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August 17th, 2012:

Tobacco: public health comes first

PUBLISHED: 17 Aug 2012 00:08:31 | UPDATED: 17 Aug 2012 00:32:55PUBLISHED: 17 Aug 2012PRINT EDITION: 17 Aug 2012

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The Australian Financial Review

Tobacco companies are understandably alarmed that the federal government’s legislation for plain packaging of cigarettes could be replicated by Britain, New Zealand, India and the European Union, among others.(HKG ?) After the High Court rejected the tobacco companies’ argument that they were entitled to compensation because the laws constituted an acquisition of their intellectual property, from December 1 tobacco products will have to be sold in packaging with no distinguishing brand marks.

Tobacco companies are pursuing other legal avenues, including challenging the laws under a bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong, and in the World Trade Organisation.

This newspaper favours the use of market mechanisms to achieve policy outcomes rather than the imposition of regulations that restrict the use of private property. While the government does have a legitimate interest in public health, individuals also have a right to decide their tobacco use.

The plain-packaging laws don’t impinge on personal use, but they do take the drastic step of allowing the commonwealth to limit the use of trademarks in which the tobacco companies have invested heavily. And the Australian Industry Group raises a valid concern that the precedent could be used against other goods. There is already pressure to impose tougher regulation on fast food and alcohol.

However, Australia has had some big wins in improving public health through regulation, for example by imposing seatbelt laws. High taxes on tobacco products have helped cut the incidence of smoking by half, to about 15 per cent of the population. Given that there is no safe way to consume tobacco products, and that smoking-related expenses are at least $12 billion a year, taxes would have to double to cover the cost of health problems tobacco creates. In that situation, the plain-packaging laws may be a necessary evil.

The Australian Financial Review

Largest-Ever Survey on Global Tobacco Use Issues Dire Warnings


Largest-Ever Survey on Global Tobacco Use Issues Dire Warnings

By Alexandra Sifferlin@acsifferlin | August 17, 2012 | 3

Nearly half of all men and more than 1 in 10 women use tobacco in many developing countries, and women are starting to smoke at earlier ages, according to the largest survey to date on international tobacco use. If current trends continue, warns the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco could kill a billion people around the world in this century.

The authors of the new study say the numbers call for urgent changes in tobacco policy and regulation in developing nations. While tobacco use is declining in industrialized countries, it remains strong — or is even increasing — in low- and middle-income countries, a trend the authors attribute to powerful pro-tobacco forces worldwide.

“Our data reflect industry efforts to promote tobacco use,” said lead study author Gary Giovino of the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo in New York, in the statement. “These include marketing and mass media campaigns by companies that make smoking seem glamorous, especially for women. The industry’s marketing efforts also equate tobacco use with Western themes, such as freedom and gender equality.”

The study, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), looked at smoking trends among people ages 15 and older from 16 countries, estimating that there are 852 million tobacco users in these countries. GATS targeted 14 low- and middle-income countries — Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Vietnam — and also included data from the United States and the United Kingdom for comparison.

Nationally representative surveys were conducted during face-to-face interviews with 248,452 participants in the GATS countries in 2008-10. Data from the U.K. and the U.S. came from the U.K. General Lifestyle Survey and U.S. Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey, respectively, which had a total of 188,895 respondents. The researchers’ extensive sampling was enough to estimate tobacco use among 3 billion people.

Most tobacco users smoke cigarettes: 41% of men and 5% of women, but other popular forms of tobacco include cigars, chewing tobacco and water pipes. Already, nearly 6 million people die from tobacco-related causes each year, according to WHO. Other key findings from the study:

  • ·        About 49% of men and 11% of women in GATS countries used tobacco (smoked, smokeless or both)
  • ·        Although women’s tobacco use rates remain low, women are beginning to smoke as early as men, around age 17
  • ·        Countries with the highest number of quitters were the U.S. and the U.K., as well as Brazil and Uruguay, “where tobacco control activities are strongest.”
  • ·        Quit rates were lowest in China, India, Russia and Egypt. “In India and Bangladesh, smokeless tobacco use is very high and oral cancer rates are among the highest in the world,” says Giovino.

