Butt out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

Hands off! That's what we shout when the tobacco industry tries to undermine the laws that protect people from the ravages of tobacco use, and when it misuses the treaties designed to protect trade and investment in an effort to block a novel law requiring that tobacco be sold in plain, unattractive packages.

That's what we tell an industry that tries to crush the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the landmark public health treaty that now has 174 parties covering more than 85 per cent of the world's population.

And that's what we say to a tobacco industry whose so-called 'corporate social responsibility' projects are designed to buy influence and make people forget that its products cause addiction, suffering and nearly six million deaths per year.

The tobacco industry needs to keep its hands off all the protections that have been erected since science tied smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and a host of other fatal diseases.

The industry is getting more aggressive and brazen. Tobacco giant Philip Morris recently took the unusual step of suing Australia under the country's bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong on the grounds that Australia's revolutionary plain packaging law infringes on international trademarks.

That's why the World Health Organisation chose 'tobacco industry interference' as the theme of today's World No Tobacco Day.

On this day and throughout the year, the WHO will educate policymakers and the general public about the tobacco industry's nefarious and harmful tactics so that they might be better resisted.

Doing so is in keeping with the WHO's framework convention, the preamble of which recognises 'the need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts'.

We encourage everyone to join the good fight. Today, and every day, tell the tobacco industry to keep its hands off public health legislation. The industry deserves no seat at the policymaking table, its interests being fundamentally and irreconcilably in conflict with the public interest.

Tell the industry to keep its hands off the framework convention, which obligates parties to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, to protect people from tobacco smoke, to warn people about the harms of tobacco use and to offer help to people who want to quit. The treaty is our most important tool in the fight to curtail the tobacco epidemic.

Stand by countries such as Australia that have stood up to the industry's legal intimidation. Every country has a right and a responsibility to protect its people from the enormous health and economic costs of tobacco use. Trade laws should not be abused to prolong or increase exposure to tobacco industry marketing.

Denounce tobacco industry interference with public health laws whenever and wherever you see it.

Our message to the tobacco industry is simple and direct. Hands off!

Dr Shin Young-soo is WHO regional director for the Western Pacific

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