The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy, says a recently released report (Tobacco Industry Interference with Tobacco Control, 2009) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly product, it says further.
According to this report, furthermore, the tobacco industry continues to inject large philanthropic contributions into social programs worldwide to create a positive public image under the guise of corporate social responsibility. This document describes the spectrum of tobacco industry practices that interfere with tobacco control. As an outcome of the first meeting of tobacco industry monitoring experts convened by WHO in October 2007, this report exposes these practices and provides the Contracting Parties to the global tobacco treaty - formally known as WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) - and other WHO Member States the background and contextual information that may assist in implementing the WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines against tobacco industry interference with tobacco control.
On 22 November 2008, 160 countries had adopted strong guidelines of WHO FCTC Article 5.3 to block tobacco industry interference in global health policies and the implementation of the global tobacco treaty. Since it took effect in 2005, implementation of the FCTC, has been systematically obstructed by Big Tobacco. The abuses of corporations like Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco have ranged from attempting to write tobacco control laws, blocking the passage of smokefree legislation, and using so-called "corporate social responsibility" to circumvent ad bans. Tobacco industry interference has been the number one obstacle to the treaty's implementation, and ratifying countries now see protections against this interference as the backbone of the treaty.
The new guidelines are designed to give teeth to Article 5.3 of the treaty which states, "in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law."
The guidelines include the following recommendations, rooted in the principle that the tobacco industry has a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict with public health: - governments should reject partnerships with the tobacco industry; - conflicts of interest such as the "revolving door" between the tobacco industry and public health offices, government investments in the tobacco industry and tobacco industry representation on tobacco control bodies should be avoided; - government interaction with the tobacco industry should be strictly limited and transparent; - the tobacco industry should be required to be transparent about its activities, a measure which will help to counter interference by Big Tobacco's front groups and allied organizations.
Effective tobacco control is, almost by definition, antithetical to the economic interests of the tobacco industry, associated industries, and entities or persons working to further the tobacco industry's agenda, says the preface of this report.
Those interests depend largely on the prosperity of the tobacco industry and its means for ensuring its real or perceived commercial well-being. The primary goal of tobacco control is to prevent tobacco-caused disease and death. In the hierarchy of objectives for reaching this goal, preventing the uptake of tobacco use and assisting tobacco users in ceasing use of all forms of tobacco rank highest. Similarly, efforts designed to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke are most effective when smoking is prohibited in public areas, further reads the preface of this report.
This triumvirate of objectives-preventing uptake, maximizing cessation and prohibiting smoking in public places-stands in direct opposition to the commercial objectives of the tobacco industry, says the report.
Although the industry sometimes makes expedient public statements to the contrary, it routinely seeks to maximize uptake of tobacco use, do all that is possible to ensure that tobacco users continue to be consumers and prevent the erosion of smoking opportunities by restrictions known to reduce smoking frequency and promote cessation.
Thus, when tobacco control succeeds, the tobacco industry fails. People employed by the tobacco industry have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders or government owners to take all legal steps possible to maximize profits. It is therefore entirely predictable that the tobacco industry does what it can to ensure that effective tobacco control policies fail.
Bobby Ramakant is a development journalist and has been writing on development issues since 1991. Health is one of the key focus areas he writes on. He is also a World Health Organization (WHO)'s WNTD awardee for 2008