Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

August 7th, 2016:


Tobacco control advocates are familiar with the “scream test” – the litmus test for an effective measure that hurts the tobacco industry and causes it to protest. Recently, a regional tobacco control group, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) received a 36-page letter from Dr Gary Johns on behalf of the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) which shows the industry screaming.

The ITIC is a think tank based in Washington DC that claims to be an independent, non-profit research and educational organisation supported by 100 corporations including four transnational tobacco companies (BAT, PMI, JTI and Imperial Brands), each of which are represented on its board of directors ( Dr Gary Johns is an Australian consultant “engaged by ITIC to engage with its critics”.

The letter sent to SEATCA is riddled with false accusations against SEATCA, mischaracterizations of fact and law, disparaging comments about the World Health Organization (WHO), the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat (FCS) and the Parties to the FCTC.

What had SEATCA done to bring about this tirade? In 2012, the ITIC and Oxford Economics (OE) released a report on illicit tobacco trade, Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012 to provide evidence of illicit trade of tobacco products of 11 countries in Asia. The ITIC later launched an updated version, Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013”, expanding the review to 14 countries in Asia. Both reports were funded by Philip Morris International (PMI).

SEATCA published critiques of both reports. The first, More Myth than Fact provided an expert review of the methodology of the Asia-11 report, questioning the reliability and accuracy of the estimates of illicit consumption. The second, A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013, pointed out that the report failed to provide scientifically sound and unbiased information. The figures and statistics used in the report were products of either incorrect or unverified/unverifiable estimation methods, applied to often questionable data from multiple, disparate sources.

It appears that PMI wants to steer governments away from WHO FCTC Article 5.3, which aims to protect public health policies from tobacco industry interference, and would rather governments participate in industry sponsored programs and adopt its recommendations on tobacco taxation.

In November 2014, the ITIC organized a briefing for governments attending the sixth session of the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP6) in Moscow hoping to dissuade them from their decision to adopt Article 6 guidelines on tobacco tax. However, the Framework Convention Secretariat (FCS) was able to caution governments in a timely manner about this ITIC meeting by issuing a Note Verbale in September 2014.

In February this year, SEATCA’s Executive Director received a letter from ITIC’s President inviting her to a ‘roundtable discussion’, particularly “an experts’ meeting of professional economists” which SEATCA declined.

In March, the FCS issued a second Note Verbale on tobacco industry interference on the tracking and tracing systems, again making reference to the ITIC.

Dr Johns wrote to an internationally renowned Thai tobacco control leader requesting them to urge SEATCA to meet with him about the critiques of ITIC reports.

However, SEATCA has a policy of not engaging with the tobacco industry or its representatives. Dr Johns made another effort by phone and email, and failing to secure a meeting hand-delivered the letter in April. Because SEATCA does not engage with the tobacco industry or individuals or organisations representing it, it decided to publish an open letter in response to Dr Gary John and the ITIC.

Among the many accusations the ITIC makes is that SEATCA “sees itself as an instrument of the World Health Organization and its Framework Convention Secretariat”.

This statement undermines the credibility of the many international and regional non-governmental groups that work closely with inter-governmental organisations.

SEATCA is a civil society alliance that works independently of the WHO and FCS. Like many other tobacco control NGOs, SEATCA has observer status with the FCTC COP.

Observer status with the COP does not make SEATCA an instrument of the COP.

SEACTA is an NGO in a developing country which carries out its activities in countries in the Southeast Asian region. ITIC’s letter, with its intimidating tone, appears aimed at bullying SEATCA in its efforts to expose the tactics of PMI and its representatives. This type of intimidation has a larger impact in a developing country setting as it aims to discredit a tobacco control NGO that works closely with governments.

The ITIC’s attack on a tobacco control NGO is another example of an old tried and tested tactic of the tobacco industry. Attempts at intimidation or silencing NGOs in any form must be exposed and stopped.⇓⇓⇓⇓

Mary Assunta

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance

Medical sector heavyweights go head-to-head for functional constituency place

Former president for the Public Doctors’ Association Dr Pierre Chan Pui-yin, is facing private psychiatry specialist Dr John Wong Yee-him

Competition is expected to be fierce among candidates vying for functional constituency seats in the upcoming Legislative Council elections [1] on September 4. With 12 candidates in 10 functional constituencies being returned unopposed, 43 candidates will run for seats in 18 trade-based constituencies – four more contested functional constituencies than the 2012 Legco polls. Here, we look at the medical sector.

Two doctors actively involved in a recent battle against a government bill to reform the Medical Council are locked in a two-horse race for the medical sector seat in Legislative Council vacated by Dr Leung Ka-lau.

A young rising star in the medical sector, former president for the Public Doctors’ Association Dr Pierre Chan Pui-yin, is facing private psychiatry specialist Dr John Wong Yee-him.

Two other heavyweights who were eyeing the position, University of Hong Kong microbiologist professor Ho Pak-leung, and Medical Association president Dr Gabriel Choi Kin, decided not to run for the position in the last minute.

Chan, 38, a public gastroenterology specialist, gained fame last October when he led the biggest protest in the medical sector in eight years at public hospitals to fight for an extra 3 per cent rise for some senior doctors.

The battle against the authorities was a short one as the hospital chiefs soon bowed to the pressure and agreed to their demands. He stepped down as the president of the association in January.

An insider believed major supporters of Chan would be the public doctors, especially the younger ones.

Chan has been associated with younger groups of doctors in the sector who, unlike elder doctors who were in general more indifferent towards politics, adopted a more active and pro-democracy stance.

On the day he submitted his application on July 26, Chan said he objected to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying being re-elected, and supported the accounting of the truth of the June 4 crackdown.

