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Archive for June, 2015

Big tobacco, Interpol & Codentify: potential problems with industry product tracking systems

17 Jun, 15 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

In 2013, Tobacco Control published an article which examined Codentify, an industry tracking and tracing standard (click here for open access full text). It traces events from 2011, when Interpol accepted a substantial donation from Philip Morris International. Shortly afterwards, in 2012, Interpol announced the creation of the Interpol Global Register (IGR) to help ensure authenticity of products threatened by illicit trade. At the same time, Interpol announced it would work the four major transnational tobacco companies (British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group, Japan Tobacco International,  and Philip Morris International) to make the industry’s supply chain control system, Codentify accessible via the IGR.

This collaboration took place in the lead up to the adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Illicit Trade Protocol in November 2012, which is focused on technological solutions to global illicit trade. The article examines how the tobacco industry promoted Codentify, portrayed itself as part of the solution to illicit trade and integrated itself into FCTC processes. It notes that while limited information was available, the pan-industry deal to develop and promote the PMI tracing and tracking standard is potentially problematic, given the standard has significant limitations, and particularly in light of the fact that the industry has been accused of involvement in tobacco smuggling.

Recently, a new independent blog has appeared, called Why It’s Bad, which aims to explain and further investigate Codentify. The author is a student at the Open University of London, who states: “This blog will be primarily dedicated to explaining the scam that is Codentify. I will try my best to use my background as an information systems student to explain these technical issues in simple terms.” Given the lack of research about this issue and the potential danger of regulatory capture by the tobacco industry in the area of illicit tobacco, the blog has the potential to provide interesting insights about Codentify. (Note: Why It’s Bad is external content. BMJ has not verified, and takes no responsibility for, the content in this external link).



Jamaica: United Way charity under pressure over tobacco industry links

10 Jun, 15 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Tobacco industry corporate philanthropy and social responsibility has been under the international spotlight recently with the revelation that the American Red Cross continues to accept tobacco industry donations, despite concerns of the International Red Cross that US Red Cross risks damaging the global reputation of the network. Accepting tobacco industry donations is particularly problematic for charitable organisations that work to improve public health, given tobacco industry profitability is only possible at the expense of the health – and lives – of the industry’s best customers.

Barbara McGaw of the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control and Deborah Chen of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica report of a charitable organisation accepting tobacco industry funds, causing a split in the charity sector in Jamaica:

United Way of Jamaica (UWJ) is a key charitable organisation in Jamaica. Through its umbrella group, the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS), it has membership of all of the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the country, including health-related NGOs such as the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Cancer Society and the Diabetes Association of Jamaica. UWJ and CVSS are sister organisations; their offices, secretariat and CEO are shared, and they have 4 board members in common. United Way Jamaica provides funding for a range of CVSS member organisation projects.

At a function to celebrate the 29th National Builders Awards Ceremony of UWJ in September 2014, Carreras Limited (a subsidiary of BAT) was lauded as UWJ highest corporate donor for 2013. Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, who was a guest speaker at the function, presented the award. The Minister’s involvement contravenes Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the guidelines of which state that Parties “should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in activities of the tobacco industry described as socially responsible”. The Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control (JCTC) wrote to the Minister about the issue; according to his response, the event invitation did not indicate that he would be presenting awards. However, he acknowledged that his role in presenting to Carreras would not be in keeping with the spirit of Article 5.3 of the FCTC.

Against this background, in September 2014, the JCTC wrote to the Chairman of UWJ and suggested that the organisation cease accepting funds from the tobacco industry. Despite further correspondence from the JCTC and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, the only response received was “We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated September 24, 2014 in which you have raised concerns regarding United Way accepting funds from the tobacco industry. The matter has been brought to the attention of our Board and your concerns have been noted.”

The Heart Foundation also wrote to the Chair of CVSS. Although a more positive response was received stating that consideration could be given to reviewing the criteria for accepting funds at UWJ, to date there has been no change in policy. It is noteworthy that at a celebratory function held in January 2015 by Carreras Ltd (BAT) to honour its CEO for being awarded  “Top CEO for 2014”  by Business Suite magazine , the Chairman of UWJ was present and gave the vote of thanks at the function.

The UWJ’s mission on its website is “to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities to advance the common good”. The website further states that “The United Way of Jamaica envisions a society where individuals and families achieve their human potential through education, financial stability and healthy living”. Accepting funds from the tobacco industry is not in keeping with United Way’s vision. Despite this, the United Way has accepted funding from the tobacco industry in other countries. It seems that there is no policy against accepting donations from this source. Altria’s 2012 reporting of Recipients of Charitable Contributions from Altria Family of Companies (USA), listed 11 United Way individual organizations that benefitted from donations. Total donations to charitable institutions reported were US$40.8 million.

