Tobacco industry blocking anti-smoking moves : WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the tobacco industry has continued to subvert government attempts to prevent tobacco-related deaths.

Countries with partly state-owned tobacco companies, such as Japan which has a stake in Japan Tobacco Inc, should “firewall” their health policy-setting from their commercial interests, the United Nations agency said.

An investigation published last week revealed that Philip Morris International Inc is waging a secret campaign to subvert the WHO’s anti-smoking treaty.

The 2005 pact calls for a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, as well as taxes to discourage use.

“What we have seen over time is that the industry tends to interfere in the policy-making process. So there are intimidating practices, they threaten, they use myths about the contribution to the economy,” Dr. Vinayak Prasad, head of the WHO tobacco control program said.

The industry’s interests are in conflict with public health policy interests according to the WHO report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2017.

Japan Tobacco is a former state monopoly still a third owned by the government.

“I think in this special situation there might be a conflict of interest in economic revenues from a partly state-owned industry and health of the population,” said Dr. Kerstin Schotte, a WHO medical officer.

Japan has described cancer as a “growing problem” at home, “But the disconnect is that even though the evidence exists on the linkage between cancer and tobacco use, it’s not translating into stronger policy action. So obviously it requires more political will at the highest level” ,Prasad said.

Japan Tobacco International spokesman Jonathan Duce said the company is in support of tobacco regulation that works and meets legitimate public health objectives, while a Philip Morris spokeswoman, Tiffany Steckler, said the company regularly engages with governments around the world on issues including taxation, international trade and product regulation.

“They know that input from a wide range of stakeholders is needed to assess policy proposals, and no amount of industry conversation stops a policy-maker from acting independently,” Steckler said.

Prasad said many developing countries have picked up warning labels. And according to WHO, Nepal has the world’s largest health warnings on tobacco packaging surfaces.

Tobacco, whose nature is “addictive and harmful”, kills more than 7 million people every year, roughly one in 10 deaths, according to the WHO. Victims include 890,000 people who die annually from second-hand smoke exposure.

Reuters/Adama.L