(PHOTOS: Cigarette Warnings Around the World)

China had the largest number of tobacco users overall, at 301 million people, followed by India, with 274 million. The problem is lack of anti-tobacco regulations. “China National Tobacco, for example, which is owned by the Chinese government, sponsors dozens of elementary schools, where students are subjected to pro-tobacco propaganda. Some messages even equate tobacco use with academic success,” said Giovino.

Smoking rates were highest in Russia, however, where 60% of men and 22% of women use tobacco; by comparison, 53% of men and 2% of women in China use tobacco. Tobacco use rates were also high in Ukraine (50% of men, 11% of women) and Turkey (48% of men, 15% of women). ”In countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey, use among adolescents and young adults is very high and indicates a public health crisis in their future unless effective action is taken to reduce use,” says Giovino.

In some countries the rates are rising. CNN reported:

“One place where we know it’s gone up, unfortunately, is Egypt — as a result of the revolution,” said Edouard Tursan D’Espaignet of WHO”s tobacco control program.

The GATS study found 38% of men and less than 1% of women smoked in Egypt as of 2010.

However, government regulations limiting smoking in certain places fell apart after Hosni Mubarak’s regime was ousted last year, and “the tobacco industry walked in very, very aggressively” to market its product amid the chaos, said Tursan D’Espaignet.

“We are hearing things like ‘Smoking is a way to show you’re free from the previous regime,’” he said.

Tobacco company marketing is a central part of the problem, say the study authors. In poorer countries, pro-tobacco forces can spend a lot more money than their tobacco-control counterparts.

In richer countries like the U.S., in contrast, tobacco use has been declining: currently, about 19% of adults smoke. Smoking among teens has also been dropping, but the rate of decline has recently stalled, as states cut funding for tobacco-control programs.

And while cigarette consumption fell 33% in the U.S. over the previous decade, there was a corresponding 123% increase in the consumption of othersmokable tobacco, like pipes and cigars, including among teens. Why? They’re cheaper. “The U.S. industry is expanding to promote use of other tobacco products such as snuff and cigars — many of these are flavored,” says Giovino.

Some countries are making huge strides in getting people to quit. In Australia, for example, the country’s High Court upheld a ruling this week barring company logos from appearing on cigarette packs; starting in December, cigarette boxes will come in plain packaging emblazoned with grim health warnings and disturbing photos of the health effects of smoking. The country is urging other governments to adopt the same policy.

To solve high tobacco consumption worldwide, Giovino says three groups that need to be held accountable: the tobacco industry; governments, which can choose to regulate tobacco or not; and consumers.

“All three have a role to play in changing the trends, but experience tells us that the interplay between pro-tobacco and anti-tobacco forces is what determines trends in tobacco use,” says Giovino. “So we want to reduce the pro-tobacco forces and increase anti-tobacco forces.”

Proven ways to reduce smoking rates include enforcing tobacco advertising bans, raising the price of tobacco products, helping smokers quit and protecting people from secondhand smoke, and raising awareness about the hazards of smoking by using warning labels and increasing public education campaigns.

The study was published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Read more:

In China, Anti-Smoking Efforts Hindered by Big Tobacco

Posted Friday, August 17th, 2012 at 5:45 am

A new study says China has the largest number of tobacco users in the world. And analysts say efforts to curb the habit are being hindered by the country’s state-owned tobacco enterprises.

The British-based medical journal Lancet said Friday in a report on global smoking rates that around 300 million people, about 28 percent of the population, use tobacco products in China, despite new restrictions on public smoking.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Gary Giovino, says China’s government-owned cigarette companies, an important source of revenue, are even encouraging the deadly habit with advertisements in elementary schools.

