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Archive for October, 2016

Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging

24 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Jenny Hatchard, University of Bath

Tobacco companies want to sell you cigarettes – today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re at the tobacco counter or out with friends, glitzy cigarette packaging is a really important part of their sales pitch. Tobacco companies are aware of this. It’s why they are so opposed to their cigarettes being put in plain packaging.

But it isn’t just tobacco companies that are against plain packaging. In the UK, where plain packaging was introduced in 2016, business associations, think tanks and civil society groups publicly campaigned against the policy and academics, research consultants and public relations and law firms variously wrote lengthy reports and lobbied the government.

But why would these organisations lobby against plain packaging? On looking into these opposition groups, our recent research gives a clear answer. Opponents of plain packaging tend to have links to the tobacco industry. So much so that three-quarters of organisations identified in our study had financial links to tobacco companies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Decades of research into political activity by the tobacco industry has shown that “third parties” are used to campaign against tobacco-control policies. Health advocates are aware of this. In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control committed the countries that signed the convention to protect tobacco policy from interference by the tobacco industry and, crucially, groups linked to them. In response, in 2011, the UK government committed to publishing details of any policy meetings with tobacco companies and the Department of Health routinely requests disclosure of tobacco industry links. So far so good. In doing so, the UK sets a strong example.

Third party interference

But our research shows how “third party” opposition to tobacco control policies extends tobacco industry interference beyond this realm of government. In a three-year period which included the 2012 government consultation on plain packaging, 88% of research and 78% of public communications opposing plain packaging were carried out by organisations with financial links to tobacco companies (see figure 1). And public and retailer campaigns funded by tobacco companies to mobilise opposition to plain packaging generated 98% of the more than 420,000 negative postcard and petition submissions to the consultation.

Figure 1
Author provided

In this way, ideas and arguments that come from tobacco companies and their research spill into public spaces. Once there, they can influence the public and political mood on life-saving tobacco control policies and create a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. This is known in the world of political science as “conflict expansion”. And the potential effects are significant. When widespread, these “third party” activities can work to delay and even prevent policies: it took four years to get from consultation to implementation in the UK.

This wouldn’t be so serious if organisations and tobacco companies were open about their relationships. But, in many cases, links were not easy for the research team to detect. Of 150 examples of public communications, less than 20% explicitly acknowledged tobacco industry connections. And, while academics and research consultants tended to clearly report funding sources, “third parties” promoting their research in press releases, news stories and letters to government, frequently did not.

If they were open about their financial relationships with tobacco firms, business and civil society organisations would give the public, politicians and officials the opportunity to scrutinise their arguments and evidence in context. In the case of plain packaging, a lack of openness masked these links and lent credibility to claims that the policy lacked evidence and would increase the trade in illicit cigarettes – claims which have been shown to be unfounded by both peer-reviewed research and by the High Court in Britain. Now, as more countries move to introduce plain packaging, “third party” transparency remains an issue.

In order to help countries guard against tobacco industry interference, awareness can be raised of the effects of their activities on public and political debates. And steps could be taken to make their relationships with tobacco companies clearer. A compulsory register of tobacco companies’ memberships, political activities and associated spending would be a strong first move.

There is strong global commitment to addressing the problem of tobacco industry interference. Parties to the framework convention meet in India in November amid concerns about this issue, and the message to the tobacco industry from the WHO is clear: “The world understands who you are and what you do, and is determined to stamp out the global plague which you do so much to spread.”

The Conversation

Jenny Hatchard, Political Scientist, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Attacking the source of a 6 million deaths per year epidemic: tobacco industry divestment

20 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Dr. Bronwyn King

CEO, Tobacco Free Portfolios

I never would have imagined my work as a doctor would take me to corporate boardrooms across the globe, from Melbourne to London, Paris, New York and more. But then I never would have imagined I would be invested in the tobacco industry either.

In my early time as a doctor, I did a placement on the lung cancer ward of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Despite being able to offer the very best medicine available, the majority of my patients died, many of them in their 50’s and 60’s, some as young as 40. It was shocking to bear witness to the true impact of tobacco. Whilst the treatment and care of patients is paramount, we must deal with the source of the problem – tobacco and the companies that manufacturer it.

Once I discovered that through my compulsory pension fund, I was invested in and actually owned a part of a several tobacco companies, I couldn’t just do nothing – I had to take action.

In my quest to disentangle the Australian pension sector from tobacco I’ve become well informed about tobacco and the extent of the ‘tobacco epidemic’, as it is referred to by the World Health Organisation. The numbers astound me. Six million deaths per year are attributed to tobacco and we are on track for one billion tobacco related deaths this century.

