Mixed progress: Na­tions re­view war against tobacco in­dus­try

Smok­ing-re­lated deaths are still ris­ing world­wide

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

In Nepal, health warn­ings cover 90 per­cent of cig­a­rette packs, while Aus­tralia re­quires those pack­ets be wrapped in drab, plain pa­per. In­done­sia’s new ban on out­door ad­ver­tis­ing brought down tobacco bill­boards de­pict­ing smil­ing, smok­ing youths. And In­dia wants scary pho­tos of rot­ting lungs and mouth tu­mors cov­er­ing pack­ets sold in the coun­try. Still, na­tional drives to dis­cour­age smok­ing and cut back tobacco sales haven’t done enough, cam­paign­ers say. Smok­ing-re­lated deaths are still ris­ing world­wide, with 80 per­cent of them ex­pected to oc­cur in de­vel­op­ing coun­try pop­u­la­tions by 2030. “Most peo­ple in the United States think tobacco is over and done with, but it’s still the largest pre­ventable cause of dis­ease on the planet” killing 6 mil­lion peo­ple a year - or one per­son ev­ery six sec­onds, said John Ste­wart, deputy cam­paigns di­rec­tor at the Bos­ton-based lob­by­ing group Cor­po­rate Ac­count­abil­ity In­ter­na­tional.

En­tan­gle­ments re­main

Start­ing Mon­day, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from at least 178 coun­tries are meet­ing for five days in the In­dian cap­i­tal to dis­cuss how they can fur­ther the fight against smok­ing and push back against tobacco com­pany lob­by­ists. Since they set down stiff reg­u­la­tions and guide­lines in a land­mark 2003 treaty called the Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol - the first and only global treaty deal­ing with pub­lic health most of the 180 sig­na­to­ries have rat­i­fied it and passed laws re­strict­ing tobacco ad­ver­tis­ing or sales. Still, many govern­ments re­main en­tan­gled with pow­er­ful tobacco com­pa­nies, while in­dus­try lob­by­ists con­tinue at­tempts to stymie ef­forts to im­ple­ment anti-smok­ing laws through bribery, mis­in­for­ma­tion and even su­ing na­tional govern­ments for lost prof­its, cam­paign­ers say. “The tobacco in­dus­try is def­i­nitely feel­ing the heat,” Ste­wart said. “They’ve got their back against the wall.”

In­dian courts are cur­rently grap­pling with 62 law­suits filed by tobacco com­pa­nies or cig­a­rette mak­ers chal­leng­ing laws re­quir­ing that 85 per­cent of all cig­a­rette pack­ets be cov­ered with pho­tos of med­i­cal hor­rors. In Ja­pan, a 10-per­cent hike in taxes on cig­a­rettes has led to a 30per­cent de­cline in smok­ing. But the coun­try still has some of the low­est tax rates on cig­a­rettes among in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, while its fi­nance min­istry owns 33 per­cent in Ja­pan Tobacco.

The anti-tobacco cam­paign has had some suc­cess. It is widely ac­cepted, at least among na­tional lead­ers, that smok­ing causes cancer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar and res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease, along with a host of other harm­ful health im­pacts. That aware­ness still has not trick­led down to na­tional pop­u­la­tions, though. And cam­paign­ers say tobacco in­ter­ests have shifted their fo­cus to poorer, less ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tions in the de­vel­op­ing world. In­dia among the first to rat­ify the anti-tobacco treaty in 2004 - is still con­sid­ered one of the biggest bat­tle­grounds in the fight against the tobacco in­dus­try, pub­lic health spe­cial­ists say.

Harsh laws

De­spite harsh laws passed more than a decade ago ban­ning smok­ing in pub­lic and sales to chil­dren, smok­ing is still com­mon across the coun­try. A gov­ern­ment sur­vey in 2010 showed nearly 35 per­cent of adults were ei­ther smok­ing or chew­ing tobacco. Mean­while, more than 1 mil­lion In­di­ans die each year from tobacco-re­lated dis­eases that cost the coun­try some $16 bil­lion an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. “The rev­enues that the gov­ern­ment earns from tobacco taxes are far less than the bil­lions that are spent on health care,” said Bhavna Mukhopad­hyay of the Vol­un­tary Health As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia, a pub­lic health or­ga­ni­za­tion. “Pub­lic health and the health of the tobacco in­dus­try can­not go hand in hand,” she said, not­ing that cam­paign­ers are now push­ing for coun­tries to make tobacco com­pa­nies and their share­hold­ers civilly and crim­i­nally li­able for the harm done by tobacco. Part of the trou­ble in In­dia is “the In­dian con­sumer is spoilt for choice,” she said, with cig­a­rettes sold along­side chew­ing tobacco and cheap, hand-rolled smokes known as bidis. The easy avail­abil­ity and wide choice means many smok­ers get hooked at a young age. Some are ini­ti­ated early through the com­mon, cul­tural prac­tice of chew­ing some­thing called gutka, which com­bines tobacco with spices, lime and be­tel nut and is widely sold as a mouth fresh­ener. Putting pic­to­rial warn­ings on cig­a­rette pack­ets is an at­tempt to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the risks.

NEW DELHI: An In­dian man smokes a cig­a­rette sit­ting next to a road­side ven­dor sell­ing tobacco prod­ucts.

— AP pho­tos

NEW DELHI: An In­dian man buys a packet of cig­a­rette from a road­side ven­dor.

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