In addressing this year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day, which is “Tobacco Industry Interference,” I would like to focus on the fact that the tobacco industry blossoms most exuberantly in an unregulated marketplace.
Indeed, some nations have made strides in quelling the advancement of the tobacco industry through enactment of comprehensive tobacco control legislation but globally, public health officials are still yearning to attain an advantage.
It is ethically irresponsible and intellectually dishonest not to admit that while the enduring international effort to control tobacco is momentous and increasingly effective, the tobacco industry is still ahead of us in leaps and bounds.
As far as tobacco control legislation is concerned, a majority of Caribbean nations, including Antigua & Barbuda, are unfortunately saddled with archaic or non-existent laws, which inevitably inhibit their capacity to satisfy local expectations, to fulfill regional agreements and to comply with international standards.
On the other hand, the tobacco industry is internationally known to have reaped heavy rewards by brilliantly exploiting unregulated marketplaces.
The absence of comprehensive tobacco control legislation has cleared the way for the tobacco industry to wantonly abuse this deficiency by blatantly deluding current and prospective users.
In Public Health, we know that cigarette smoking causes cancer and that tobacco smoke kills second-hand smokers, but it is the tobacco industry that has been actually leading in the “harm reduction” debate.
This is so because the tobacco industry has divided the tobacco control community on the issue of smokeless tobacco. This is so because through product modifications including filter technology and changes to the tobacco, the tobacco industry has craftily kept the focus on toxicant reduction rather than on nicotine content.
The tobacco industry knows that nicotine is addictive and that it sells this addictive drug delivered by the cigarette. It also knows that the absence of stringent, comprehensive tobacco control legislation allows it to continue to supply its users with addictive nicotine by relentlessly and meticulously keeping the international focus on toxicant reduction.
Health claims for tobacco products have been promoted by the tobacco industry for quite a number of years. In the absence of laws the industry has successfully hoodwinked marketplaces with products that they claim protects the throat from irritation and coughs.
The tobacco industry has also promoted products that they claim improve weight loss, and produced products with asbestos filters that they claim reduce the intake of toxins.
Several products such as ‘low tar’, ‘light’, ‘ultra lights’ and ‘ultra ultra light’ cigarettes are designed to convey subtle and implied health messages reassuring harm reduction for those who are concerned about the harmful health effects of cigarette use.
In unregulated marketplaces the tobacco industry flourishes. In unregulated marketplaces it has produced products and has stated claims which have given the impression that the industry is sensitive and reactive to the health concerns of the users of its products. With comprehensive tobacco control legislation, this culture of overt and covert deception through product manipulation and flawed claims of the tobacco industry would be virtually non-existent due to laws and regulations.
The tobacco industry is very much aware of the fact that comprehensive legislation facilitates effective and efficient execution of tobacco control initiatives. Among other important benefits, stringent tobacco control legislation ensures: smoke-free environments; restrictions on sale of tobacco products to minors; control of access to tobacco products; clear and complete description of the contents of a cigarette; the absence of faulty advertising; and solid support for Public Health authorities to execute tobacco control initiatives.
These advantages of legislation contradict the strategic intent of the tobacco industry. In retaliation, the tobacco industry uses several schemes to try to circumvent these laws or to weaken the legislation before it is even drafted and enacted. It uses creative means to become involved in the drafting of legislation that controls their operation.
The tobacco industry has also been known to be quite friendly with government officials as well as provided several scholarships, sponsored many community-based initiatives and created their own tobacco-cessation programmes.
The enactment and sustenance of comprehensive tobacco control legislation should not only be a top priority for continuous reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use, but also to circumvent the practice of the tobacco industry to spread false and unsubstantiated information and faulty subliminal messages via its claims and its product designs.
Colin O’Keiffe is the chair of the Antigua & Barbuda Tobacco Free Initiative,firstname.lastname@example.org.