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December 14th, 2011:

The Associated Press: Dutch government backtracks on anti-smoking

Dutch government backtracks on anti-smoking

By MARIA CHENG, Associated Press–17 minutes ago

AMSTERDAM (AP) — It’s getting surprisingly easy to light up in the Netherlands these days — cigarettes, that is.

Even as the Dutch government hardens its famous tolerance policy on marijuana, it is taking an increasingly relaxed stance toward tobacco, bucking the trend in nearly every other developed country.

Last year it exempted some bars from a smoking ban and now it has unveiled plans to reduce spending on anti-smoking advertising campaigns and end funding for health care programs to help people kick the habit. The Netherlands is also planning to cease funding its national center on tobacco control.

Nearly half of the nation’s bars and nightclubs flout the 2008 smoking ban but they’re rarely punished.

“There’s no other country that’s taking these backward steps,” said Lies Van Gennip, director of the national tobacco control center, slated to be closed in 2013. “I’m ashamed of what’s happening here.”

At a press briefing on Wednesday, several Dutch politicians and experts blasted the government for backtracking on tobacco control policies. Opposition lawmaker Renske Leijten of the Socialist Party said Health Minister EdithSchippers was making the wrong decision to cut back on quit smoking policies.

“You can even wonder if she is minister of health or minister for the tobacco industry,” she said.

Schippers said she believes in freedom of choice for smokers and that the government has “gone too far in making rules about it.”

Inge Freriksen, a health ministry spokeswoman, told the Associated Press the Netherlands had chosen “a different manner of prevention” — one that focuses on educating children on the dangers of smoking.

The Netherlands is home to Europe’s biggest tobacco industry and also has Philip Morris’ largest factory worldwide. Some experts have suggested possible improper links between the Dutch government and Dutch tobacco that account for the changes.

In a recent documentary on Dutch television, tobacco lobbyist Alexander van Voorst Vader said he knew Schipperswhen she served in Dutch Parliament and held numerous discussions with her. “She was very open (to) sensible points of view of the industry,” he said.

Any communication where the tobacco industry might influence government policies is strictly forbidden by the World Health Organization’s international tobacco control treaty, which the Netherlands signed in 2005.

Health ministry spokeswoman Freriksen said any communication government officials had with the tobacco industry was legitimate. “It’s not forbidden to have communication with tobacco companies in a normal manner about enforcement,” she said. “You do talk with them.”

The WHO tobacco control treaty obliges signatory nations to introduce strong tobacco control measures including increased legislation, taxation and education. But like most global treaties, there are no real measures to punish countries that don’t comply.

According to the Netherlands’ National Organization for Tobacco Trade, Dutch consumers bought more than 4 billioneuros ($5 billion) worth of tobacco products last year. About 27 percent of people in the Netherlands smoke, slightly higher than other rich countries including Britain and the U.S.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Netherlands has a lung cancer rate of about 93 people per 100,000, higher than the average in Western Europe, including Austria, France and Germany.

Earlier this year, Dutch researchers predicted that without stronger anti-smoking policies, almost a million people in the Netherlands would die prematurely due to tobacco-related diseases between now and 2040.

By 2020, they estimated smoking-related diseases would kill 600 additional people as a result of the government’s decision to stop paying for quit smoking programs and ending mass education campaigns.

Schippers argued in a letter to Parliament that the projection was “partially dependent on assumptions.”

The government’s liberal stance toward tobacco contrasts strongly with its moves to curtail the country’s famous tolerance policy toward marijuana: the government is reducing the number of cafes licensed to sell the drug and plans to introduce a pass system next year that would bar tourists from buying it at all.

Critics argue the Dutch population is woefully ignorant of the dangers of tobacco. In a global survey on smokers’ awareness, only 61 percent of Dutch smokers agreed second-hand smoke was dangerous to non-smokers — much lower than smokers elsewhere, including Mauritius, China, Brazil and Mexico.

“Dutch smokers are among the least informed about the harms of smoking and second-hand smoke,” said Geoff Fong, at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who heads a program that monitors smoking policies worldwide.

“The Dutch are heading into a situation where their tobacco control could be worse than many developing countries,” he said.

Last year, the government declared that small, owner-operated bars without employees would be exempt from the smoking ban.

Ex-smoker Eddie Moojen quit smoking four months ago on his own and says he isn’t worried about second-hand smoke.

“We had dinner the other night at a cafe where they smoke, it doesn’t make that much difference,” said Moojen, 39, founder of Opentracker, a software company in the southern city of Eindhoven. “I’m not uptight about smokers bothering non-smokers.”

