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March, 2009:

Priest Urges Smokers To Sue Cigarette Firms

By Allison Lopez, Philippine Daily Inquirer – 31 Mar 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Saying his brother Vincent has finally given a face to smoking’s ill effects, Fr. Robert Reyes and anti-smoking advocates Monday urged other victims to file cases against tobacco companies.

Reyes said the fact that his brother’s P500,000 damage suit against Philip Morris has reached the pre-trial stage was already a huge accomplishment.

“Because Judge Winlove (Dumayas of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 59) did not dismiss the case and is opening the case for pretrial, we have made a very big [step]. With media covering this case and helping [us] reach the sector that’s being affected and the sector not yet addicted to this product, it’s already a very big step forward,” the activist priest said.

In Monday’s proceedings, Dumayas moved the pre-trial to April 23 to resolve the two motions filed by Philip Morris.

“Philip Morris would do everything to quash this case because it’s a very dangerous precedent. But they will have to spend so much money and pull the strings available to them [to stop this case]. All the other cases, they were successful, napa-dismiss nila [these were dismissed],” Reyes said.

Vincent, who suffered from lung cancer, filed the case months before he passed away in December 2004 at the age of 47. Reyes, who is now based in Hong Kong, and Vincent’s family pursued the complaint which was remanded by the Court of Appeals to the Makati court.

“This is exactly what we’re pointing out all these years – that cigarettes can kill. There are so many people like Vincent. He puts a face to this reality,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Despite the costs, Reyes said the case was worth fighting for as his brother wanted his story to serve as a warning to all smokers and to teens planning on taking up the vice.

“Whether this case wins or lose, we want to start a campaign for the youth enticed by smoking. Don’t start [the habit]. Cigarettes are poison,” he added.

Limpin, meanwhile, also encouraged other people to file cases against tobacco companies so these would be held liable for the adverse effects of smoking.

Doubts About Tobacco Tax Hike

SCMP – Mar 24, 2009

The government has argued that the increase in tobacco tax announced in last month’s budget would help to lower demand for cigarettes. Those smokers who can no longer afford their extravagant habit, may need a bit of an incentive to quit.

However, I have found it disappointing that the government has failed to take advantage of the rise in tobacco duty.

It has not introduced a new series of anti-smoking measures.

It is high time the administration had more publicity campaigns aimed at helping to curb people’s smoking habits.

At present, not everyone knows about the smoking cessation services that are provided by the government and other organisations.

There must be more publicity so that more smokers can be made aware that they can get help.

I would have to question officials’ intentions. It seems they are more concerned with gathering extra revenue than in tobacco control measures.

If the government wants to show that it is sincere in its desire to reduce smoking in Hong Kong I would advise it to consolidate the multi-pronged approach regarding tobacco use, which it claims to have adopted.

Siu Lok-fai, Sha Tin

Tackling Green Tobacco Sickness

The Wall Street Journal By LAUREN ETTER – MARCH 23, 2009

Companies Seek to Help Field Workers Avoid Acute Nicotine Poisoning

Workers who toil in tobacco fields have suffered quietly for years from a type of acute nicotine poisoning called green tobacco sickness.


Now, the world’s biggest tobacco companies — under pressure from human-rights and farm-labor activists — are publicly acknowledging the health risks associated with green tobacco sickness and taking steps designed to help prevent it.

At its shareholder meeting in May, Philip Morris International Inc. will announce a plan aimed at reducing farmers’ risk of falling ill from green tobacco sickness. Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc., Richmond, Va., is planning to disseminate information on the illness to tobacco farmers in coming months. Reynolds American Inc., Winston Salem, N.C., is bankrolling the production of a short video about the illness that will be distributed to farmers.

“The more we looked into [green tobacco sickness], the more we realized that this was an issue we missed,” says Even Hurwitz, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Philip Morris International, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. “We didn’t realize how serious it is.”

While typically not life-threatening, green tobacco sickness is a debilitating illness that causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness and, in severe cases, dehydration. It afflicts tobacco workers when nicotine on moist tobacco leaves seeps through their pores as they hand-harvest the leaves. The symptoms typically last 12 to 48 hours.

