Tobacco Industries challenge government policies

Chhatra Karki, Nepal
(First published in Kapan Online, Nepal on 26 September 2013)
 The tobacco producers across the world have often been challenging the government’s bid to control the productions and sales of the tobacco containing products. The tobacco industries in different countries of Asia, Africa, Middle-East and Europe have been charged with not abiding by the policies relating to public health.

Such companies have been influencing the policymakers and politicians by giving bribes and donations, and the media to launch campaigns against public health policies through false publicity and advertisements.

According to Dr Ehsaan Latif, Director of  International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the assistances and gifts given by the tobacco industries that government policy makers easily accept in poor countries is a challenge. Latif says, “Government policy makers should know how the tobacco producers are influencing the public-health policies under the pretext of philanthropic deeds.”

The industrialists easily accept the proposals to sponsor different programs and offer donations after getting nod to easily expand their business and winning the legal battle. Such industries even use the youth for advertisements and other promotional activities.

The industries even lobby, if the situation is in  their favour, against the policy made for control of the tobacco products. In 2010, Australia’s tobacco industries challenged the government policy as the tobacco producers launched a campaign by forming Alliance of Australian Retailer (AAR). The companies even brought the unrelated persons in the face to protest the government policy.

Likewise, tobacco companies have been sponsoring different programs in Kenya under the name of social corporate responsibility. The case of rule violation is same in Nepal as well. The tobacco producers in Nepal have not abided by the government directive issued two years ago for printing warning messages on the covers, packets, parcels and packaging. The ulterior motive of the business persons is blamed for not complying with the directive. In May 2011, Nepal government made the Tobacco Control and Regulation Act 2011 and issued Directive in November the same year for the implementation procedures.

The Act defines tobacco products as cigarette, quid of tobacco, cigar, pipe, sulphaand kakkad, chewing tobacco (khaini), gutkha, tobacco leaves or similar types of products prepared or manufactured for smoking or for consumption.

The chapter 3 (9) of the Act has stated the manufacturers shall print and indicate clear and visible warning messages and hazards, colorful picture of harmful effect due to consumption of tobacco products covering at least seventy-five percent of packet, wrappers, packaging of parcel, label total outer side in Nepali language with details like tobacco products are injurious to health as prescribed by the ministry. 

According to the Directive, ‘the top part of the front and back of the smoking package should contain a message i.e ‘Smoking and Tobacco Consumption Causes Lungs Cancer’. Likewise, the middle part of the package should be printed with ‘Tobacco Is Injurious to Health’ and ‘Smoking Kills Life’.Similarly, the right part of the package should be printed with ‘Let’s Give Up Smoking. It contains nitrosamine and benzofuran, the elements causing cancer.' Furthermore, the left side the package should contain ‘Nicotine, Tar and Carbon Monoxide in smoking cause heart and lungs diseases. Let’s give up smoking.” The Directive has mentioned the sample of the picture to be printed on the package. But instead of abiding by the Directive, the tobacco companies filed a case in  the Apex Court.

Challenging the reluctance of the tobacco industries to print the warning messages and picture of cancer, Chief of Consumers’ Rights Protection Forum Jyoti Baniya and Chairman of Nepal Cancer Relief Society Lokendra Shrestha jointly lodged a case at the Supreme Court (SC) demanding that the tobacco companies abide by the rule. The apex court issued a mandamus in the name of tobacco companies to sell the tobacco related goods only by ensuring the pictures mentioned in the Directive.

After the directive of the SC, tobacco industries including the Surya Tobacco Company lodged a writ petition at the SC again claiming that the government promulgated the directive without prior information. In tune with the tobacco producing companies, the SC also directed the government not to bring the directive into effect immediately. The SC’s verdict has resulted in non-implementation of the directive.

The consumer rights activists argue that the tobacco industries are hell-bent to foil the directive with their power from womb-to-tomb. Chief of Consumers’ Rights Protection Forum Baniya says, “The tobacco producers just pretended that they were uninformed. Information about the Act and directive was disseminated to the public before its implementation. Claim of the industries is ridiculous.” 

“The government is not supposed to provide the copies of laws in every household. The claim of uninformed about the Act was dishonesty of the industrialists,” Baniya adds. The tobacco producing industrialists have also provoked the laborers, street vendors and even pedestrians to lodge 11 other cases at the Supreme Court luring them of incentives. The cases are in pending for two years.

The division bench of Justices Kalyan Shrestha, Tarkaraj Bhatta and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki is looking the case. Many have suspected the hands of tobacco industries for delayed verdict in such serious case related to the public health. Interest of the officials of the section concerned is also linked with this case, Baniya claims. The officials at the National Health, Education, Information and Communications Center of the Ministry of Health have said that they can do nothing until the SC gives a final verdict in the case. Director at the Center Sunil Raj Sharma said, “We are awaiting the SC’s verdict.”

For being the party state of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Nepal is obliged to implement the Act. The article 5.3 of the Convention states, “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

According to a report, two-thirds of total 100 million world smokers live in 15 different countries including China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Likewise, the annual death toll from smoking stands at 6 million.    

Chhatra Karki, Nepal
Citizen News Service - CNS
(First published in Kapan Online, Nepal on 26 September 2013)