The Situationist

The Regulatory Situation of Smoking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2011

From The Independent:

More than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer – triggering a war between health campaigners and the cigarette industry – big tobacco is thriving.

Despite the known catastrophic effects on health of smoking, profits from tobacco continue to soar and sales of cigarettes have increased: they have risen from 5,000 billion sticks a year in the 1990s to 5,900 billion a year in 2009. They now kill more people annually than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

* * *

The West now consumes fewer and fewer of the world’s cigarettes: richer countries have changed – from smoking 38 per cent of the world total in 1990, they cut down to 24 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, the developing world’s share in global cigarette sales has increased sharply, rising to 76 per cent in 2009.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals that tobacco firms have taken advantage of lax marketing rules in developing countries by aggressively promoting cigarettes to new, young consumers, while using lawyers, lobby groups and carefully selected statistics to bully governments that attempt to quash the industry in the West.

In 2010, the big four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – made more than £27bn profit, up from £26bn in 2009.

The price of their profits will be measured in human lives. In the 20th century, some 100 million people were killed by tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill a billion people in the 21st century.

* * *

Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath, said: “What most people don’t realise is that, although sales are falling in the West, industry profits are increasing. These companies remain some of the most profitable in the world. This is thanks in part to their endless inventive ways of undermining and circumventing regulation. They’re trying to reinvent their image to ingratiate themselves with governments, but behind the scenes it’s business as usual.”

* * *

In Indonesia alone there are 21 million child smokers. There is little to stop companies promoting cigarettes to young people. In countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil, tobacco companies have sponsored club nights or parties aimed at attracting new young users. In Russia, attempts to entice women smokers have included packaging made to look like jewel-encrusted perfume bottles and even selling cigarettes branded by the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager for the WHO’s tobacco free initiative, said: “We need to do more. We need to stop the tobacco industry promoting themselves as normal corporate citizens when they are killing people every day. We are lagging behind in establishing comprehensive bans on advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship.”

* * *

Laurent Huber, director of the Framework Convention Alliance on tobacco control, said: “In countries like Uruguay, the tobacco industry uses its vast wealth to tie up public health measures in court battles. Win or lose, this has a chilling effect on other governments.”

These tricks are by no means confined to the less-regulated emerging countries. In Australia, which will become the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes by law, the industry has been accused of scaremongering against the measures by threatening to flood the market with cheap fags.

In Britain, the industry is also prone to taking any measures necessary to keep regulation at bay. This autumn a group of tobacco companies is taking the Government to court over its proposals to ban cigarette displays in all shops.

More often in the UK, though, Big Tobacco’s attempts to alter public opinion are more subtle. A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban. When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “In line with our international treaty obligations, the UK government has not only banned advertising and put health warnings on packs, but also committed to protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. To get round this, the industry uses front groups to covertly lobby politicians, arguing that smoke-free legislation has destroyed the pub trade, and that putting tobacco out of sight in shops will both be ineffective and put corner shops out of business.

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