Cheng reported from London. Associated Press Writer Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

State to back fight with Big Tobacco on health costs

Matthew Myers, anti-smoking lobbyist

Matthew Myers, anti-smoking lobbyist. Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian

Nicola Roxon cigarette packets

Nicola Roxon with the proposed plain cigarette pack. Picture: Alan Pryke Source: The Australian

MOMENTUM is building among the states for legal action against Big Tobacco to recover costs imposed on health budgets by smoking-related diseases.

South Australia yesterday called on new Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to lead the charge.

But British American Tobacco accused the former health minister of a stunt in bringing to Australia anti-smoking lobbyist Matthew Myers to stir up the states and distract attention from a High Court battle over plain packaging laws.

South Australian Health Minister John Hill yesterday met with Mr Myers, a lawyer who advised 50 US state attorneys-general in lawsuits against Big Tobacco for smoking-related healthcare costs in the late 1990s.

Mr Myers, who this week also met the NSW and Victorian governments, impressed Mr Hill, who said South Australia would back the real possibility of individual suits or a class action by states against tobacco companies.

Mr Hill said Ms Roxon, as the new attorney-general, would be expected to take a leadership role in bringing other states on board for any legal action.

“I think legal action is worth exploring,” he told The Australian yesterday.

“The reality for us is we know that one in two people who are long-term smokers are going to die from smoking, and lung cancers for example cost the health system buckets of money, so why shouldn’t those who cause this be responsible for paying for it?

“Australia is not that different from America in common law.

“If you can make the connection between smoking and related diseases, and if tobacco companies are prepared to compensate in another jurisdiction,” legal action should be considered.

South Australia would be prepared to offer resources in any legal fight, he said.

Ms Roxon yesterday refused to answer questions about the cost to taxpayers of bringing Mr Myers to Australia, referring The Australian to the Health Department.

A department spokeswoman said: “Minister Roxon invited Mr Myers to Australia at a time when tobacco companies are bringing litigation against the Australian government, to share his extensive experience in tobacco-related litigation with the Australian government and with interested state and territory governments.”

It is understood that it is too early to know the full costs of Mr Myers’ taxpayer funded trip.

A spokeswoman for Ms Roxon said the minister was “heartened by the support of such an esteemed anti-tobacco expert”.

Customs seizes 1,400 kilogrammes of illicit tobacco (with photos)

Hong Kong Customs last week seized 72 parcels containing around 900 kilogrammesof illicit tobacco at the Airmail Centre, which was waiting to be airmailed to the United Kingdom.

This morning (December 14), after in-depth investigations, Customs officers cracked down on an illicit tobacco storage centre inside an industrial building in Kwai Chung and arrested three men. During the operation, a total of 1,400kilogrammes of illicit tobacco valued at about $3.9 million with a duty potential of $2.4 million was seized.

Customs officers first seized some 900 kilogrammes of illicit tobacco from the 72 parcels destined for the United Kingdom. The seizures were worth about $2.5 million, with a duty potential of about $1.4 million.

After investigation, it was found that the smugglers had attempted to send the illicit tobacco by airmail, and tried to avoid the Customs investigation by posting the parcels at different post offices.

Following further investigation, Customs officers today cracked down on an illicit tobacco storage centre inside an industrial building in Kwai Chung with the arrest of three men, aged between 33 and 49. Two of them were preparing to send parcels containing tobacco by airmail.

Some 500 kilogrammes of illicit tobacco valued at $1.4 million with a duty potential of $1 million were seized at the storage centre. The three men were detained for further investigation.

To deter smuggling activities by airmail, officers of the Customs Airport Command inspect inbound and outbound airmail using advanced equipment such as X-ray machines and ion scanners. The Customs also maintain intelligence exchange with overseas counterparts to fight against smuggling activities.

The department reminded members of the public that using airmail for illicit purposes is an offence and will be prosecuted.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession, selling and buying of illicit cigarettes or tobacco commits an offence. The maximum penalty on conviction is imprisonment for two years and a fine of $1 million.

Hong Kong Customs will spare no effort in combating illicit cigarette or tobacco activities. Members of the public are urged to report any such activities to the Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 2545 6182end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Issued at HKT 21:21

Russia – Foreign Tobacco Faces Charity Ban

Charity representatives said Tuesday that new legislation being considered by the Health and Social Development Ministry could forbid international tobacco companies from making philanthropic donations.

The total loss to Russian charities would be the $6 million donated by the three biggest multinational tobacco giants active in the market — British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International, said Tatyana Zadirako, head of charitable foundation United Way of Russia.

