Tobacco companies accused of intimidatory practices

The Pan American Health Organization denounced the continued interference by the tobacco industry in the passing of antismoking laws in the countries of the Americas.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Washington, D.C., 31 May 2012 (PAHO/WHO) - The tobacco industry continues to interfere with tobacco control policies in the Americas and these efforts have intensified since the 2005 entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This is one of the preliminary findings of a report by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), which will be examined today at the Organization’s headquarters.

On World No Tobacco Day (31 May), PAHO/WHO is calling on national leaders to be extra vigilant against increasingly aggressive attacks by the industry, ranging from attempts to block tobacco control laws to litigation in national courts to prevent their implementation. Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people worldwide each year through direct consumption and exposure to second-hand smoke. At least 1 million of those deaths occur in the Americas.

Twenty-nine of the 35 countries of the Americas are already party to the WHO Framework Convention, the world’s first public health treaty that requires its States Parties to implement a series of policies and measures to reduce tobacco consumption and protect their populations from exposure to tobacco smoke.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have made significant progress in implementing the Framework Convention since it entered into force. The governments of the region, like others around the world, are working to create 100% smoke-free enclosed work and public places and to inform the public about the harmful effects of tobacco, among other measures included in the Convention. The tobacco industry is pursuing various tactics to undermine these accomplishments, including taking governments to court. In fact, the governments of Australia, Norway, and Uruguay are currently battling tobacco industry lawsuits in their national courts.

“It should come as no surprise to encounter a tobacco industry that continues to undermine our public health attempts to save lives,” said PAHO Deputy Director, Dr. Jon Andrus. “There is an irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and the interests of sound public health policy. So it becomes even more important to stand our ground in this critically important area of work, saving more lives more rapidly with good public health policy.”

The preliminary findings of the PAHO/WHO report on the tobacco industry’s activities in Latin America and the Caribbean identify some of the tactics employed by the industry to undermine tobacco control policies, including the use of litigation to intimidate policymakers, political financing and lobbying, and public relations campaigns to create public opinion favorable to its interests.

Tactics frequently employed prior to the passage of tobacco control laws include proposing watered down legislation, blocking the adoption of standards, stirring up controversy in the media, and using certain groups such as tobacco farmers. Once the laws have been enacted, the industry’s tactics include initiating litigation in national courts, promoting amendments to dilute the law, undermining its implementation, or blocking its regulation.

These preliminary conclusions will be examined on 31 May, at PAHO/WHO Headquarters. The panel discussion will address the tobacco industry’s interference in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in the United States, and similarities with the alcohol industry’s plans and tactics.

Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention urges countries to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. In line with this standard, countries should, among other measures: limit interactions and disclose all meetings with the tobacco industry; reject partnerships and non-binding agreements with the industry; refuse funds and other support from the industry; and reject industry endorsement and participation in youth initiatives.

On World No Tobacco Day, WHO is releasing a technical resource paper and global brief based on the 2008 guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3, to guide countries on ways to combat tobacco industry interference. The paper covers a range of topics including:

Maneuvering to hijack the political and legislative process;
exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry;
manipulating public opinion to gain the appearance of respectability;
fabricating support through front groups;
discrediting proven science;
intimidating governments with litigation or the threat of litigation.

According to estimates, by 2030, tobacco consumption will kill more than 8 million people every year, with four out of five of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco consumption is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. Non-communicable diseases account for 63% of all deaths worldwide. Exposure to second-hand smoke is estimated to kill another 600,000 people annually.

PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.

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