The tobacco industry to get ready for plain packaging

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
The tobacco industry continues to use aggressive tactics to wedge stumbling blocks to abate and delay tobacco control measures that help to protect the general public from dire health risks. The World No Tobacco Day, that is commemorated on the 31st May every year, was introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1988 to highlight the devastating impact of tobacco use on health, as well as to advocate for policies that help people quit tobacco use and discourage non-users from starting.

According to WHO, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of premature deaths worldwide, killing more than 6 million people each year. However, as John Stewart, Deputy Campaigns Director of Corporate Accountability International, who was on the panel of experts in a webinar organised by CNS and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), explained that the tobacco industry has repeatedly used underhand methods to wrongly present itself as a legitimate and above board industry with corporate social responsibility like any other industry. An ongoing investigation, involving a whistle blower Paul Hopkins, who worked with the British American Tobacco (BAT) for over a decade in Africa, reveals the  deceitful approaches used by the company of bribing those very people who were supposed to impose tobacco control measures to halt the tyranny of the tobacco industry. According to a newspaper report ( an investigation by the BBC revealed that BAT paid bribes to government officials of 3 African countries, connected to WHO’s framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC) in a bid to undermine this global anti-tobacco treaty.

This year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day is ‘Get ready for plain packaging’. Plain packaging, also called standardized packaging, makes tobacco products less attractive and directly informs the user of the negative health effects of tobacco use with a graphic picture and health warning, frequently banning the use of misleading words. On another level, this also redirects ‘stripping’ the tobacco industry of the silent weapon that has benefitted and lined the pockets of the industry owners. John Stewart noted that the Tobacco industry tactics have included:
  • Lobbying decision makers to be sincere to the cause of industry (instead of people’s health)
  • Drafting legislation, ensuring that it protects the industry operations
  • Promising self-regulation or voluntary initiatives to keep out external critics
  • Demanding a seat at policy making table, thereby influencing decisions and staying informed on controls
  • Promoting disguised ‘corporate social responsibility’, to impress and indirectly silence the voices of dissent
  • Gain influence through financial relationships with governments, since the governments feel dependent and indebted they would become ineffective in regulating the industry.

Notably, while the tobacco industry poses a great danger to mankind, there is also great power in the 180 nations, who are party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to overturn this despotism by the tobacco industry. Of essence is to firstly ensure no ties or benefits of any sort between the tobacco industry and governments and/or anti-tobacco advocates. Secondly, plain packaging of tobacco products, with clear health warning signs, will go a long way in deterring current tobacco users and dispiriting new ones. Thirdly, highly taxing the tobacco industry will increasingly make it an unprofitable business and enable governments to finance the negative health impacts caused by tobacco use. Lastly, a united effort will go a long way in turning the tide by increasing the impact of anti-tobacco campaigns and stripping down the power of the tobacco industry.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
June 1, 2016