Mary Assunta, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance
The tobacco industry lost the health argument 50 years ago, and in the past decade the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) developed the antidote to reverse the smoking epidemic. However the tobacco industry is stepping up direct attacks, particularly at WHO. Recently the industry took pot shots yet again at WHO and the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP) in its mouthpiece, Tobacco Reporter. The article, (Snail Mail, Jan 2016) makes several ludicrous accusations against both WHO and the COP but ends up only incriminating itself. We pull quotes from the article and provide our response.
TR: “Most of the besuited classes that turn up at COP7 will have few insights into the lives of the financially impoverished people who tend to make up the world’s smokers.”
SEATCA: In reality the tobacco industry has been making billions in profits from selling cigarettes to financially impoverished people all over the world. Eighty percent of the world’s 1.2 billion smokers are in developing countries http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/. Studies have shown that in the poorest households in many low-income countries, spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10% of total household expenditure http://www.who.int/tobacco/research/economics/rationale/poverty/en/. Don’t forget the famous response from the R.J. Reynolds executive when asked why he didn’t smoke: “We don’t smoke that shit! We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid.”
TR: “People who turn up at COP7 will almost certainly be well-fed and cossetted”
SEATCA: Government officials make up the bulk of the delegates who attend the COP and it seems the industry has no qualms insulting them.
TR: “Wonder whether these smokers really want to trade in what is possibly one of the few enjoyments they have for the few extra years of poverty and struggle …”
SEATCA: Most smokers started smoking when they were still minors and did not know any better. Most smokers (70%) want to quit. What the industry refers to flippantly as “few enjoyments” actually leads to illness for many million smokers. Worldwide, about 6 million people die each year , often painfully, because of smoking. This not only affects smokers – it devastates families, emotionally and financially.
TR: “There are far too many people demonizing smokers…”
SEATCA: The FCTC does not demonise smokers. It does the reverse to help smokers quit. Smokers are addicted to nicotine and exposed to the thousands of harmful chemical compounds in the product. Two out three of the tobacco industry’s long term customers die prematurely because of their smoking, however the industry continues to push this harmful product. FCTC measures are aimed squarely at the industry, protecting non-smokers and supporting smokers to quit.
TR: “… making decisions about cigarette smoking without understanding it.”
SEATCA: There is no misunderstanding because the evidence is in – cigarette smoke contains 7,000 chemical compounds, many of which are carcinogenic.
TR: “People choose to smoke.”
SEATCA: Nicotine addiction is not a choice. Most smokers want to quit but find it hard – the addiction is potent displaying similarities to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. For decades, the tobacco industry denied or downplayed the harms of tobacco, and it has engineered its products to enhance their addictiveness. It has fought regulations to protect non-smokers from cigarette smoke, restrictions on advertising, and health warnings to inform the public about the danger of smoking.
The WHO is fulfilling its responsibility to support 180 governments’ obligation to implement the FCTC to reduce tobacco use and reverse the smoking epidemic to save lives. An industry that continues to peddle a product that kills has lost the basic concept of humanity.
Shame on the tobacco industry for exploiting the poor and taking pot shots at the WHO and the COP.