Malaysiakini Letter

Tobacco industry's onslaught on Asia

Joy F Alampay
Published:  |  Modified:

While almost all of Asia has ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and is moving to implement the WHO treaty FCTC, the global tobacco industry is intensifying is grip on Asia.

Tabinfo Asia 2009 , a tobacco convention, is calling itself ‘one of the most important events held in one of the world’s most important tobacco regions. Tab Info is not open to the public health community. However, it will address topics that are of grave concern to public health. This is our interpretation of what the programme will address:

- ‘Tobacco industry in charge of the health system’? Leaving the health system in the hands of the tobacco industry is ludicrous. That is exactly what the tobacco industry is imagining at one session at Tab Info with the theme ‘What if the tobacco industry was ‘in charge of a country's health system - what would they do about smoking?’

We doubt it will acknowledge responsibility for over five million deaths per year and many millions of patients from smoking.

- ‘Behaviour modification’: The tobacco industry misleads with scary terminology. The FCTC calls on parties to ban advertising and make public and work places smoke-free. However, the industry is calling this ‘state-sponsored behaviour modification’.

(Wikipedia definition of behaviour modification: ‘altering an individual's behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior and/or the reduction of maladaptive behavior through punishment and/or therapy’).

- ‘What’s New on the Product Front”: The tobacco industry’s profit is from nicotine addiction. The industry wants to addict new smokers, keep current smokers addicted and do this in a creative manner. So it will look at current and future innovations in sustaining addiction through ‘nicotine delivery systems’.

- Cigarettes are hazardous and kill half their smokers prematurely. But British-American Tobacco (BAT) is leading the discussion on ‘Harm and Risk Reduction’ and the question a panel will address is whether enough attention is being paid to this topic by governments, NGOs, growers, manufacturers and the media.

What a cruel irony for the tobacco industry to be talking about harm reduction when it continues to fight government efforts to reduce tobacco use.

- ‘Can packaging get more creative’? This session where probably address how to overcome or further dilute the impact of graphic warnings on packs. We see new cigarette pack designs that obscure the health warnings in the market. This session will plan how to make more attractive cigarette packs and not to pay attention to the health warnings.

- Wiping the regulatory slate clean? There will be a Regulatory Workshop that invites participants to wipe the regulatory slate clean and start afresh. The industry perhaps would like to wipe out the FCTC because it is asking participants to ‘Imagine if you were drafting a whole new regulatory framework what would it look like?’

The Democracy Institute, US, best known to have fought tobacco control efforts in the US, will lead the discussion on how to fight global tobacco control regulation.

- ‘Two Views of SE Asia’: Over ‘a delightful buffet breakfast’, the Thai Tobacco Monopoly and BAT will discuss how to fight legislation and increase profits in this region. The Thai Tobacco Monopoly may acknowledge how it lost many battles in Thailand. BAT may not share its experience in delaying and diluting legislation in Malaysia over many years.

- ‘China: an Insight’: About one million people die from smoking-related diseases in China every year. But that is not what the industry will discuss in the session, ‘What’s happening in the industry in the world’s biggest market?’

It won’t refer to ‘ Eyes on the prize: Transnational tobacco companies in China 1976-1997 ’ by O'Sullivan B and Chapman S.

- ‘Operating in a World of Bans’: Plain packaging is inevitable since the industry is fighting graphic warnings and already obscuring pictorial messages. This is a nightmare to the industry and it has to find ways to fight plain-packaging in this session.

The industry is ‘promising a fun, productive workshop’ led by John Luik, who is notorious for countering tobacco control.

The writer is communications manager, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

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