Many, including investors (both individual mums and dads as well as big financial institutions), aren’t actually aware of the extent of their tobacco exposure. Tobacco stocks are generally picked up in standard products. Often, tobacco companies have not been selected specifically for investment, but they are wrapped up within default investment products, so they still find a way into your portfolio.

I founded Tobacco Free Portfolios to collaboratively engage with leaders of the finance sector to encourage tobacco free investment. Finance executives have been alarmed also, at the scale of the tobacco problem and have deeply considered the role they can play in addressing this pressing global issue. One by one, they have acted and are now proud to lead organisations that are tobacco free. There are now 35 tobacco free pension funds in Australia – just over 40% of all funds. Each tobacco free announcement is met with resounding public support.

Tobacco Free Portfolios recently took a global step and we were delighted to work with the global insurance giant AXA who announced a tobacco free decision in May 2016, divesting $1.8B Euro of tobacco assets. More organisations are soon to follow suit. That is the way of the future. Affiliations with the tobacco industry are no longer wanted. There are very few individuals or organisations that actively seek to be a part of the tobacco industry. The associations are often so deep and longstanding that it can seem overwhelming – but they must be addressed and they must be undone.

Momentum for tobacco-free investment continues to grow steadily and I can confidently say that the conversation in Australian has largely moved from ‘should we go tobacco-free?’ to ‘how can we go tobacco-free?’ This is a pleasing development and a terrific case study, however, there is still much to do to accelerate action across the globe. The good news is that conversations I have in Paris, Singapore, London and New York are received with exactly the same concern as the conversations I have in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. The devastating impact of tobacco is felt everywhere on Earth. Tobacco is everyone’s problem, not just the doctors that provide the care and treatment. We should all feel obliged to do something about it and all those with investments, including those through compulsory pension schemes have a role to play.

It’s up to us to keep tobacco control on the agenda and in public dialogue. A tobacco free future that will allow our children and the generations to come to enjoy long and healthy lives should be our shared hope.

Further details available at www.tobaccofreeportfolios.org

This article will also be published as part of the conference materials for the 17th World Conference on Lung Cancer, to be held in Vienna, 4-7 December 2016. 

Southeast Asia: Indonesia lags in curbing tobacco industry interference in policy making

11 Oct, 16 | by Marita Hefler, News Editor

Indonesia has once again emerged as a clear laggard in curbing tobacco industry interference in policy-making, according to a report ranking countries in the Southeast Asia region based on their level of implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is the third annual report on tobacco industry interference prepared by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

Indonesia is the only country whose score increased in both the 2015 and 2016 reports among the seven surveyed in all three years (Brunei, Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Indonesia). Its 2014 score of 78 (the first year of the survey) reflected a very high level of interference, and exceeds the scores of all other countries in any year of the survey. Indonesia’s score has continued to worsen, and stands at 84 in the 2016 report. The maximum possible score is 100; a higher score reflects a greater level of interference.

fig-5-seatca-rankings

Ranking of countries in the Southeast Asia region by tobacco industry interference, as calculated by SEATCA. Source: 2015 ASEAN report on implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dismal result is a stark illustration of why Indonesia, one of only a handful of countries that has not signed the FCTC, is a tobacco control ‘rogue state’. The country achieved worldwide infamy in 2010 when a video of a smoking toddler went viral. The video prompted increased media coverage of the striking absence of effective tobacco control policies and regulation in Indonesia, a situation which tobacco companies have taken full advantage of to saturate the country in cigarette advertising.

The Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS) of 15 low and middle income countries with high tobacco use published in 2012 found that Indonesia was among the countries with the highest adult male smoking prevalence at 67%. The lax regulations extend to failure to protect Indonesians from secondhand smoke; the GATS also found that 85% of people who visited restaurants were exposed to tobacco smoked and 82% reported seeing cigarette advertising within the last month – exposure far higher than any other country surveyed. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s (male) youth smoking prevalence is among the highest in the world; according to the 2014 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 35% of boys aged 13-15 are current smokers.

At the other end of the scale, the standout countries in the 2016 report were Brunei and the Philippines. Brunei was ranked first for the third year in a row with a score of 29, unchanged from 2014 and 2015. The Philippines has seen a dramatic improvement from a score of 71 in 2014 down to 38 in 2016. Cambodia and Malaysia have also shown consistent improvement from their 2014 scores to be ranked equal fourth at a score of 49 in 2016.

The SEATCA report can be accessed by clicking here. 

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