Tens of millions of workers harvest tobacco in more than 100 countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based in Rome. In one study, a quarter of tobacco workers surveyed reported having green tobacco sickness at least once.

More attention is being paid to the illness partly because the nature of tobacco production has changed. Increasingly in the U.S., tobacco is grown on larger farms, rather than the small family farms that once dominated the industry. That means more migrant workers are picking tobacco for longer periods of time, increasing their exposure.

Green tobacco sickness also is becoming a bigger global problem as tobacco production shifts to the developing world, where production costs are lower. The World Health Organization is conducting research on the health, social and environmental impact of tobacco growing in the developing world, including green tobacco sickness.

Getting the tobacco industry to acknowledge some of the risks associated with harvesting tobacco is a coup for shareholder-rights activists like Michael Crosby, who have lobbied the tobacco industry for years on topics ranging from advertising to the health effects of smoking.

Father Crosby, a Catholic priest at the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, filed a shareholder resolution at Philip Morris International late last year after reading about Mexican farm workers who fell ill from green tobacco sickness. The resolution demanded that the company deal with the malady “to ensure our profits and dividends are not being realized by exploiting ‘the least’ of our brothers and sisters.”

Father Crosby withdrew his resolution after Philip Morris International responded with a step-by-step response to how the company would address the problem.

In a letter to Father Crosby reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Philip Morris International said it would include in its contracts with leaf suppliers a specific provision requiring them to implement certain procedures to reduce the risk of green tobacco sickness.

The company also said in the letter that it is developing training materials that will be distributed to growers in the U.S. and internationally.

“I consider this a major step,” says Father Crosby, who has pressured companies as a shareholder activist for decades on topics like human rights in Tibet and global warming.

Some remain skeptical. “I just think it’s a feel-good resolution as far as I’m concerned,” says Baldemar Velasquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. “Implementing programs isn’t going to make a difference on the bottom until workers have a right to manage those things on their own.” Mr. Velasquez is working to unionize tobacco workers and other farm workers across the U.S.

Tobacco harvesting is labor-intensive because it’s still mainly done by hand. Workers spend hours in the sun picking leaves that are then cured and processed into cigarettes. Other job-related hazards include heat stroke and pesticide exposure.

Until recently, green tobacco sickness hasn’t been taken seriously as an occupational hazard, partly because research has been scant.

Thomas Arcury, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine who has done extensive research into the illness, describes green tobacco sickness as “an ignored occupational illness” that tends to affect poor, minority workers who have little access to health care. The North Carolina Department of Labor says green tobacco sickness has been “grossly underreported because many of those who experience the sickness don’t understand their ailment or its cause.”

Write to Lauren Etter at

Results Of A Survey On Smoking Among 26500 Europeans In December 2008

GLOBALink – 19 Mar 09

The European commission has published today a survey on smoking among 26 500 Europeans in 28 countries: EU 27 plus Norway;

You can consult the complete results at…

Some important results:

  • Fourteen percent of non-smokers and 23% of smokers are exposed to other people’s tobacco smoke at home on an almost daily basis.
  • Home exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the lowest in Finland and Sweden – not more than 5% of Finns and Swedes are regularly exposed to other people’s tobacco smoke at home. Lithuanians, Cypriots, Greeks and Bulgarians are six times more likely to be exposed to ETS at home.
  • A majority of EU citizens support smoke-free public places, such as offices, restaurants and bars. Support for workplace smoking restrictions is slightly higher than support for such restrictions in restaurants (84% vs. 79%). Two-thirds support smoke-free bars, pubs and clubs.
  • Adding a colour picture to a text-only health warning is perceived as being effective by more than half of EU citizens: 20% say this would be very effective and 35% think it is somewhat effective.
  • Less than 1% of EU citizens surveyed have ever purchased tobacco products over the Internet. This percentage is slightly higher among respondents who have tried non-combustible tobacco products – 3% of them have bought non-combustible tobacco over the Internet and 2% have bought other tobacco products online.
  • Over one-tenth of EU citizens (12%) have seen tobacco products being sold in the past six months which they think might have been smuggled into the country.
  • The proportion of respondents who have seen potentially smuggled tobacco products being sold in the past six months is the highest in Lithuania (36% ), followed by Greece (25%), Poland, Hungary and Latvia (22%-24%).In Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg and Denmark, on the other hand, not more than 5% of respondents have been in contact with potentially smuggled tobacco products in the past six months.

