As the world marks the World No Tobacco Day on May 31, a flurry of messages from tobacco companies claiming a commitment to a healthy, tobacco-free future has been condemned by anti-tobacco activists.
The 2018 World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is themed ‘Tobacco and Heart Diseases’ highlighting the health and other risks associated with tobacco use, and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.
According to the World Health Organisation, heart diseases kill more people than any other cause of death worldwide, and tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure contribute to approximately 17 per cent of all heart diseases.
Tobacco use is the second leading cause of cardiovascular diseases after high blood pressure.
On the occasion of this year’s WNTD, tobacco giant, Philip Morris International, started a campaign for “sensible alternatives” to cigarettes to reduce smoking prevalence to a far greater extent.
“It is a sick joke for Philip Morris to say that ‘we should promote every day as World No Smoking Day,’ when the company’s primary mission every day is to sell more deadly cigarettes,” Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
“Philip Morris’ claims should be seen for what they are: A PR stunt to hide the fact that Philip Morris remains a primary cause of the global tobacco epidemic, not part of the solution.”
The global tobacco epidemic kills more than seven million people each year, according to WHO, of which 900,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.
Mr Myers said despite its claimed commitment to a smoke-free future, Philip Morris makes most of its revenue from selling cigarettes.
“The company brags that it sells the world’s best-selling cigarette brand (Marlboro), and works aggressively to expand the global cigarette market, touting to investors the company’s “robust plans to grow [its] cigarette business.”
A report by The Tobacco Atlas, last March, showed that the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting vulnerable populations in emerging markets such as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East where people are not protected by strong tobacco control regulations.
“These are not the actions of a company that wants a smoke-free future,” Mr Myers said.
Nearly 80 per cent of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest, according to the WHO.
To mark the WNTD in Nigeria, the British American Tobacco Nigeria issued a statement restating its commitment to safer alternatives for tobacco.
According to Freddy Messanvi, Legal and External Affairs Director at BATN, e-cigarettes are a natural extension of the company’s desired destination in harm reduction.
“This would represent a breakthrough and transformation of our industry as it produces vapourised nicotine without the harmful side effects from tobacco smoke,” Mr Messanvi said.
“As a responsible organisation, we will continue to abide by all the laws of the countries we operate in and will constantly explore safer and new offerings to consumers as our commitment to tobacco harm reduction.”
Mr Messanvi identified e-cigarettes as the most prominent among several tobacco products such as the propellant-based nicotine delivery and the heat-not-burn products which, according to him, are the outcomes of years of extensive research by tobacco companies into safer alternatives to cigarettes.
“There is no doubt that e-cigarettes are way safer than regular cigarettes,” he said.
“More importantly, long-term smokers can use them as a substitute for traditional cigarettes to help in quitting the habit or, at least, switch to a less risky alternative.”
In reaction, Philip Jakpor, spokesperson of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said BATN using the opportunity of the WNTD 2018 to promote e-cigarettes is “very disturbing.”
“This unfortunate development should be noted seriously by the public health community,” Mr Jakpor said in an email response to PREMIUM TIMES.
“Experts have said it and researches have proven that e-cigarettes is not a way to quit smoking. With vaping, while tobacco is not burnt, the cartridges for inhaling are filled with nicotine at a far higher volume and other known toxic chemicals that turn into steam and are then inhaled directly into the lungs.
“The substances inhaled damage the lungs, damage the DNA or other molecules within cells and expose users to heart disease. Rather than join the rest of the world to stem heart disease, BATN is twisting the theme of this year to market death through cartridges.”