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October 11th, 2011:

Sheila Duffy: Restricting tobacco industry will improve our health

Published on Tuesday 11 October 2011 21:00

THIS week should see the end of a bitter and protracted struggle in Australian politics, with the senate finally passing legislation to introduce plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes and tobacco products.

This is a landmark victory for the Australian government and public over the tobacco industry – in a struggle that comes to these shores at the end of this year, when the UK government starts a consultation on introducing similar legislation.

The tobacco industry spends millions each year on branding, gimmicks and revamped packaging to entice new young smokers and to target particular groups – for example, by producing “fashion accessory” pack designs to appeal to women.

Clever branding also perpetuates myths about the harmfulness of the products. Most people would associate what used to be called “light” brands with a reduced risk to health, but the available evidence shows the rates of developing lung cancer for those who smoke low-tar “light” brands is the same for those who smoke “normal” cigarettes.

Marketing strategies and branding attempt to link the lethal product with culturally desirable attitudes and imagery. This perpetuates the outdated notion that a product responsible for a quarter of adult deaths a year in Scotland is desirable.

At the recent United Nations summit on non-communicable diseases, leaders from all over the globe identified the “fundamental conflict between the tobacco industry and public health” and recognised tobacco as a global epidemic.

The summit passed a declaration calling for all states to commit to implementing the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control – a key part of which is the consideration of plain and standardised packaging.

Plain packaging will not stop all tobacco-related deaths on its own. But as part of a wide range of tobacco-control measures, including support for smokers trying to quit, it will go a long way to improving the health and prospects of our nation.

• Sheila Duffy is chief executive of anti-tobacco charity ASH Scotland.

Call to unite against tobacco

MANILA: The World Health Organisation’s chief yesterday urged governments to unite against “big tobacco”, as she accused the industry of dirty tricks, bullying and immorality in its quest to keep people smoking.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan accused cashed-up tobacco firms of using lawsuits to try and subvert national laws and international conventions aimed at curbing cigarette sales.

“It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interests,” Chan said at a WHO meeting in the Philippine capital yesterday.

Chan cited legal actions by the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures in Australia and Uruguay, saying these were “scare tactics” intended to frighten other countries from following suit.

“It is hard for any country to bear the financial burden of this kind of litigation, but most especially so for small countries,” she said.

“Big tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy. Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence”.

Chan called on the countries at the forum of Western Pacific nations to fight back.

“I urge all these countries to stand firm together, do not bow to pressure… we must never allow the tobacco industry to get the upper hand,” she said.

Chan pointed to successful efforts in the Philippines to increase taxes on tobacco products, saying that the WHO was “gearing up” to support other countries that took such measures.

Chan did not specify how the WHO would help countries in their efforts to combat the tobacco industry.

But the WHO has for many years called for bans on cigarette advertising and promotion, as well as restrictions on smoking in public places and higher taxes.

In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is aiming to introduce world-first legislation that would force all cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from January 1 next year.

However Philip Morris has launched legal action, claiming Australia’s plans violate international trade obligations and warning it expects billions of dollars in compensation if plain packaging goes ahead.

Australian Department of Health Secretary Jane Halton told the WHO forum in Manila that her government was determined to push through with its plan, despite the “subversive tactics” of tobacco companies. “We stand ready to repel the assault of big tobacco but we acknowledge it will be a big fight,” Halton told the WHO delegates.

WHO documents released at the forum said that 3,000 people die each day from tobacco use in the Western Pacific region.

This covers an area with a population of 1.6 billion people, including China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and many South Pacific island nations.


WHO chief takes aim at tobacco industry

Firms are using vast resources to combat anti-smoking efforts, says Margaret Chan

South China Morning Post – 11 Oct. 2011

The world’s health chief yesterday launched a scathing attack on the tobacco industry, accusing it of going against public opinion and using its vast resources to prevent world governments from implementing anti-smoking policies.

“It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interest,” World Health Organisation director general Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said in her address to the opening of a regional conference in Manila.

Chan, Hong Kong’s former director of health, urged member countries to stand firm against “the big tobacco lobby”.

“Big Tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy. Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument,” she said.

Chan’s speech came after a world-first anti-smoking law being introduced by the Australian government was challenged by tobacco company Philip Morris in court.

Australia planned to bring in legislation on “plain packaging”, which would require all cigarette packs to be standardised. Philip Morris says the move violates international trade obligations and has warned it will seek billions of dollars in compensation if the law is enacted.

Chan said such a case showed how powerful tobacco companies were trying to use strong-arm tactics to fight anti-smoking efforts.

She said such action could instil fear in countries planning to bring in tougher measures, and called on governments to stand firm.

The WHO has been campaigning to reduce the smoking population globally to lower the health impact of cigarettes and cigars, which are believed to kill six million people a year, including 600,000 non-smokers who die from secondhand smoke. It estimates if no action is taken the death toll could rise to eight million by 2030.

Australia’s secretary of the department of health and ageing, Jane Halton, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said her government would not be intimidated by “disgraceful tactics” and would press ahead with the legislation.

Mary Ann Benitez in Manila

Hong Kong Standard Tuesday, October 11, 2011

United Nations health chief Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, has come out fighting against tobacco giants, urging Asian governments not to be cowed by the industry but instead maintain life-saving efforts against smoking.

Big tobacco’s efforts to subvert the World Health Organization’s framework convention on tobacco control “are now out in the open and extremely aggressive,” WHO director general Chan said.

The former Hong Kong health official was speaking at yesterday’s opening of the 62nd regional committee meeting of WHO Western Pacific, which includes the SAR and the mainland.

Chan recounted how firms have filed lawsuits. One target, she noted, is Australia, the first nation to legislate for plain cigarette packets to hit marketing efforts.

Such dirty tactics “are deliberately designed to instil fear in other countries wishing to introduce similarly tough tobacco control measures,” she said.

Delegates in Manila will today review progress in tackling non-communicable diseases after a UN General Assembly declaration last month. Chan helped push UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to put non-communicable diseases on the agenda for only the second time in its history – after HIV/aids.

She said tobacco is the common risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease – “which break the bank.” That referred to a study published last month. It concluded that costs of treating cancer are “now unsustainable in even the richest nations,” Chan


Urging WHO members to unite in anti-smoking efforts and back ideas like Australia’s on packaging, Chan added: “It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interest.”

Talking yesterday about Australia’s move to force tobacco companies to use the same dull packets whatever the brand was the chief of its Department of Health and Ageing, Jane Halton.

“It is fair to say that we are being targeted by what can only be described as subversive and disgraceful tactics by the tobacco industry, including using every available vehicle and opportunity to try and intimidate and/or threaten us to withdraw the legislation,” she said.

Hong Kong Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said the SAR will be “comrades and partners” with Australia and commended it for its determination to introduce plain packaging.

In Hong Kong, people aged 15 and above who have been daily smokers dropped to 11.1 percent – among the lowest in the region – and Lam said more money will go to expanding the network of quit-smoking clinics.

The WHO said in May that tobacco will kill six million people this year, including 600,000 non-smokers.

And by 2030 it could kill eight million people annually – more than the combined deaths from HIV, TB and malaria, Chan said yesterday.