Luk Joossens
Advocacy officer, Association of European Cancer Leagues
Senior Policy Advisor FCA
Tobacco control expert Belgian Foundation against Cancer

Thai Agency Wins Bloomberg Award For Tobacco Control

The Nation – Published on March 17, 2009

The New York based Bloomberg Foundation has praised Thailand’s Action on Smoking and Health Foundation for its efforts to control tobacco consumption by putting pictures representing the side effects of smoking on cigarette packets.

“The pictures we use on cigarette packets were of patients suffering from diseases related to smoking. We tested these pictures on smokers and nonsmokers and selected the ones that had the most effect,” said Dr Prakit Vathisathokit, secretary general of the foundation.

“We would be happy to send these pictures to other countries as well,” he added.

Prakit, as a representative of the foundation, accepted the 2009 Bloomberg Award for Global Tobacco Control and a cash prize of US$100,000 (Bt3.6 million) at the 14th World Conference on Tobacco in Mumbai, India.

This is the first time that the Bloomberg Foundation has handed out awards for tobaccoconsumption control. The prize is aimed at rewarding government agencies and private organisation in low and middleincome countries that have complied with the World Health Organisation’s MPower policy.

The WHO policy comprises of tax and price measures, including antismuggling measures, the establishment of smokefree areas and effective enforcement of smokefree policies, as well as advertising bans, and other regulatory or legislative initiatives.

The other winners of the award were Nigeria’s Friends of the Earth, the Mexico City Federal District Secretary of Health and Panama’s Coalition to Fight against Tobacco.

More Smokers Ask For Help In Quitting

Tiffany Lam, SCMP – Updated on Mar 16, 2009

The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health has seen an increase in the number of people seeking help in quitting the habit since the financial secretary recently increased the tax on tobacco by 50 per cent. Council chairwoman Lisa Lau welcomed the increase and said the tax should go up every year to encourage more smokers to quit.

Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

SCMP – Updated on Mar 16, 2009

I wish to convey my thanks to the anti-smoking lobby in Hong Kong. It has saved me a lot of money.

Prior to the ban on smoking in restaurants, I used to have lunch and dinner about 30 times per month, spending a fortune. Since the ban has come into force, I now go to restaurants about twice per month. The supermarkets in Hong Kong have gained because of this, the hospitality trade has lost out.

It is also the Macau government that gains, because I travel to Macau to have a meal about 10 times a month, having a nice meal, cheaper than in Hong Kong, and being able to smoke. Who is the winner here? Many of my friends do the same thing.

I also believe that many criminal elements in Hong Kong also wish to thank the anti-smoking lobby; with the recent increase in tax on tobacco, they will earn a lot. Therefore, the anti-smoking lobby can be commended for providing many lucrative jobs in Hong Kong during the economic downturn, albeit illegal jobs.

I wonder if the anti-smoking lobbyists are living in the real world, especially in light of the fact that in three months’ time smoking in all bars will not be allowed.

In Britain, more than 3,000 bars have closed since the smoking ban came into effect, putting thousands of people out of work – the closures purely and simply being due to the smoking ban.

Why, in a democratic society, is it not possible for market forces to rule? The anti-smoking lobby may say that workers’ health is paramount. Fine. The majority of workers in bars and restaurants smoke, so a bar or restaurant that allows smoking should only employ smokers. What is wrong with that?

In other countries, the majority of bars and restaurants are on the ground floor. In Hong Kong, they can be on the 50th floor of a building, or in a shopping mall that requires smokers to walk for 15 minutes before they can go outside for a cigarette. I opine that all bars and restaurants in Hong Kong must be on the ground floor, providing easy access for smokers.

