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May, 2015:

International Tax and Investment Centre – ITIC and like tobacco front groups

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Hong Kong must better enforce laws that safeguard public health

The deaths of a non-smoking colleague and his non-smoking wife from lung cancer, and diagnoses of advanced lung cancer in four non-smoking friends, prompted a medical practitioner to write a letter that appeared on this page last week. He implored the government to ban smoking in the street and remove rubbish bins that serve as ashtrays. That is to say, if smoking was not to blame for these cases, passive smoking of undispersed tobacco fumes had to be a suspect.

This prompts questions about enforcement of laws against smoking in public – and, indeed, enforcement of many laws that regulate our freedoms for the greater good. It so happens that the day before we published the letter we took a look at 10 of the most common of these laws and figures for enforcement.

The anti-smoking law was one of two against public habits implicated in community health problems. The other was the idling engine law, which is blamed for unacceptable levels of roadside pollution. The ban on smoking in indoor public spaces resulted in more than 8,000 penalty notices last year, or more than 150 a week. As a public health measure it would be more effective if venues were not exempt from punishment and the ban were imposed in busy pedestrian thoroughfares.

Enforcement officers timed 1,127 vehicles with idling engines last year, but issued only 46 fixed penalty notices. Clearly, breaches of the idling limit of three minutes within a 60-minute period are not easily established, or so open to dispute that officers may not feel encouraged to try very hard.

Police ticketed almost 1.2 million parking offenders last year and prosecuted more than 20,000 pedestrians for road safety offences such as jaywalking, and environment officers fined nearly 29,000 litterbugs in the year to March 31.

These laws are well accepted. In the cases of the idling engine and smoking laws, vested interests opposed to them can be the only ones happy with the enforcement figures. For the sake of public health, the government should review their operation with a view to making them more effective.

Track and Trace: Approaches in Tobacco

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ITIC: A Foundation Directly Sponsored by Transnational Tobacco Companies

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Smoking gun of tobacco smuggling

An EU scheme that puts big tobacco firms in charge of monitoring counterfeit tobacco smuggling is about to be renewed, despite the same companies launching a court challenge to a new EU-wide system on tracking and tracing. Governments lose huge sums in tax in smuggling operations but the companies declared that just 0.5% of seized shipments in 2012 were theirs and not counterfeits.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers says the companies should not be involved in any way after courts finding them guilty of a global scheme of smuggling, fixing prices, bribing officials, and trading with terrorists. The monitoring agreements lapse next year and Ms Childers says the “farce” should end now.

World Customs Organization (WCO) memoranda of understanding with the tobacco industry

A representative of the World Customs Organization (WCO) spoke about WCO’s mandate and regional structure. WCO’s expertise in a number of matters addressed in the Protocol was pointed out. In response to a request from a Party, WCO confirmed that it does not have a policy supporting or encouraging the conclusion of memoranda of understanding between the tobacco industry and countries’ customs services.

The World Bank cooperates with the Convention Secretariat in advising Parties which have undertaken needs assessments to strengthen their tax policies to contribute to improving the health status of their populations.

Additional warnings ordered for cigarettes

Philip Morris USA Inc. and other tobacco makers must say on cigarette packages that they’re “intentionally designed” to ensure addiction, a federal appeals court said.

The companies don’t, however, have to say they lied about the dangers of smoking.

That’s the decision of a Washington-based appeals court Friday in a 15-year-old racketeering case. The U.S. government claims that Philip Morris and eight other cigarette makers conspired to hide the health consequences and addictiveness of cigarettes. Friday’s ruling by the Washington-based court came in the fifth appeal to be filed since the case was brought.

In its decision, the three-judge panel said the lower court overstepped its authority by requiring tobacco makers to include a statement saying a U.S. court found they deliberately deceived the public about the health effects of secondhand smoke.

The statement reveals “nothing about cigarettes” and focuses instead on the companies’ conduct, the court ruled.

Spokesmen for Altria Group Inc., Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc. didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on the ruling. Philip Morris USA is a unit of Altria.

A court’s finding in 2006 that the companies joined together to boost profits through false statements eventually led to an order requiring corrective disclosures on package labels.

The racketeering case followed a 1998 agreement between 46 states and the five biggest tobacco companies that set standards for how they market and sell their products. Those restrictions, along with higher taxes and aggressive anti-smoking campaigns, spurred years of declining sales volumes.

Tobacco may be a thing of the past in Tasmania

Cigarettes will be “so last century” in Tasmania if laws are extended to prevent the sale of tobacco to people born after the year 2000, health experts say.

Tasmania’s current laws already prevent the sale of tobacco to people born in 2000 or later, but that restriction expires on January 1, 2018.

Independent MP Ivan Dean has introduced the Public Health Amendment (Tobacco-free Generation) Bill to parliament, which would see current laws extended so retailers could never sell cigarettes to anyone born this century, although the law would be subject to review.

