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Archive for September, 2014

Canada: What were they smoking? Experts want health on tobacco litigation agenda

25 Sep, 14 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Garfield Mahood

President, Campaign for Justice on Tobacco Fraud

 

Canada what were they smoking

An image from the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco Fraud, Canada

In the early 1980’s, Canada had one of the globe’s highest rates of per capita tobacco consumption. But in less than two decades, in response to aggressive campaigning by health NGOs, Canada experienced arguably the largest decline in use anywhere.

Gains were made on many fronts: through increases in tobacco taxation, a world precedent-setting ban on tobacco advertising, breakthroughs in smoke-free air travel and federally-regulated workplaces, and from landmark tobacco package warnings.

But Canada can no longer claim that it is at the forefront of responses to the tobacco epidemic. In 2010, the neo-liberal federal government cancelled longstanding plans for a renewal of stale package warnings. Then, in the face of fierce opposition, it reversed itself and a year later mandated new warnings which discarded several of the precedent-setting elements of Canada’s ground-breaking 1994 and 2001 warning systems.

Then, the health minister cancelled the entire grants and contributions component of the national tobacco strategy. This cut millions of dollars of funding from troublesome NGOs which had pressed the government to produce the up-dated warnings. Needless to say, plain packaging is no longer on the government’s agenda.

One of the most severe criticisms of the federal government, said Western University law professor Robert Solomon, “stems from the sweetheart tobacco smuggling settlements that it negotiated with Big Tobacco in 2008 and 2010. In those settlements, health remedies to deal with the illness caused by the smuggling fraud appear not to have been given any consideration.”

Unlike American tobacco litigation, criminal investigations and civil lawsuits in Canada produced settlements of pennies on the dollars claimed, no disclosure of industry documents and no real incentives for the manufacturers to change their behaviour. Tobacco executives facing jail time had their charges stayed.

According to William Marsden of Montreal’s The Gazette, the tobacco executive who planned much of the smuggling told him that the federal police knew “all about this. They could have walked in and just handcuffed everybody at Imperial [Canada’s largest tobacco company. The government]…did not have the guts of a field mouse to go after the executives of the company….”

Now, Canada’s provinces are suing tobacco manufacturers and their international parents to recover the health care costs associated with smoking which resulted from industry fraud and conspiracy over five decades. The governments allege that the companies involved lied about risks, addiction, ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes, and second-hand smoke.

The claims filed to date by nine provinces exceed CDN $110 billion. If this wrongful behaviour is proven in court, as it was in the USA, it will constitute the largest fraud in the history of Canadian business. It certainly was the most destructive with estimates that industry deception caused or contributed to up to two million deaths in Canada since 1964.

The smuggling settlements trivialized the harms caused by the fraud. So the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco Fraud (CJTF) was incorporated, to advocate for positive health outcomes from the health care cost recovery litigation.

As mentioned in the September 2014 Tobacco Control, the CJTF pressed provincial and territorial governments to take Big Tobacco to trial, insist on the disclosure of industry documents, and allocate a significant portion of monies recovered to an arms-length-from-government agency with a mandate to reduce tobacco industry-caused disease. The CJTF submission was signed by the heads of 60 health organizations, by the deans of schools of public health, and by professors of medicine and law, 137 signatories in all.

It will take a determined health community to put public health into the litigation deliberations and to offset years of federal government back-sliding.

Is it better to be a thin smoker or a fat ex-smoker?

22 Sep, 14 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

Weight gain when quitting smoking is a common concern, particularly amongst women. The increased attention of excess weight impacting on health suggests that some smokers may feel they are not achieving any net health benefits from quitting smoking if they gain weight once they stop smoking.

In this podcast I talk to Prof Siahpush about his paper examining if it is indeed better to be a thin smoker or a fat ex-smoker.

Mohammad Siahpush, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Public Health. He describes his research as being “about trying to understand what makes people behave the way they do. In looking for answers, I examine characteristics of individuals as well characteristics of the environments where people live.”

Read the full paper: It is better to be a fat ex-smoker than a thin smoker: findings from the 1997–2004 National Health Interview Survey−National Death Index linkage study goo.gl/OfH037

https://soundcloud.com/bmjpodcasts/is-it-better-to-be-a-thin-smoker-or-a-fat-ex-smoker

The Netherlands: Dutch government sued over WHO FCTC violations

15 Sep, 14 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

This post was originally published by The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation. It is republished here with full permission.

The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation is taking the Kingdom of the Netherlands to court to end the structural and excessive influence exerted by the tobacco lobby on government anti-smoking policies.

The Foundation is calling on the Dutch government to comply fully with the anti-smoking convention (WHO FCTC), which it signed and which is therefore legally binding. One of the most important articles in the convention states that every form of influence by the tobacco industry on policies to deter smoking must be avoided. In the court summons issued, the Foundation offers dozens of examples that show how the government has systematically violated this provision, and even invites the tobacco industry to clarify its position on matters of policy development.

19,000 tobacco-related deaths

More than 19,000 Dutch people, half of them younger than 65, die each year as a result of smoking. In addition, an average of 120 children under the age of 18 start smoking every day. Some 60 of them will continue to smoke for the rest of their lives, and 30 of them will die prematurely from the effects of smoking.

