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Tobacco giants cower behind smokescreen

Description: Cigarettes smoking

Smoking-caused illness results in 4000 Victorian deaths every year. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

THE battle between public health and corporate wealth has never been so great or so important when it comes to tobacco.

One in two long-term smokers will die of a smoking-caused illness, resulting in 4000 Victorian deaths each year.

And yet the tobacco industry is constantly attempting to thwart efforts by governments to reduce the devastating impact of smoking on the community.

The World Health Organisation has singled out tobacco industry interference as one of the greatest threats to ending the global tobacco epidemic.

So on May 31, World No Tobacco Day, Quit Victoria is calling on governments across the world to remain vigilant to protect the health of their citizens from the vested and commercial interests of the tobacco industry.

Many Australians would be surprised if they knew how tobacco companies try to weaken efforts to restrict the ways in which they peddle their deadly products, particularly to children.

Ever since the Australian Government announced its intention to pursue plain packaging, we have seen the tobacco industry exploit every possible opportunity to mislead the community and undermine this crucial public health initiative.

Sadly, this is more of the same from an industry that time and time again has put profit over the health of the Australian public.

There were the bogus claims that plain packaging would cost $460 million in lost efficiency for small business, based on a report paid for by the tobacco industry.

The report, which formed part of a $9 million campaign last year against plain packaging, was based on the guesses of just six business owners, Curtin University Associate Professor Owen Carter found.

This sort of shoddy research is often relied upon by the tobacco industry and seemingly independent front groups such as the Alliance of Australian Retailers.

These front groups act as mouthpieces for the tobacco industry, in an attempt to lend a veneer of credibility and independence to their claims but the public usually see through it.

For many, it beggars belief that a company would stoop so low to protect its profits.

The Alliance of Australian Retailers’ campaign backfired when Cancer Council Victoria research showed more than half of Victorians recognised the group was a front for the tobacco industry.

Big Tobacco’s newest tactic is intimidation by litigation and it’s displayed an appalling disregard for governments’ sovereignty to protect the health of its citizens.

In the plain packaging High Court challenge, the lengths the tobacco industry will go to protect its bottom line became clear.

We saw Japan Tobacco argue it should be compensated if plain packaging laws result in fewer Australians dying or getting sick from smoking cigarettes.

Imperial Tobacco told the court it did not agree with the Federal Government’s case that smoking causes lung cancer.

For many, it beggars belief that a company would stoop so low to protect its profits.

But tobacco companies have a long record of this sort of behaviour all over the world.

In Norway, tobacco companies are taking the Government to court over point-of-sale bans, and in Uruguay they are challenging graphic health warnings.

They are providing legal advice to the Ukraine and Honduras in their World Trade Organisation challenges to Australia’s plain packaging laws, despite the fact neither country has a significant share of the Australian tobacco market.

But now that countries such as Australia are refusing to let Big Tobacco derail their efforts to protect their citizens from the harm caused by smoking, the industry has focused on countries less able or willing to defend themselves.

Developing countries have historically had limited resources to prevent tobacco industry expansion into domestic markets and Big Tobacco from interfering in tobacco control policy.

But Big Tobacco’s opportunity is in fact the developing world’s crisis and the net economic impact of growing and consuming tobacco only serves to deepen poverty.

In 2008, across the world, tobacco killed more people than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

Globally, we need to present a strong and united front to tobacco industry interference so we can finally end the pain, illness, suffering and costs caused by tobacco.

Fiona Sharkie is executive director of Quit

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