Professor E Haydn Walters and Kathryn Barnsley from the University of Tasmania wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that the legislation would put Tasmania on the right path to become Australia’s healthiest state by 2025.
“Cigarettes will become a ‘so last century’ phenomenon,” they wrote.

The pair said Tasmania was the first jurisdiction in the world to craft such mould-breaking legislation.

“The rest of world will soon follow another bold Australian initiative against the global tobacco nightmare,” they said.

Currently, Tasmania’s smoking rates are above the national average, reflecting the state’s lower socio-economic status and a long-term lack of investment in the issue, they wrote

After setback in SC ruling, DOH wants to revisit interagency panel on tobacco regulation

MANILA – Health Secretary Janette Garin signalled at the weekend she will push to revisit the composition of the Inter-agency Committee on Tobacco (IACT), after a Supreme Court ruling thwarted her agency’s effort to regulate tobacco promotion.

The focus of the review she wants: the inclusion of the tobacco industry in the IACT, which she deems a “loophole” in Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act .

“That’s basically to look at the whole composition. Because that is in the law, and it’s a loophole (of the law),” Garin remarked, by way of commenting on a ruling last week, where the SC granted an appeal against DOH by Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. and Fortune Tobacco Corp.

The high court affirmed a 2011 Court of Appeals decision favoring Fortune and Philip Morris in their move to contest a DOH resolution on tobacco sales promotion. The IACT, not the DOH, has the authority to implement the law, the SC ruled last week.

Garin explained that the DOH resolution on tobacco sales promotion was issued because IACT “has been inactive for so long.”

She conceded that if one were to strictly follow the law, “it’s the interagency committee [IACT] that has the prerogative [to regulate].” But, she explained, “the DOH did this because for a long time the IACT was not being activated.”

In light of the SC ruling last week, the DOH now plans to coordinate with the Department of Trade and Industry in order to activate the IACT.

Through the DTI, the DOH will also try to forge a compromise with the tobacco industry, hoping to win their cooperation to regulate tobacco consumption, she said.

The DOH has not yet decided on whether or not to file a motion for reconsideration with the SC, and is still consulting its legal department.

Cancer group petition backs Putrajaya’s move to ban smoking in public areas

Putrajaya’s proposal to fully ban smoking in public places might be a reality soon with the support of the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM), which recently launched an online petition to support the move.

Titled “SMOKING! YES I MIND!!”, the petition is meant to back Putrajaya’s recently-revealed plan to implement a 100% ban on smoking in all areas including open-air premises such as recreational parks.

This comes after statistics from the Health Ministry revealed that some 100,000 Malaysians die from smoking related illnesses every year.

Priya Menon from NCSM, who is coordinating the petition, told The Malaysian Insider recently that the reason behind the move was to show support for what the government was doing.
“We are doing this in a way to encourage them and to help them lobby this ban.

“For the government to implement it, they not only need the support from NGOs but also from the public and the media to make this as visible as possible.”

This was the first petition that NCSM has ever launched, Priya said, indicating just how much it takes smoking and the after-effects of it seriously.

“The 100,000 figure are only those who smoke. It does not include those who die from illnesses from inhaling second-hand smoke. Studies have shown that second-hand smoke is more harmful than the actual smoking.

“The number of deaths has been increasing every year and this is a concern to us. It is estimated that in the 21st century, some 1 billion people will die from tobacco use.”

Contrary to popular belief, lung cancer was not the only cancer that is due to tobacco, Priya said.

“There are 16 other types of cancer that has been linked to tobacco use.”

The petition, which has so far received 490 signatures, will be sent to the ministry once it has reached its target of 100,000 signatures.

However, the response, Priya said, has been slow as many are not yet aware of the ban and the petition.

“Currently we are trying to get the word out as much as possible. Also could be because many don’t see the importance of this smoking ban and the lack of awareness.”

When asked if the poor response was because the Malaysian public were not receptive of the proposal, she said a 2011 Global Tobacco Survey showed that 83.5% of respondents here said they wanted 100% smoke-free public places.

“From that, we can safely assume that the public does want a smoke-free environment and although we aren’t expecting it to happen immediately, we hope that petitions such as these will help push for the ban,” Priya said.

Adzrin Jaafar and Wan Mohamad, two heavy smokers, told The Malaysian Insider that they would fully back the ban if a special area was allocated just for smokers.

“I will support the ban because I, too, don’t want people to smoke near my family members and young child. Besides, it is unfair to affect others with our smoke,” Wan said.

“However, there should be an alternative given to smokers so that they don’t smoke outside. Like in airports, they provide a special room for smoking.”

Adzrin agreed, although she was not in agreement with banning smoking at public places such as restaurants, stadiums and parks.

“But if they really want to, then the government should provide or allocate areas for smokers to go puff in those places.

“If they did that, there shouldn’t be a problem.”