My previous letter about alcohol being a bigger drain on our fiscal resources still applies (Talkback, January 1). How do you compensate a family that has lost a loved one through drink-driving? Ban alcohol, I will stop smoking.

Andy Boulton, Shouson Hill

Study On Minors Buying Cigarettes Draws Fire

Raymond Ma, SCMP – Updated on Mar 15, 2009

A local non-governmental organisation with an apparently anti-smoking agenda has been blasted for giving money to children as young as 13 and asking them to buy cigarettes.

The Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention (YSP) recruited 12 youths between the ages of 13 and 17, and between May and August last year instructed them to try to buy cigarettes from nearly 1,400 shops across the city as part of a study to determine the prevalence of shops selling cigarettes to children, the group said.

The committee has previously provoked the ire of anti-smoking groups after it was revealed to have accepted at least one donation of HK$20 million from the now-defunct Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong – of which cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris was a major partner.

In the group’s recent study, each young person, accompanied by an adult, was given an Octopus card and told to try to buy cigarettes, spokesman Li Cheong-lung said.

If the shopkeeper signalled willingness to sell, the children were instructed they were to end the transaction and leave the shop. The exercise was conducted to show the ease with which minors could buy cigarettes.

But news of the study angered anti-smoking lobbyists, who said they were concerned that the children involved were being unnecessarily and prematurely exposed to cigarettes.

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health chairwoman Lisa Lau said: “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. If they are giving kids money to buy cigarettes, then they are setting them up [to be smokers]. It’s one of their strategies to promote cigarette sales for the tobacco industry.”

James Middleton, lobby group Clear the Air’s anti-tobacco committee chairman, said the study would encourage minors to smoke because it highlighted the ease with which they could buy cigarettes. “Peer pressure is the thing which gets kids smoking,” he said.

“So the kids’ attention has been brought to the fact that now they can go anywhere and buy cigarettes, and that’s exactly what the tobacco companies want.”

None of the children involved in the study were made available for interview, despite repeated requests by the South China Morning Post.

Mr Li said the children and adults involved in the study were volunteers and only non-smokers had been chosen. Written consent had been obtained from the children’s parents.

In response to the story, tobacco giant Philip Morris said it “does not want children to smoke and we do not want retailers to sell our tobacco products to children”.

“YSP operates independently and we never ask [them] what [they] will do and how money is spent,” a spokesman said. He confirmed that the company had been one of the group’s major sponsors since it was set up in 2001.

Philip Morris declined to disclose the size of its most recent donation to the NGO, or when it was made.

The survey found that 73 per cent of shops were willing to sell cigarettes to minors.

Data Verifies Effectiveness Of Tobacco Tax

Updated on Mar 13, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to Chan Yu-chung’s letter (“Steep tobacco tax rises do not lead to lower rates of smoking”, March 11). His claim summarised in your headline is factually incorrect.

Cigarette price is well-established as a key factor influencing tobacco consumption and smoking prevalence. The World Bank estimated that a 10 per cent price rise reduces demand for cigarettes by about 4 per cent in high-income economies and 8 per cent in others.

In Hong Kong we increased tobacco duty by 300 per cent in 1981, then 100 per cent in 1991. On both occasions smoking prevalence dropped appreciably, from 23.3 per cent in 1982 to 18.7 per cent in 1984, and from 15.7 per cent in 1990 to 14.9 per cent in 1993. The daily average number of smokers calling the Department of Health’s smoking cessation hotline has increased by more than 15 times since the budget announcement on February 25. Our citizens have become more health-conscious and the government’s tobacco control efforts, including taxation, have played a part.

Notwithstanding the overall drop in smoking, its prevalence among women and the young has not shown the same decline. The proportion of 15- to 19-year-olds who smoke has hovered between 2.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent since 1982. The prevalence of smoking among females, having dropped to a low of 2.6 per cent in 1990, climbed back to 4 per cent in 2005. That figure had dropped to 3.6 per cent by 2008, but the drop is proportionally less than the drop in the proportion of smokers in the population from 14 per cent in 2005 to 11.8 per cent last year.

