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Thursday, March 22, 2012

WHO, rights' groups take on 'Big Tobacco' over smoking

  • Two new reports released yesterday in Singapore by the Tobacco Atlas  and the Tobacco Watch Monitoring Countries’ Performance on the Global Treaty, reveal how tobacco companies in Nigeria and other countries lure people to smoke and die slowly, reports OLUKOREDE YISHAU in Singapore

Which does the world prefer: tobacco or health? Expectedly, the global community settled for health, but tobacco companies are doing all they can to lure more people into smoking.  
A report released yesterday by the Tobacco Atlas and Tobacco Watch Monitoring Counties Performance on the Global Treaty painted a graphic picture of the tobacco epidemic, and the progress that has been made in tobacco control.  The report also highlighted the latest products and tactics being deployed by the lucrative tobacco industry such as the new meida, trade litigation and aggressive development of smokeless products to roast control .
These are contained in the Fourth Edition of the Tobacco Atlas unveiled yesterday by the American Cancer, Society (ACS) and World Hung Foundation at the 15th World conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTH) in Singapore.  Before the report was unveiled. 
Akinbode Oluwafemi, director in charge of Corporate Accountability at the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), who is attending the conference, told  reporters at a seminar organised by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), that statistics suggests that less people in Nigeria and the rest of Africa smoke cigarett, adding: “This should be good news, but tobacco giants are using this to advantage by focusing attention in Nigeria and the rest of Africa because they are facing heat in the developed world.”
His observations are supported by the Tobacco Atlas  report. The Tobacco Atlas puts the cost of tobacco smoking to the Nigerian economy in terms of losses to treatment and low productivity at $591m annually. It said 17 billion cigarettes are produced in the country annually and showed that more people are getting into tobacco use. 
The Tobacco Atlas said the burden of tobacco cultivation, consumption, illness and death is moving from developed to developing parts of the world and is taking an increased toll on low and middle-income countries to the extent that nearly 80 percent of those who die from tobacco-related illnesses are in low and middle-income countries.
According to the Tobacco Atlas, estimates of revenues from the global tobacco industry likely approach a half trillion U.S. dollars annually. In 2010, the combined profits of the six leading tobacco companies, the British American Tobacco (BAT), which is the market leader in Nigeria, Phillips Morris International, and others, was U.S. $35.1 billion. This, noted the report, is equal to the combined profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s in the same year. 
A statement by ACS said: “If Big Tobacco were a country, it would have a gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Venezuela.”
The statement added: “In 2011, according to the Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use killed almost six million people, with nearly 80 per cent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. When considering 2010 deaths with tobacco industry revenue, the tobacco industry realises almost $6,000 in profit for each death caused by tobacco.
“If trends continue, one billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure during the 21st century –one person every six seconds. 
Globally, tobacco-related deaths have nearly tripled  in the past decade, and it is responsible for more than 15 percent of all male deaths and 7percent of female deaths. Tobacco is also a risk factor for the four leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs) –cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases which account for more than 63 percent of global deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Tobacco use is the number one killer in China, causing 1.2 million deaths annually; this is expected to rise to 3.5 million deaths annually by the year 2030. Tobacco is also responsible for the greatest proportion of male deaths in Turkey (38 percent) and Kazakhstan (35 percent), and the greatest proportion of female deaths in the Maldives (25 percent) and the United States (23 percent).
“Uniquely among cancer-causing agents, however, tobacco is a man-made problem that is completely preventable through proven public policies. Effective measures include tobacco taxes, advertising bans, smoke-free public places, mass media campaigns and effective health warnings. These cost-effective policies are among those included in the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a global treaty endorsed by more than 174 countries, and recommended by the WHO in its MPOWER policy package.”
The Tobacco Atlas shows that countries such as Nigeria, where tobacco giants operate, bear direct costs that arise from health care expenditures for treating smoking-related illnesses and indirect costs as a result of lost productivity and cost of premature deaths. 
Chief Executive of the ACS John Seffrin said: “We can no longer deny nor accept the massive human and economic harm caused by tobacco. This book is a vital tool for not only public health advocates, but also for governments, economists, educators and the media to use to tell the story of how a cohesive, well-funded tobacco industry is systematically causing preventable deaths and crippling economies. We know what needs to be done to counteract these tactics and save up to hundreds of millions of lives.” 
For the Chief Executive Officer of the World Lung Cancer Organisation,  Peter Baldinin, “The tobacco industry thrives on ignorance of the true harms of tobacco use and using misinformation to subvert health policies that could save millions. The Tobacco Atlas graphically illustrates the human toll and massive scale of the tobacco epidemic, breaking the best and most recent evidence out of the research world for an audience that can affect change. We urge advocates, media, governments and health professionals to visit website and use the available data to expose the deadly harms of tobacco and the industry that benefits from those harms.”
Another report released at the WCTOH, which paints the danger in the tobacco giants is the Tobacco Watch: Monitoring Countries’ Performance on the Global Treaty.
 The report accused BAT, Phillip Morris International and Japan Tobacco of blocking plans in their host countries  to control use of cigarettes.
The Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), which issued the report, said by blocking tobacco control plans, tobacco giants are increasing death rates associated with tobacco use. Tobacco use, said the report, is responsible for the death of nearly six million people annually, 70 percent of them in the developing world. It added that if current trends continue, one billion people will die of tobacco-related causes in the 21st century. The report documents activities in countries that are parties to the first global health treaty, the WHO-FCTC to interfere with regulations.
FCA Director Laurent Huber said: “For example, half of the national NGO partners that collected research indicated that the tobacco industry is running so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns in their countries.
“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, which are proven to be effective and cost-effective.
“In fact, the Political Declaration of the United Nations NCD Summit recognised the key role of tobacco control in combating NCDs –which account for 60 percent of the world’s deaths and specifically recommended accelerating implementation of the FCTC.”  
 Yul Francisco Dorado of Corporate Accountability International said: “This year’s Tobacco Watch reminds us that the primary challenge the treaty faces is not a lack of political or public will, but a defiant, invasive and ultimately deadly industry. Ending tobacco industry interference is paramount to the success of the treaty at large.”
Oluwafemi said: “With more than 170 Parties, the FCTC is one of the most successful international conventions. It includes other specific steps for governments addressing tobacco use, including to:  adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption; create smoke-free work and public spaces; put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages; and combat illicit trade in tobacco products. 
“The big tobacco are doing their best to ensure regulations are not enforced in line with the FCTC by using tactics hidden under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to hoodwink people in government into toeing their way at the risk of the people’s health. These tactics include: partnership agreements between government and industry; industry-run programmes claiming to prevent youth smoking; and training for farmers.” 
 Tursan d’Espaignet of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, in a paper entitled: “Mortality Attributable to Tobacco- a Global Report,” said tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers. He said: “Direct tobacco smoking kills five million people per year; second hand smoking kills 600,000 people per year, which means tobacco kills more than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.  If effective measures are not urgently taken, tobacco could, in the 21st century, kill over 1 billion people.”
No wonder WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, in a keynote address at the WCOTH, described tobacco smoking as a drive-by shooting capable of killing even by-standers.