Restrictions already in place on forms of philanthropy that tobacco companies can engage in — they are forbidden to donate to causes involving children and sports — mean that the money they commit is skewed toward projects that have less appeal for other corporate donors.

It is very hard to attract funds to projects that seek to help the elderly, the homeless and the mentally ill, Zadirako said. “Everybody wants very pretty projects that can be turned around very quickly.” Tobacco companies give particularly large sums to initiatives that support old people.

“Helping the elderly is a very important part of philanthropy, particularly considering the fact that the population is aging fast,” said MariaSalutskaya, leader of the 50-Plus project.

According to Philip Morris’ web site, the company gives $2 million a year to philanthropic projects in Russia. British American Tobacco, or BAT, refused to disclose its annual corporate social responsibility budget, but said some points in the legislation were “redundant.”

“In particular, we think that the ban on corporate philanthropy and the support of cultural events is unwarranted,” said BAT Russia’s corporate affairs director Alexander Lioutyi.

Editor-in-chief of the Business and Society journal Tatyana Bachinskaya, who helped organize a round table on the subject, told The Moscow Times that a blanket ban on tobacco companies’ charitable donations was governmental hypocrisy. The state collects huge tax revenues from the sector. “If you don’t like tobacco companies or their money then make the whole industry illegal,” she added.

United Way’s Zadirako, who said she was speaking on her own initiative and not on the request of tobacco companies, said there was confusion among civil servants over terms. “Philanthropy, advertising and sponsorship are far from being the same things.”

Russian tobacco companies do not support charities, added Zadirako, who described them as “untransparent” and “lawless.”

The new law is a part of a raft of laws currently under consideration by the Ministry of Health and Social Development. They also include a proposal to ban smoking indoors in 2014, as has been enforced across much of Europe. About 60 percent of Russian males smoke.

Ministry adviser Irina Nikulina told Rossiiskaya Gazeta last month that there was no intention to ban philanthropy by tobacco companies. “We are proposing to ban sponsorship and the promotion of cigarettes,” she said.

Read more:
The Moscow Times

Roxon sizes up lawsuit against Big Tobacco companies

INCOMING Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is looking to spearhead legal action against Big Tobacco to help the states recover the estimated $31.5 billion that smoking-related disease costs the hospital system each year.

With the former health minister already preparing for a High Court battle with tobacco companies over plain packaging legislation, Ms Roxon said yesterday she would approach state governments to “consider whether there are options” for a separate legal challenge, with the possibility of individual suits or a class action by states a real possibility.

“We are looking at options for what is an appropriate way to reduce levels of smoking in Australia and we can look at whether the tobacco companies are appropriately being held to account,” Ms Roxon said.

The minister said the government “had been taking legal advice, and will be taking legal advice” on the possibility of a lawsuit, but would not specify a timeline for any action. “I don’t think this is the sort of thing that you need to make a decision about in a hasty way,” Ms Roxon said.

“I would welcome individual states considering the issue of whether they might take some action. They, of course, do bear a lot of the health costs caused by tobacco-related disease.”

Yesterday, she met US lawyer and anti-smoking lobbyist Matthew Myers, who advised 50 US state attorneys-general in lawsuits against Big Tobacco for smoking-related healthcare costs in the late 1990s. The outcome of what was called the Master Settlement was a $US246bn payout over a 25-year period to the 50 US states involved in the action.

On Monday, Mr Myers met Victorian Health Minister David Davis, who told The Australian the Victorian Health Department was now assessing the applicability of the legal arguments used in the US matter for the Australian system.

Mr Myers, who has also advised Canadian provinces in legal action, met NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant yesterday and will meet the South Australian Health Minister and Acting Attorney-General John Hill today.

In his discussions with the incoming Attorney-General, Mr Myers said Ms Roxon “asked a lot of probing questions on the issue” and their talks “would begin the conversation” about an Australian lawsuit against Big Tobacco. “Minister Roxon asked me to raise these issues to begin to generate a conversation both with her and a number of state officials,” Mr Myers said.

“The governments of Victoria or NSW did not decide to smoke or not, but it’s obligated to pay medical costs of its citizens under certain circumstances. And that was a core legal theory that underpinned the cases in America, and is currently underpinning a series of cases in Canada.”

Mr Myers said while there were differences between the Australian and US legal systems, he believed common-law principles would aid the possibility of successful legal action in Australia.

“What we talked about were the legal principles that underpinned them, that frankly apply to all common-law nations around the world . . . some core principles about the right of government to recover when another party engages in fraud, deceptive behaviour or illegally fails to make their product as safe as they can make it.”