Thursday, 31 May 2012 8:38 AM

World No Tobacco Day Takes on 'Big Tobacco'

Thursday 31 May 2012 is World No Tobacco Day and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is adding its voice to the global call for an end to 'tobacco industry interference' - this year's theme -in global and national efforts to control tobacco.

The focus is on exposing and countering the tobacco industry's blatant and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Jeanie McKenzie, Non-communicable Disease Adviser at SPC, says, 'Big Tobacco has constantly tried to undermine global and national efforts to reduce death and disease from tobacco, from attempting to weaken the global tobacco treaty - the WHO FCTC - to interfering with the right of Pacific countries to determine strong public health policy and tobacco legislation.

'The tobacco industry has attempted to weaken national tobacco legislation, particularly in relation to banning smoking in enclosed public places and to banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. It is attempting to undermine tobacco excise policies and prevent the introduction of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets in the Pacific region. In some countries the industry has sought to establish agreements that will ensure that excise tax increases on tobacco are kept to a minimum.'

Other tobacco industry strategies to undermine advances in tobacco control include: establishing the industry as 'socially responsible' and a tobacco control 'partner' with government, stopping or weakening policies known to affect tobacco sales, funding and lobbying politicians, manipulating the media by raising doubt about scientific research, funding research and research institutions, generating front groups (e.g. smokers' rights and retailer groups), using so-called philanthropy to buy friends and social respectability, promoting ineffective strategies like youth smoking prevention programmes, and instigating litigation to challenge laws and intimidate governments.

Ms McKenzie stated, 'There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's interests and public health policy interests. Countries that are Parties to the FCTC need to be alert to tobacco industry efforts to undermine or subvert their public health policies and protect them from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.'

SPC, in conjunction with project partners, the Framework Convention Alliance, Allen & Clarke Policy and Regulatory Specialists (New Zealand) and Auckland University (in association with Fiji National University) will be working with three Pacific Island countries on the first Pacific-based Bloomberg Initiative grant to be awarded in the region, focusing on Article 5.3 of the FCTC. The three countries to begin this work are Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Some of the key recommendations of WHO FCTC Article 5.3 state that Parties should;

- limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure any such interactions are conducted transparently;
- reject partnerships and not accept, support or endorse any voluntary code of conduct or instrument drafted by the tobacco industry that is offered as a substitute for legally enforceable tobacco control measures, e.g. tobacco control legislation or policy;
- denormalise and regulate activities described as 'socially responsible' by the tobacco industry, including but not limited to activities described as 'corporate social responsibility';
- not accept, support or endorse the tobacco industry organising, promoting, participating in, or performing youth public education;
- establish clear rules and codes of conduct regarding conflicts of interest for government officials and employees working in tobacco control;
- refuse payments, gifts and services, monetary or in-kind, and research funding offered by the tobacco industry to government institutions, officials or employees;
- require applicants for public office positions that have a role in setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control to declare any current or previous occupational activity with any tobacco industry whether gainful or not;
- require government officials to declare and divest themselves of direct interests in the tobacco industry;
- have effective measures to prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to political parties, candidates or - - campaigns, or to require full disclosure of such contributions;
- not grant any incentives to establish or run tobacco businesses, give preferential treatment to, or invest in the tobacco industry and related ventures.

This year Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, alluding to the classic Virginia slims campaign - 'You've come a long way, baby' - reminded the tobacco industry that 'We've come a long way', calling the industry 'bullies' and adding, 'We must not take bullying from the industry lying down.

'Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. Unless we act, tobacco use will kill up to eight million people by 2030, of which more than 80% will live in low- and middle-income countries.'

This World No Tobacco Day, SPC is calling on all governments to protect public health policy from tobacco industry interference in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.