“The China National Tobacco Company has supported elementary schools in China, dozens and dozens of them. And they use their support to promote propaganda about tobacco use, and they are basically telling students that genius comes from hard work and tobacco helps them to be successful. That to me is mind boggling, that a government would tell its children to use tobacco to be successful when tobacco will addict them and shorten their lives.”

China has taken some recent steps to lessen public tobacco use, banning smoking in restaurants, bars, and other outdoor venues.

But Angela Merriam of the Beijing-based China Policy organization says the new smoking ban is not being consistently enforced.

“The ban on smoking in public spaces is completely ineffective. For example, I have a student who did an informal survey of just over 60 establishments in China. Of those polled, almost 70 percent said they permit smoking. And while 80 percent had heard of the regulations, only 12 percent of people in the restaurants had heard of a fine for a violation of the regulation.”

Other say that any substantial progress will be difficult as long as the same authorities responsible for controlling tobacco use are also in charge of tobacco production.

Bruce Jacobs, a China analyst at Monash University in Australia, says part of the problem is that health advocacy groups in China are being marginalized by the country’s big tobacco companies.

“A lot of the tobacco growing and the manufacturing of cigarettes in China is done by big state-owned corporations, and they bring in money. (So) the health organizations don’t have as much clout as these big economic organizations.”

The Lancet study said that tobacco use around the world is greatly influenced by the pro-tobacco lobby. The World Health Organization estimates that six million people worldwide die annually of tobacco-related illnesses. At least one million of those deaths occur in China.

HK in the firing line for global tobacco


Aug 17, 2012

The threat by a global tobacco company to invoke its Hong Kong-derived rights in Australia carries about it a strong whiff of desperation. The warning was made by Philip Morris, owner of Marlboro, which along with other companies has lost a court challenge in Canberra against the world’s first law banning cigarette branding.

Instead of packaging that manages to be familiar despite health warnings and obscene images, in Australia cigarettes will be sold only in “generic packaging” – making all varieties indistinguishable from one another and bearing images of the dead and dying. Along with the Marlboro cowboy, billions of dollars worth of branding is about to head off into the sunset, starting in Australia.

Philip Morris says it will seek compensation under the terms of Australia’s bilateral investment protection treaty with Hong Kong. In reports on this week’s hearings in Canberra, it emerged that Philip Morris’ brands in Australia are owned by Philip Morris Asia, which has been incorporated in this city since 1994.

Article 1 (e) (iv) of the 1993 Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty does offer protection for trademarks, but subject to the laws of either country, which in the case of Australia have now been changed and will take effect in December. Article 5 allows for compensation but only in the case of losses owing to war, revolution, insurrection “or other similar events”. It says nothing about compensation for losses caused by legislation which has been constitutionally enacted by a democratic country acting out of concern for the health of its citizens.

Much to the horror of Big Tobacco, Australia’s new law will be copied by other countries if it is shown that such legislation can overcome the hurdles thrown up by tobacco companies. If not, an obscure treaty with Hong Kong will have served as global tobacco’s last line of defence. That’s a dubious honour for this city, but an unlikely one, with the tobacco industry showing all the signs of someone who should have stopped smoking ages ago: shortness of breath and a haunted, deathly pallor.

Customs seizes HK$22.5 m worth of cigarettes

17 Aug 2012


Hong Kong Customs smashed a transshipment smuggling case with the seizure of 9 million sticks of duty-not-paid cigarettes on August 14. The illicit cigarettes were worth about HK$22.5 million with a duty potential of about HK$15.3 million.
Through risk assessment, Customs officers of the Harbour and River Trade Division picked a 40-foot container declared to contain 253 packages of women’s apparel and trousers from a river trade vessel for examination. The container was destined for Jamaica.
Customs officers found the consignment was camouflaged with 40 cartons of toilet paper and a total of 9 million sticks of illicit cigarettes were found at the back of the container