Beware The Might Of The Tobacco Industry

As civil society, governments, and other stakeholders, all over the world, struggle to enact lifesaving measures of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), tobacco companies aggressively fight its implementation, using a range of tactics to undermine advances being made by the aforesaid global tobacco treaty. Threats to health policy include aggressive lobbying, political intimidation and strategic charitable donations. The  recent report of Corporate Accountability International, ‘Philip Morris International Exposed, An Alternative Annual Report’, outlines many of the tactics from litigation to bullying that the industry uses to undermine public health.

“Just two weeks ago, executives of Philip Morris International lauded the corporation’s expansion into its new markets of Latin America, Africa and Asia,” said Gigi Kellett, challenging Big Tobacco Director for Corporate Accountability International. “Unfortunately, Big Tobacco is using any means necessary to spread this deadly and addictive epidemic: bullying, lawsuits, trade agreements, and outright violations of international law.”

"Around the globe, developing nations and emerging markets have become important sources of new revenues for the tobacco industry," said Ricardo Sandoval Palos, project manager for ICIJ's Smoke Screen series. "Our reporters have documented how the industry has focused its lobbying clout against the spread of public health initiatives and tobacco controls."

As of today, 172 countries and the European Union have ratified the global tobacco treaty, which can save more than 200 million lives, if and when fully implemented. The treaty,which  entered into force in 2005, provides a road-map for countries to tackle the tobacco epidemic through a range of tobacco
controls, from comprehensive ad bans to smoke-free places. Its central provision also safeguards the treaty against tobacco industry interference in public health.

 “Through its unrelenting attempts at thwarting any form of regulation Big Tobacco poses the single greatest threat to the treaty’s lifesaving measures,” said Philip Jakpor of Environmental Rights Action Nigeria and the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT). “But countries,
large and small, refuse to be intimidated; they are standing up to the industry’s bullying.”

 In Jamaica, civil society is calling for full implementation of the treaty, which the country ratified in 2005. Tobacco contributes to the leading causes of death in Jamaica but recent news that the Jamaican government has accepted funds from a British American Tobacco subsidiary to repair police
vehicles and that it is planning to expand tobacco production in the country has compromised the government’s promises to implement the treaty. In April and May, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and Corporate Accountability International delivered more than 3,500 messages to Jamaica’s Prime Minister and Minister of Health.

 “The Jamaican government's expansion of the tobacco industry runs counter to our obligations under the FCTC,” said Barbara McGaw of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. “Rather than partnering with British American Tobacco, our government leaders should be doing everything in their power to implement the treaty's lifesaving measures and supporting farmers to look at alternative crops."

Jamaica is just one example. There are similar happenings all over the world which confirm the tobacco industry’s tactics to interfere with the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty. Governments have admitted (like in India, on the issue of change of pictorial health warnings) to the intense lobbying by tobacco companies, in thwarting (or at least delaying/prolonging) any concrete efforts to curb the menace of tobacco, which is a proven lethal threat to public health. It seems strange that rather than controlling the activities of the peddlers of poison, governments are being governed by them. On one hand they ratify FCTC, and on the other hand, they pamper the tobacco giants by diluting anti tobacco laws, turning a blind eye to surrogate advertising, and encouraging sponsorships by the industry in the field of sports, arts, education and even for bravery awards.

The global tobacco treaty has been in force for more than 6 years and the tobacco industry’s actions are tantamount to taking authority away from countries to enact effective public health measures.
 “Strong voices from global alliances, like NATT, and exposés like the ICIJ report are critical to ensuring the strength of this treaty and the protection of public health around the globe,” said Bobby Ramakant of Asha Parivar and NATT in India.

In this war against tobacco, let us join hands with Corporate Accountability International, and other like-minded organizations to wage and win campaigns challenging irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around the world. Nobody has the right, no matter how mighty, to play with the health of an entire generation across the globe.


Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
Wikio News, Africa
Tobacco Industry Today, UK
CNS Tobacco Control Initiative, India