASEAN Art Awards. C. Goddard of Philip Morris Asia Region noted in a 1997 company speech that:

“The Philip Morris Group of Companies ASEAN Art Awards – an art competition involving seven ASEAN markets that provides Corporate Affairs and management with direct access to senior government officials in each country and given us strong relationships at the ASEAN Secretariat.”
Source: Philip Morris Document, Bates 2074188961/9005 (page 19)

Philip Morris International Weekly Highlights from the 1990s detail many of the government ministries befriended and favorable media coverage obtained through the ASEAN Art Awards. The company classifies them under the category “public relations.” Here are a few examples:

INDONESIA: On July 11, the five finalists for the Philip Morris Group of Companies Indonesian/ASEAN Art Awards were announced in a ceremony held in Bali and officiated by representatives from the Ministries of Tourism and Education. The event was featured on TV and through press coverage. (1997)

MALAYSIA: On July 16, the five finalists for the Malaysian segment of the Philip Morris Group of Companies Malaysia/ASEAN Art Awards were announced in a ceremony held at the National Art Gallery and officiated by the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Culture. Philip Morris was highly praised for its continuous support for the Arts. The event was well covered by the press. (1997)

PHILIPPINES: Fifty finalists in the Philip Morris Group of Companies Philippines Art Awards went on exhibit starting July 14. Five Jurors Choices were awarded, who will compete in the ASEAN Art Awards to be held in Manila in September. Prominent art critics and government officials attended the award and opening night. Other entities supporting the event were the Metropolitan Museum and the National Commission for Culture and Arts. (1997) Source: Philip Morris Document, Bates: 2075808223

What some of these “senior government officials” have to say about Philip Morris’ sponsorship of the Awards:

“I would like to commend Philip Morris for their firm commitment to support the arts in Singapore, and more importantly in ASEAN. Without their commitment to ASEAN, this prestigious regional event would not be possible…The active participation of individuals and corporations, like Philip Morris, who have the passion of wanting to develop and elevate the arts and culture to greater heights in Singapore and ASEAN is extremely encouraging.” -- Mr. Yatiman Yusof, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, at Singapore-ASEAN Art Awards 2003 presentation.


The ASEAN Arts Award is a highly effective tool for Philip Morris to gain credibility, positive public relations, and access to government officials and ministries who have the power to help (or halt) the company’s expansion in Asia. The company’s political influence leveraging poses a serious threat to efforts to ratify/implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and to exclude tobacco from Asian free trade agreements, such as AFTA.

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