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January 6th, 2016:

E-cigarettes and the tobacco companies


So the University of Rochester found that flavouring in e-cigarettes can deliver free radicals (DNA-damaging, cancer-causing agents), heavy metals and inflammation agents to lung tissue (Report, 31 December). The lung lining is, after all, specifically designed to exchange materials between our body and the air. The main defences that we have evolved are against particles, as in smoke, and foreign bodies, not the vapours, often of volatile organic chemicals, found in e-cigarettes.

Of course, it is not surprising that British American Tobacco scientists concluded otherwise. Tobacco companies see vaping as a wonderful market for the creation of addicted customers. Come on, wake up and smell the vapour.

Dr Brian Curwain
Christchurch, Dorset

6 January 1639: Virginia orders the destruction of its tobacco crop

The Virginia colonists became obsessed with growing tobacco

King James I of England found smoking tobacco repugnant. It was “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs”. But when it came to the tax revenues it raised, well, that was different.

In 1607, John Rolfe and his band of colonists had been dispatched to the Americas to find and send back gold. They didn’t find it. But they did discover that tobacco plants flourished in the surroundings of the colony they established in Virginia, and it turned out to be the next best thing. Smoking became all the rage back home.

The king granted English merchants a monopoly on the supply, which was subject to duty upon being unloaded in London. To keep prices (and the tax-take) high, growing tobacco in your back garden was banned (although many did it anyway).

In Virginia, tobacco became so valuable that it replaced coins (which were in short supply) as the main medium of exchange. Everything from debts, wages and taxes were paid for in tobacco, while warehouses stuffed with the leaves became de facto reserve banks. Even the governor’s salary was calculated on the price of tobacco.

The colonists became fixated with growing the crop – so much so that farmers had to be forced to grow food. Immigration rose and slaves were brought in from Africa, swelling the exportation of tobacco to Europe from ten tons in 1619 to 750 tons by 1639. In that time, the price plummeted from 27 pence per pound to just three.

The colonial authorities panicked. Yield restrictions were imposed, and the leaves were subject to quality controls. Yet, the price of tobacco plunged so far that it became no longer economical to grow it. In January 1639, half of the tobacco crop was ordered to be destroyed.

But it was to no avail. To the north, Maryland had since sprung up as a competitor, and with its more diversified economy, it was better able to weather the storm. Virginia was condemned to suffer years of economic depression.

Experts Speak Out On Tobacco Industry Bribery Claims

In a BBC investigation, it is alleged that Bugangaizi West MP Kasirivu-Atwooki took $20,000 from BAT as an inducement to doctor a parliamentary report

THE war against smoking will still be won, despite recent revelations that the tobacco industry has been using bribes to influence policy, experts have said.

According to a recent BBC investigation, British American Tobacco (BAT) paid bribes to officials in East Africa, including two members of a convention created under the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat smoking.

However, experts are still confident that the battle against tobacco will be accomplished.

In an interview with New Vision, Anna Gilmore, a professor of Public Health and Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, UK stated: “We can absolutely win the anti-tobacco war and we are winning. We have a global tobacco control treaty that looked impossible to achieve at the time; this treaty is now being implemented – more and more tobacco control policies are being implemented globally.”

Gilmore particularly noted that Uganda has recently passed strong tobacco control legislation, which was a big step forward.

“This was achieved despite enormous opposition from the tobacco industry,” observes Gilmore.

However, she stressed that this progress was only possible “if everyone stands up to the tobacco industry and hold it accountable.”

“Tobacco companies are like cockroaches, they thrive in the dark. Progress is only possible if we shine a light on their corrupt activities and expose their lies. This is starting to happen in Uganda and it was key to getting the Tobacco Control Bill passed. But the bill must now be gazetted and we need to keep shining that light.”

She called for the need for BAT to be held accountable over the bribery claims.

“No company should be allowed to put their profits above the health and economic well-being of states.”

“We need to remember that tobacco kills one in two of its long-term users, that tobacco control policies save lives and enable economic development. That means that every one of these payments that leads to a tobacco control policy being weakened, delayed or blocked causes unnecessary deaths. In other words, these payments have a death count attached to them,” she said.

“It is essential therefore that BAT is held to account. Bribery is illegal under the 2010 UK Bribery Act & under the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009 (Uganda). We now need a series of full and public inquiries into BAT’s conduct. We need to know who else has been bribed, where else is this happening, what else is the company up to, what did those at the highest level know?” Gilmore added.

However in a separate interview with New Vision, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, the principal medical officer and anti-tobacco activist described the evidence in the report were hugely biased.

In the BBC investigation, it is alleged that Bugangaizi West MP Kasirivu-Atwooki took $20,000 (about sh67m) from BAT as an inducement to doctor a parliamentary report.

But Ndyananagi stated: “Our problem is that the Ugandan people implicated in that report are people who helped us come up with a bill. We took the findings with mixed feelings. When it comes to implementation those people may not help us at the time we need them.”