Smoking is by far the biggest cause of death that could be avoided through prevention. However, the marketing techniques deployed by the tobacco industry are so refined that many youths cannot resist the temptation to start smoking. Moreover, cigarettes are designed to be highly addictive. Children who start smoking end up addicted within weeks. For many of them, the question of ‘free will’ no longer applies: they are unable to stop smoking without help.

Numerous national and international laws and conventions make it a duty of the Dutch government to protect the health of its citizens from a serious cause of illness like tobacco. With as many as 19,000 tobacco deaths every year, the government has an obligation to do all in its power to combat the massive scale of premature fatalities. And it should certainly prevent minors from starting to smoke, because almost nobody starts after they turn 18.

Despite all this, the Dutch government has failed to implement measures that could be very effective in achieving results: imposing much higher taxes on tobacco and greatly reducing the current number of over 60,000 points of sale. Instead, the government listens to the tobacco industry, whose effective lobbying continues to successfully obstruct measures to discourage tobacco use.

LiarWork_crop380w

There are dozens of examples that show how the Dutch government has systematically violated Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.

WHO FCTC convention

The summons focuses on the fact that the government still allows the tobacco lobby to influence the implementation of policies aimed at deterring tobacco use. Such influence is a flagrant violation of the provisions of the legally binding international convention drawn up by the World Health Organization – the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – signed by the Netherlands and 179 other countries.

Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC convention states that signatories must protect the setting and implementing of their tobacco deterrent policies from any influence from the tobacco industry. By citing the Freedom of Information Act, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation has obtained hundreds of documents that reveal how the government has maintained frequent contacts in various ways with representatives of the tobacco industry concerning many aspects of tobacco deterrent policies.

Officials from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport regularly invite representatives from the tobacco industry to comment directly on draft policies. In addition, frequent consultation occurs with the tobacco industry concerning current policy matters. In many cases, no minutes of these meetings are recorded, and transparency concerning the contacts is totally absent.

With this court summons, the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation wants to prove that the Dutch government is acting illegally by not complying with the WHO FCTC convention. The Foundation is also demanding that the government immediately break off all contact with representatives of the tobacco industry and that it inform all government agencies, including those at local government level, not to consult with the tobacco industry. In light of the WHO FCTC convention, there is no longer any room for ‘negotiation’ with the tobacco industry. The government must do what it is obliged to do: protect its citizens from products that pose a serious threat to their health. In addition, the government should not be obstructed in those efforts as a result of consultation with the very companies that put those lethal products on the market.

Download here the text of the court summons (in Dutch)

Germany: Pre-schools and Cigarette Vending Machines

10 Sep, 14 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

by Raoul A. Walsh, Phd

Depending on the type of national regulation, cigarette vending machines pose serious problems for tobacco control including: increasing cigarette availability, facilitating smoking relapse, providing cigarette access points for children and other non-smokers, normalizing cigarette purchases , and serving as a promotional tool for the tobacco industry.

There is a wide range of variations concerning how different nations regulate cigarette vending machines. Some countries like England, Greece, Croatia and Singapore have outright bans, while many others restrict machines to over 18 venues and/or mandate staff to verify age, sometimes issuing special tokens or requiring staff to operate machines.

In July, 2014, while holidaying in Stuttgart, I was shocked to see how ubiquitous cigarette machines were in public places. Amongst developed countries, Germany must rank as one of the nations with the most laissez-faire approach to cigarette vending machine control. In a suburban street outside my Stuttgart hotel, one vending machine was located right next to a small park where children of all ages were observed playing ball games. This site was also only approximately 20 metres from a busy pre-school. What a marvelous way for the tobacco industry to show the pre-schoolers on a daily basis just how socially acceptable smoking is.

To operate vending machines, a German identity card or driver’s licence is required to ‘prove’ the purchaser was over 18. How easy would it be, however, for a child to borrow, with or without permission, an adult’s age verification, or for parents to send their child to buy cigarettes for them? Interestingly, the machine near the hotel required a minimum purchase of two cigarette packs: excellent for cementing relapses or for fostering dependence in experimental smokers.

 

UK 2014 1021

Vending machine affixed to low wall on footpath next to small park frequented by children of all ages.

 

Another machine was photographed on the external wall of a shop in a village square about 30 minutes from Stuttgart, opposite the small town hall. Although there were some small advertisements for other goods on the few shops in the square, the cigarette picture on the vending machine was both the most eye-catching and the largest promotional item in the area.

 

UK 2014 977

Vending machine with large cigarette ‘ advertisement’ mounted on the external wall of a shop facing the village square and town hall.

 

It seems extraordinary that the placement of vending machines in public streets probably makes cigarettes the most accessible retail product in Germany. Germans certainly have a long way to go when it comes to eliminating the harmful influence of cigarette vending machines on public health.

 

Raoul A. Walsh, PhD

Conjoint Associate Professor

School of Medicine and Public Health,

Faculty of Health and Medicine

University of Newcastle

AUSTRALIA

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