Governments Must Short Circuit Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive Tactics

Credit: WHO

By Dr. Mary Assunta and Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo
BANGKOK, Thailand, Oct 25 2019 (IPS)

The tobacco industry’s new rhetoric that smoking is harmful
and that its so-called less risky products will reduce the global
tobacco epidemic, should see the industry stop opposing or fighting
government efforts to reduce tobacco use. However, this is not the
case.

The first
Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index
report found the
tobacco industry continues to undermine and derail government’s
tobacco control efforts to protect public health around the
globe.

Furthermore, this Global Index shows many governments continue
to move at a glacial pace in countering industry meddling, although
they are empowered to act under the global tobacco treaty, the WHO
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

This report card ranked countries according to their efforts in
protecting public health policies. Japan, Jordan,
Egypt
and Bangladesh are among those that
scored the highest in the level of tobacco industry influence,
which means weaker resistance of governments from industry
meddling, while the United Kingdom, Uganda and
Iran lead in protecting health policy from
industry meddling.

The ranking is based on civil society reports from 33 countries
covering about 70% of the world population. The Global Tobacco
Index is released by the STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and
Products) project.

Key global findings

Transparency
matters
. Countries fared better when they were more
transparent about their interactions with the industry, including
recording meetings or any donations and FOI regimes. Political
contributions and gifts from the tobacco industry are banned in
Brazil, Canada, France, Iran, Myanmar, Turkey, U.K.,
Uganda
and Uruguay. Among the countries
surveyed, transparency on political contributions is required only
in Kenya and the U.S.
Wooing senior government officials was rampant
across countries. Tobacco companies targeted departments of
finance, commerce and trade to achieve policy influence. They even
used frivolous awards to access and obtain endorsement from senior
officials.
Tax breaks benefitted the industry in many
countries. Many governments still consider the tobacco industry’s
business portfolio as a major economic driver and grant the
industry with trade incentives, exemptions, and duty-free tobacco
allowance that boost production and sales in markets that may have
other regulations in place.
E-cigarettes pose a new threat. There is
growing evidence of the industry using harm reduction claims about
e-cigarettes to justify interactions with government officials to
promote and open their doors to these new alternative products. In
2018, tobacco companies lobbied to make it easier for them to sell
or promote e-cigarettes in Philippines, Mexico,
Lebanon
and Turkey.

Meddling by the tobacco industry comes from all directions and
in various forms, presenting big challenges to governments.
Countries that resisted industry interference and prioritized
protecting health over foreign tobacco investments sometimes paid a
hefty price – they were sued by the tobacco industry for their
tough stance on tobacco control. India, Kenya and Uganda endured
such legal challenges and were delayed in implementing their strong
tobacco control laws.

Industry interference is rife in Asia, a huge, profitable market
for transnational tobacco companies. In recent years, Japan Tobacco
International (JTI), for example, acquired domestic cigarette
companies in Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, which will
increase its profits in these developing countries. JTI has opposed
tax increases in
Bangladesh
, the
Philippines
,
Malaysia
and elsewhere.

Contrary to its public stance on the dangers of smoking, Philip
Morris successfully sued the small City of Balanga (96,000
residents) in the Philippines for passing stringent legislation
that creates a tobacco-free environment to protect its people,
particularly the young generation.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance has been annually
reviewing government efforts in implementing WHO FCTC Article 5.3
for the past six years through a
regional index
across ASEAN.

Over the years, some governments have made progress to protect
public health policy, albeit slowly. Thailand and Myanmar have been
steadily improving in tackling industry interference, such as
ending tobacco-related CSR activities and rejecting recommendations
from the tobacco industry to be included in their health
policies.

The Philippines and Malaysia, on the other hand, have
deteriorated over the years showing they have succumbed to industry
interference. Malaysia, which in 2016 announced plans for
standardised packaging of tobacco, has not moved forward on the
policy.

The tobacco industry targets non-health departments,
particularly finance, industry, and trade, to protect or promote
its interests and disassociate its image from the health harms
caused by the inherently defective products it manufactures and
sells.

Governments must close this gap and tackle industry interference
by applying a whole-of-government approach. All departments need to
cooperate in putting public health first to strengthen overall
tobacco control.

Governments can short circuit the ‘divide-and-rule’ tactic
of the tobacco industry and fulfil their obligation under the WHO
FCTC to implement measures that protect themselves and public
health policies from being hijacked by the tobacco industry. It is
in governments’ hands to stop the interference.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and
Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to
expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine
public health. STOP is a partnership between The Tobacco Control
Research Group at the University
of Bath
, The Global Center for
Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC)
, The Union and
Vital Strategies.

The post
Governments Must Short Circuit Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive
Tactics
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Dr. Mary Assunta is Senior Policy Advisor of
SEATCA and Head of Global Research & Advocacy, Global Center
for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) & Dr.
Ulysses Dorotheo
is Executive Director of Southeast Asia
Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)

The post
Governments Must Short Circuit Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive
Tactics
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Governments Must Short Circuit Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive Tactics