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica has been a member of CVSS for over 40 years. It has previously written about the problem of United Way accepting donations (see herehere and here). In view of the current situation, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica has suspended its membership as of April 30, 2015. The Heart Foundation of Jamaica hopes that one day there will be a review in the UWJ/CVSS policy such that the HFJ can reinstate its membership. The matter of United Way accepting funds from the tobacco industry globally is an issue which deserves further investigation and exposure.

Victory for tobacco’s victims. Victory for public health. Victory for society.

3 Jun, 15 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

by Cynthia Callard
Directrice, Service d’information sur les procès du tabac
Association pour la santé publique du Québec​

“Knowingly exposing people to the type of dangers that the Companies knew cigarettes represented without any precaution signals being sent is beyond irresponsible at any time of the Class Period. It is also intentionally negligent.”

Justice Brian Riordan
Quebec Superior Court
June 1, 2015

On the 1 June 2015, Justice Brian Riordan of the Quebec Superior Court, ruled on two important tobacco class action lawsuits.  The Létourneau case, on addiction, and  the Blais case, on lung disease. Both lawsuits were filed in 1998 and were tried together in a trial that started in March 2012 and ended in December 2014. The class actions are against the Canadian operations of the world’s largest tobacco companies: Rothmans Benson and Hedges (wholly owned by Philip Morris International), Imperial Tobacco Ltd. (wholly owned by British American Tobacco) and JTI-Macdonald (wholly owned by Japan Tobacco).

This is an important judgement for Canada, and also significant world-wide. There are very few large lawsuits outside of the United States, and the success in Quebec is in large part due to the legal reforms which have been implemented in Quebec in order to allow for greater ‘access to justice’ for consumers. These reforms could inspire measures to strengthen implementation of the WHO FCTC Article 19. Among these reforms are permission for class actions, support for the costs of trials that are in the public interest, and laws which allow for the use of epidemiological evidence in tobacco cases.

Here are some key elements of Justice Riordan’s decision:

All three of the companies were found to have broken the law in four ways:

“They committed four separate faults, including under the general duty not to cause injury to another person, under the duty of a manufacturer to inform its customers of the risks and dangers of its products, under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and under the Quebec Consumer Protection Act.”

They are required to pay compensation for moral damages (i.e. illness, but not for the costs of health care or lost earnings) to those Quebec smokers who suffer from lung or throat cancer in the amount of more than $200,000 (an award of $100,000 plus interest), and those who suffer from emphysema will receive more than $60,000 (an award of $30,000 plus interest). Certain conditions are set to be eligible to receive a payment, including having smoked for 12 pack years or more.

The class of eligible smokers is thought to be around 100,000 people. If all of them make a claim, the amount which must be paid by the companies will be about CAD 15.5 billion. (10 billion euros). If fewer make claims, the amount will be lower.

They are not required to pay compensation to smokers who were addicted, even though the judge found them guilty of having caused addiction. The judge said it was too difficult to make a blanket assessment of the value of the harm of addiction because individual circumstances were too varied.

Smokers were held partially responsible if they started smoking after a year when the harms of smoking could be considered to have been widely known. The judge said this was 1976 for lung disease and 1992 for addiction. Even then, the companies were held responsible for 80% of the damage.

The companies are required to pay punitive damages in both cases, equal to a year’s income. This amount was both increased (for BAT and JTI because their behaviour was worse) and reduced (because the total compensation was already very high, and the judge had to consider the capacity to pay).

The punitive damages for the Létourneau case ($130 million) will not be distributed to smokers, as the amount per person is too small to warrant the administrative cost of doing so. Instead, the money will be used to pay for the costs of the trial, and also for some other cause to be established at a later date. By Quebec tradition, this will likely be some public-interest purpose, like research or services to the public.

The companies are required to post $1 billion plus within 60 days.  This is unusual, as losers can usually wait until their appeals are exhausted before having to pay.

The ruling will be appealed. The companies have an automatic right to a hearing by Quebec’s Court of Appeal, which is expected to take around 2 years to be completed. They do not have an automatic right to a hearing at Canada’s Supreme Court, although given the number of new legal issues in this case, it is likely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case. This could add a further 3 years or so before the judgement is final.

Further information and updates on the trial can be read on the Eye on the Trials blog.

Canada: Smokers awarded $15 billion in damages as tobacco companies ordered to pay

2 Jun, 15 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

Quebec, Canada. Three tobacco companies have been ordered to pay $15 billion in damages after losing a historic court case.

In making his judgement, THE HONORABLE BRIAN RIORDAN, J.S.C, wrote:

“these companies colluded among themselves in order to impede the public from learning of health related information about smoking, a collusion that continued for many decades thereafter.”


The judgement, made 27 May, 2015 can be read in full here.


World No Tobacco Day 2015

1 Jun, 15 | by Becky Freeman, Web Editor

Eliminating the illicit trade in tobacco would generate an annual tax windfall of US$ 31 billion for governments, improve public health, help cut crime and curb an important revenue source for the tobacco industry. On the World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, WHO calls Member States to sign the “Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products”.

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