Some 64.8 per cent of smokers started at age 10 to 19, and the number who started smoking below the age of 10 has risen by 21.2 per cent, from 8,500 in 2005 to 10,300 in 2008. Smokers are also smoking more cigarettes every day. The average number puffed by smokers per day increased to 14 (overall), 11 (among female smokers) and 11 (among teenage smokers) in 2008, from 13, 10 and 9 respectively in 2005. This is a cause for concern from a public health point of view.

Increasing tobacco duty is a public health response to these concerns and is part of the government’s multi-pronged approach to tobacco control which also includes publicity, education, legislation, enforcement and cessation. We have made steady progress over the years.

Hong Kong has no reason not to be proud of its success in tobacco control, which means better health for our people and a reduced disease burden for future generations. But there is no reason for complacency.

Thomas Chan, deputy secretary for food and health

Major International Cigarette Smuggling Racket Halted


13 March 2009

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) announced today that one of the principal suspects in a major international cigarette smuggling investigation has been indicted by the courts in the USA for his part in defrauding European taxpayers of several million EURO in taxes and customs duties.

The indictment in the US brings OLAF a step closer to concluding a six year investigation which has spanned 9 Member States and several countries in Central and South America as well as the USA.

The suspect, who is alleged to have played a pivotal role in shipping illicit cigarettes from Miami to a number of countries in the EU, has been released on bail and is currently under house arrest pending trial.

OLAF-Director General Franz-Hermann Brüner underlined that this is a very complex case which has led to significant losses to the European Community and Member States’ budgets.  Bringing this major fraud to an end has undoubtedly prevented losses of several hundred million EURO to the European taxpayer. He stated that cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice could not have been better. “In 1997, the European Commission and Member States signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Customs Matters with the United States of America. This case is an excellent example of the Agreement in operation and demonstrates the commitment of all the parties to the Agreement to work together to combat international organised crime.”

Mr Brüner also emphasised the excellent cooperation that OLAF had received from the authorities in the European countries targeted by the fraudsters. “In particular, I would like to thank the Irish Revenue’s Customs Service for their outstanding cooperation from the outset.

I would also like to thank the Spanish Guardia Civil and the German Customs Investigation Service (ZKA) for the vital role they have played in the investigation. This case is a truly outstanding example of international cooperation”.

A press release of 6 March 2009, issued by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and the Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], Office of Investigations, Miami stated the following (names of principal deleted):



R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations, announced that [X]. was arraigned on an Indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Miami yesterday, on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and smuggling goods out of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 554.  [X], who had been arrested pursuant to a complaint on February 19, 2009, was released pending trial on bond on February 20, 2009.

According to the Indictment and an affidavit filed with the complaint, the investigation revealed that an organization smuggling cigarettes out of the Port of Miami operated out of Spain, Great Britain, Ireland and Miami, Florida.  [X] ran the Miami portion of the operation.  [X] arranged for the purchase of hundreds of cases of cigarettes from Panama and the transportation of those cigarettes into the Port of Miami.  [X] then arranged for the purchase of other cargo, such as wood flooring and building insulation material, to be used as cover loads to conceal the cigarettes which were re-packed with the cover load material.  Under the direction of [X], false bills of lading were prepared that only declared the cover load material.  These bills of lading were presented to the shipping companies and overseas customs services.  Customs duties and taxes were based on the falsely declared cargo, thus no duties or taxes were paid on the cigarettes. Information contained in the affidavit includes that on two separate occasions, [X] transported approximately 13.3 million cigarettes in shipments, one to Dublin, Ireland and one to Felixstowe, Great Britain.  Based upon the false bills of lading, custom duties and taxes paid on these shipments were approximately, $2,900 and $2,500, respectively.  The true customs duties and taxes that should have been paid on these shipments were $2.1 million each.

Mr. Acosta thanked Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Investigations, and the European Anti-Fraud Office based in Brussels, Belgium for their joint outstanding work on this case.  Extensive assistance was provided by law enforcement agencies from Ireland, Great Britain, Germany and Spain as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, Criminal Division.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Stone.