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May 31st, 2012:

Protect health laws from big tobacco


Shin Young-soo says we must push back against industry attempts to undermine tobacco control and health laws that target smoking

May 31, 2012

Hands off! That’s what we shout when the tobacco industry tries to undermine the laws that protect people from the ravages of tobacco use, and when it misuses the treaties designed to protect trade and investment in an effort to block a novel law requiring that tobacco be sold in plain, unattractive packages.

That’s what we tell an industry that tries to crush the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the landmark public health treaty that now has 174 parties covering more than 85per cent of the world’s population.

And that’s what we say to a tobacco industry whose so-called “corporate social responsibility” projects are designed to buy influence and make people forget that its products cause addiction, suffering and nearly six million deaths per year.

The tobacco industry needs to keep its hands off all the protections that have been erected since science tied smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and a host of other fatal diseases.

The industry is getting more aggressive and brazen. Tobacco giant Philip Morris recently took the unusual step of suing Australia under the country’s bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong on the grounds that Australia’s revolutionary plain packaging law infringes on international trademarks.

That’s why the World Health Organisation chose “tobacco industry interference” as the theme of today’s World No Tobacco Day.

On this day and throughout the year, the WHO will educate policymakers and the general public about the tobacco industry’s nefarious and harmful tactics so that they might be better resisted.

Doing so is in keeping with the WHO’s framework convention, the preamble of which recognises “the need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts”.

We encourage everyone to join the good fight. Today, and every day, tell the tobacco industry to keep its hands off public health legislation. The industry deserves no seat at the policymaking table, its interests being fundamentally and irreconcilably in conflict with the public interest.

Tell the industry to keep its hands off the framework convention, which obligates parties to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, to protect people from tobacco smoke, to warn people about the harms of tobacco use and to offer help to people who want to quit. The treaty is our most important tool in the fight to curtail the tobacco epidemic.

Stand by countries such as Australia that have stood up to the industry’s legal intimidation. Every country has a right and a responsibility to protect its people from the enormous health and economic costs of tobacco use. Trade laws should not be abused to prolong or increase exposure to tobacco industry marketing.

Denounce tobacco industry interference with public health laws whenever and wherever you see it.

Our message to the tobacco industry is simple and direct. Hands off!

Dr Shin Young-soo is WHO regional director for the Western Pacific

Big tobacco firms obscuring the anti-smoking message

May 31, 2012

World No Tobacco Day today puts the spotlight on China, and not just because the mainland’s estimated 350 million smokers consume 40 per cent of the world’s tobacco. The mainland is also a case study in the theme of this year’s no-tobacco day – interference by the tobacco industry designed to frustrate anti-smoking efforts.

According to a new report by the authorities there on health development, tobacco control and preventive medicine, eight key tactics are used by the monopoly state-owned China National Tobacco Corp and its regulator, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, to sabotage anti-smoking efforts. They range from a refusal to include graphic images in health warnings on cigarette packs, to undermining moves to raise taxes and prices, and conning the public into believing that cigarettes with less tar are less harmful and that blending Chinese herbs into cigarette tobacco makes it less harmful.

With the government trying to make health care more affordable and rolling out national insurance, the huge profits and tax revenue harvested from the tobacco industry have to be weighed against the costs of medical treatment and admissions to hospital for smoking-related diseases and lost productivity.

As Hong Kong and other places have found, price combined with education are the most effective weapons against smoking. And the most effective target is young people, before they become heavily addicted and earn enough to absorb the increasing cost.

The industry argues that it delivers a social benefit as well as a fiscal benefit, with more than 20 million farmers growing tobacco, 10 million involved in retailing it and 520,000 processing it in factories. Given that an effective anti-smoking campaign would make incremental progress, the industry would have time to gradually restructure. It is time Beijing showed the willpower to quit dependence on this deadly crop.

Anti-smoking groups push Leung on plain packets

Anti-smoking groups push Leung on plain packets

Mary Ann Benitez and Candy Chan

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Anti-tobacco lobbyists threw down the gauntlet to Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying to take the lead on plain cigarette packaging by 2015 to save lives.

The Council on Smoking and Health, along with experts and a nongovernment organization from Australia, which was the first country to mandate plain packaging, made the call on the eve of World No Tobacco Day 2012 today.

Plain packaging is the last form of “mini-billboard” advertising, a major plank in tobacco control, as Hong Kong attempts to further bring down the number of daily smokers – around 657,000 – and dissuade youngsters from taking up the habit.

With plain packaging, the brand will be displayed in standardized font and format. The pack could be colored a dull green but more research will have to be made, said World Lung Foundation senior adviser Judith Mackay.

In addition, pictorial health warnings should be expanded to at least 75 percent of the packet, from 50 percent, and a quit line and other such advice should be displayed, said council chairwoman Lisa Lau Man-man.

Mackay said: “First, our new chief executive is a non-smoker so that’s always a good start.

“Leung does not have quite the same links with big business as some of his predecessors might have had and links with Hong Kong tobacco, which his predecessors might have had.”

University of Hong Kong director of public health Lam Tai-hing said the Chinese translation of “plain packaging” has been adopted as “a total hazard warning package.”

He said Beijing will use the same translation that Hong Kong adopts.

A joint letter containing their wish- list has been submitted to Leung.

A spokesman of the Tobacco Control Concern Group, an alliance of tobacco firms, said: “I cannot see the smoking population dropping as [ the Council on Smoking and Health] suggests. It is impractical … we will not support their move.”

He added the government should be ready for possible lawsuits from tobacco companies over plain packaging.

Meanwhile, Fiona Sharkie, executive director of Australia’s Quit Victoria, said the SAR could take a leaf out of her country’s book on the choice of packaging color. “It has to be very dirty, dull and drab and shouldn’t be associated with chocolate, mustard or anything.”