Cancer and Tobacco Control

Cigarette firms interfere with tobacco fight

Public health policies aimed at reducing smoking-related deaths are being hampered by interference from the tobacco industry, said a recent report by the Framework Convention Alliance.

According to the report, major cigarette firms continue to run circles around key provisions of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global tobacco treaty backed by the United Nations.

It is estimated that 44  400 South Africans die each year from tobacco-related illness. Worldwide, tobacco use kills nearly six million people every year, including more than 600  000 people who are non-smokers but are exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the World Health Organisation.

The UN health watchdog said on its website that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.

“Tobacco industry interference in public health policy poses the single greatest threat to the global community realising the full potential of the FCTC’s life-saving measures,” reads the report entitled Tobacco Watch 2012.

Industry interference in South Africa

According to Peter Ucko from the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the tobacco industry constantly tries to influence policy in South Africa, but ‘€œthe Department of Health is driving a process to ensure that there is no tobacco-industry interference,’€ said Ucko. ‘€œAll their meetings with the tobacco industry are open, and the minutes published.’€

Ucko lists the following examples of how the tobacco industry tried to circumvent smoking policy in South Africa:

  • British American Tobacco (BAT) launched an advertising campaign urging the public not to buy illegal cigarettes. However, the NCAS believe that they are using this as a guise to advertise tobacco products, and is therefore illegal.
  • BAT has brought a case against the Minister of Health against the ban on one-on-one communication used for marketing their products. BAT lost earlier court hearings and the case is currently in the Appeal Court.
  • The tobacco industry tries to influence politicians by sponsoring their overseas trips, giving them tickets to the Soccer World Cup, Cape Town Jazz Festival, etc.
  • The tobacco industry also gave money to Lilieslief, which is very sensitive for ANC politicians and which in fact was mentioned during parliamentary discussions on the legislation.
  • The tobacco industry also constantly spreads misinformation about illicit trade of cigarettes with wildly inaccurate figures not based on scientific research, misinformation about tax and about so-called job losses and so on.

Industry interference

Article 5.3 of the global tobacco treaty, which came into force seven years ago under the auspices of the WHO, binds signatory states to take measures to shield their public health policies from the influence of cigarette firms.

It bars governments from partnering with cigarette companies to promote public health issues and allowing marketing schemes that usually come in the guise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns.

Signatory governments should neither invest in the tobacco industry, accept contributions from cigarette firms nor appoint any industry representatives in tobacco control bodies, according to the treaty.

Applicants to government positions relating to public health must also disclose any previous association with the tobacco industry.

Despite some progress, many of the treaty’s provisions have yet to be fully implemented and countries needed to “rededicate” themselves to fulfilling their obligations, the report said.

A key hurdle worldwide is the influence held by major cigarette firms. “Of particular concern are former tobacco industry officials serving in health ministries, or acting as official government consultants,” the report said.

Another concern is cigarette firms circumventing advertising bans on tobacco by running programmes in the guise of CSR campaigns.

“Tobacco industry activities like those reported in Tobacco Watch do more than violate Article 5.3 of the FCTC. They impede progress on implementing all other measures in the convention,” said alliance director Laurent Huber.

Lawsuits were also another way companies are fighting tobacco control, Huber said.

Last December, tobacco giant Philip Morris stepped up its legal campaign against an Australian law banning logos and branding from cigarette packs, saying it had taken its case to the High Court. Philip Morris said the law, which requires cigarettes to be sold in drab, olive-brown packets, impinged on its intellectual property rights.

Source: SAPA/AFP

About the author

Wilma Stassen

Wilma Stassen is a reporter at Health-e News Service. She focuses on non-communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter @Lawim