Tobacco companies targeting world’s most vulnerable to increase profits – Report

The UN health agency warned that tobacco’s killer toxins also wreak havoc on the environment. [Photo:]

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, the latest report by The Tobacco Atlas has shown.

The report, co-authoured by the American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies, graphically detailed the scale of the tobacco epidemic around the globe; showed where progress had been made in tobacco control; and described the latest products and tactics being deployed by the tobacco industry to grow its profits and delay or derail tobacco control efforts.

“Every death from tobacco is preventable, and every government has the power to reduce the human and economic toll of the tobacco epidemic,” said Jeffrey Drope, co-editor and author of The Atlas and vice president, Economic and Health Policy Research, at the American Cancer Society.

“It starts by resisting the influence of the industry and implementing proven tobacco control policies.

“The Atlas shows that progress is possible in every region of the world. African countries, in particular, are at a critical point – both because they are targets of the industry but also because many have opportunity to strengthen policies and act before smoking is at epidemic levels.”

There are more than one billion smokers worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, with nearly 80 per cent of them living in low- and middle-income countries where tobacco-related illness and death are heaviest.

In 2016 alone, tobacco use caused 7.1 million deaths (5.1 million men, 2 million women). While most of the deaths were attributable to cigarette-smoking, 884,000 were related to second-hand smoke.

While the death toll due to tobacco use continues to rise, the tobacco industry has kept smiling to the banks.

The combined profits of the world’s biggest tobacco companies exceeded $62.27 billion in 2015, the last year on record for all the major companies.

Neil Schluger, co-editor and author of The Atlas, said tobacco causes harm at every stage of its life cycle, from cultivation to disposal.

“It is linked to an ever-increasing list of diseases, burden health systems, and exacerbates poverty, especially when a breadwinner falls ill and dies from tobacco use,” said Mr. Schluger, Senior Advisor for Science at Vital Strategies.

“At a conservative estimate, there are more than seven million tobacco-related deaths and global economic costs of $2 trillion each year, not including costs such as those caused by second-hand smoke and the environmental and health damages of tobacco farming.

“The only way to avert this harm is for all governments to vigorously implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and to enforce the proven strategies that reduce tobacco use.”

The new report – the sixth edition – by The Tobacco Atlas showed that the tobacco industry deliberately targets countries that lack tobacco control laws and exploits governments, farmers and vulnerable populations across Africa.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, cigarette-smoking increased by 52 per cent – from 164 billion sticks to 250 billion sticks – between 1980 and 2016.

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This increase, the report stated, was driven by population growth and aggressive tobacco marketing in countries like Lesotho, where prevalence is estimated to have increased from 15 per cent in 2004 to 54 per cent in 2015.

“Economic growth has increased consumers’ ability to afford tobacco products and there is a lack of tobacco control interventions to deter tobacco use,” the report stated.

“Furthermore, in countries like Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal, smoking is now more common among youth than adults – potentially increasing the future health and economic burden of tobacco in these countries.”

The report, however, noted some recent successes recorded in Africa, particularly in Ghana and Madagascar where comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship have been introduced.

Also, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Kenya, and Madagascar have implemented graphic warnings on cigarettes, an important intervention in countries with multiple dialects and low levels of literacy.

“South Africa has implemented consecutive tobacco tax increases to deter consumption and Kenya has implemented a highly effective track-and-trace system to track and reduce illicit trade. These countries are setting an example to others across the world.”

Outside Africa, gains have also been recorded as a result of effective and innovative tobacco control policies.

Global cigarette consumption and tobacco use prevalence have declined in recent times, in spite of the tobacco industry’s efforts to impede progress.

In 2013, the Philippines implemented one of the largest tobacco tax increases in a low and middle-income country, leading more than one million smokers to quit smoking.

In Turkey, a comprehensive tobacco control strategy reduced smoking prevalence from 39.3 per cent in 2000 to 25.9 percent in 2015, the report stated.

Analysis by Australia’s government found that plain packaging alone resulted in 108,228 fewer smokers between December 2012 and September 2015, it added.

Also, according to the report, Brazil has banned all tobacco additives such as flavours used to attract children. The WHO predicts there will be three million fewer smokers in Brazil between 2015 and 2025.

“The ultimate path to improved tobacco control is political will,” said Jose’ Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Statistics.

“Strong tobacco control policies deliver a significant return on investment, and The Tobacco Atlas offers the best and most recent data on the tobacco epidemic as a resource for governments to pursue effective strategies.

“The answer does not lie with the industry: as The Atlas makes clear, there is a complete disconnect between the tobacco industry’s claims about harm reduction and its actual work to grow tobacco use among vulnerable populations.

“Governments must be accountable to their citizens in reducing tobacco use and improving health, They must prepare to rebuff the tobacco industry’s challenges to legislation, seek the appropriate assistance to build capacity, and be transparent about the industry’s inevitable approaches.”

The Atlas compiles, validates and interprets global- and country-level data from multiple sources to present the best and most recent evidence, build a holistic and accurate picture of the tobacco industry’s activities, tobacco use and tobacco control across the globe.

“The data in The Tobacco Atlas depict a sobering look at the daunting magnitude of the epidemic, but also show considerable progress in places where governments take up solutions that are proven to work,” said Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society.

“For the first time, more than two billion people are protected by at least one WHO MPOWER measure, but very few countries have taken up every measure.

“The data are clear that measures like raising taxes and enacting 100 per cent smoke-free air laws indisputably work, but too many governments have not yet committed to adopting them. Our life-saving opportunity lies in that gap.”


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