He would not rule out adopting filibuster tactics in the Legco again, but stressed such radical moves could be avoided if the government had enhanced its communication with all stakeholders.

The other hopeful, Wong, is more likely to draw votes from private doctors.

Wong, who gained his nomination from two vice presidents of the Medical Association, the city’s largest doctors’ group, said he aimed to assist the association in reforming the medical watchdog once he was elected.

The two are eyeing the seat left vacant by Leung, who has been occupying the position since 2008, before being re-elected again in 2012.

Ho, a former president for the association for public doctors and a highly respected scholar in the university, would have been Chan’s major rival if he decided to challenge him. But Ho announced he was backing off on Friday due to family reasons.

Dr Choi also decided to opt out because of multiple concerns.

“In the end I got cold-feet and decided not to go for it,” said Choi, 67, a well-respected private nephrologist. “Someone reminded me that entering the Legco might be a conflict of interest for my role as the president of the Medical Association.

“Also, I am a super-patient myself with all kinds of diseases and ailments one could ever imagine for an elderly [person]. I do not think I can shoulder the workload in the Legco without the likelihood of dying.”

Source URL:

Big Tobacco – A Story of Lies, Fraud & Deceit

Download (PDF, 2.91MB)

Using e-cigs to quit smoking?

A NEW study reveals that 95% of Malaysian vapers surveyed have either quit or cut down on smoking, while over 80% of them reported improved health.

“More than two-thirds stopped smoking all together. Among the 27% that didn’t quit, the average consumption of cigarettes dropped from 19 to four a day,” Greek cardio­logist Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos said at a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Sharing the results of his latest study, the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center and University of Patras researcher says over 7,000 adult vapers – 97% of whom were male – participated in the online survey which was in English and Malay. The average age of respondents was 30.

Over 5,500 ex-smokers and more than 1,500 smokers, who are also vapers, were asked about their experiences with e-cigarettes, and the results were consistent with those from the United States and Europe.

“Malaysian vapers, like their global counterparts, generally use advanced e-cigs and were able to reduce their nicotine consumption gradually, feel healthier and eventually quit smoking.”

This, Dr Farsalinos claims, is the largest cross-sectional survey of adult vapers in Malaysia and Asia. The survey is an extension of his 2014 study involving over 19,000 participants worldwide. While his earlier study on the characteristics, side effects and benefits of e-cigs found that 81% of those surveyed had quit smoking with e-cigs, he admits that there was little participation from Asia. The Malaysian survey, he says, fills the gap.

“The vaping community here is more organised compared with those in other countries in the region. They reached out to me early on. There are lots of questions but no data so it was important to do a study here,” he says, explaining why he decided to conduct his latest survey in Malaysia.

The lack of data, he feels, is why e-cigs are feared. While admitting that some fears are legitimate, he argues that sound policy must be based on facts and data, not fears.

The most common side effect of vaping is dry throat and mouth, he says, dismissing fears that smoking e-cigs would lead to addiction. According to his findings, tobacco cigarettes were the first nicotine product used by 92% of the respondents while 95% denied ever using e-cigs to inhale anything other than e-liquids.

The Health Ministry’s recommendation for e-cigs to be strictly regulated as a pharmaceutical product is a “big step backward”, says Dr Farsalinos, arguing that whether the e-cig is a pharmaceutical, tobacco or consumer product was dealt with in Europe three years ago.

“The e-cig is not medicinal so that argument was thrown out. The EU regulates it under its Tobacco Products Directive but there’s a sepa­rate category for the e-cig where it’s treated as a consumer product.”

He believes the devices should be regulated as a consumer product but with restrictions, like banning its sale to minors.

“Smokers aren’t stupid. They know their habit causes diseases that kill but they like it. Smoking is pleasurable. E-cigs give them the same pleasure.

“Malaysia adopts harm reduction when they tell motorists to wear a seatbelt. Why is this different?” he asks, adding, however, that e-cigs should only be the option for those who failed to quit smoking by themselves or after they’ve tried medication.

Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Muttalif believes it’s better to err on the side of caution as the long-term effects of e-cigs on the body are still unknown and may take years to find out.

He is the chairman of the Health Ministry’s technical committee tasked with studying the health effects of e-cigs and shisha smoking and also a senior consultant chest physician and former director of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital Institute of Respiratory Medicine.

“Look how long it took before we knew that cigarettes cause diseases. As doctors we are very careful,” Dr Abdul Razak says when asked to comment on the Farsalinos study.

When the committee was formed in 2013, there wasn’t much data on e-cigs, he says, but some studies now show that e-cigs could have acute and long-term effects on consumers.

Worried about the nicotine in e-liquids, he warns that it could lead e-cig users to other addictions.

Universiti Malaya nicotine addiction specialist Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin is also concerned.

“A single survey conducted on mainly Internet users is inadequate to change the understanding of the danger or benefits of e-cigs. Besides the ongoing national study findings, there are a number of studies looking at the prevalence, mode of use, safety of e-liquids and safety to the environment. These are conducted by local universities. Let’s compare their data with Dr Farsalinos’ data.

“If e-cigs are found to be a useful quit-smoking agent in future, it should be regulated as a medicinal device. Still, abstinence is the best way to quit,” he says, adding that nicotine is governed by the Poison Act and its distribution is controlled.

Calling for a ban on e-cigs, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) believes that instead of helping smokers quit, e-cigs just cause them to spend more on a new habit.

CAP education officer N.V. Subbarow insists that many vapers are still smoking.

“Now we have another problem besides smoking. Worse still, teachers and parents are at a loss because kids who have never smoked are vaping now.”

CAP, he says, conducts weekly consumer education programmes in schools, addressing topics like vaping and e-cigs.

“Our survey of eight primary and secondary schools in Penang last year found 150 regular vapers among the students.”