PMI, Poverty and the Political Game



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Don’t let smokescreens like the PMI-funded ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’ [1] deceive you — Big Tobacco continues to pump its lethal smoked products into low- and middle-income countries, exacerbating poverty and racking up billions of dollars along the way.

As the company continues to undermine tobacco control policies across the globe, [2] [3] its solemn commitment to a smokefree future is more than a little disingenuous. [4]

Major advancements in tobacco control across countries like the UK, have displaced international conglomerates such as PMI to low- and middle-income populations, where 80% of the world’s smokers now live. [5]

In these countries, implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention Tobacco Control (FCTC), a lifesaving treaty which reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health, has often been low. [6] Indeed, by 2014 a survey of two thirds of Parties to the Treaty found that 51 countries had implemented no measures at the highest level. [7]

But rather than mobilising to address this discrepancy and advance its shiny new smokefree agenda, PMI has been doing all it can to undermine tobacco control, both in spirit and in practice.

PMI ignores the philosophy of tobacco control by taking advantage of existing legislative loopholes and capitalising on the lack of substantive advertising restrictions in low- and middle-income countries. Though PMI promises “advertising activities are directed only toward adult smokers,” [8] its intensive marketing ploys bombard kids in countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda, with tobacco sale outlets often visible from the school gates. [9] The company also uses child-friendly flavoured cigarettes to entice young people, [10] and encourages “single stick” sales by providing retailers with free promotional materials. [11]

And by attempting to subvert further implementation of the FCTC, the company also undermines the role out of tobacco control measures. Its army of corporate lobbyists are encouraged to “play the political game” [12] and deliberately target so-called “anti-tobacco extremists” at FCTC conferences (where delegates set the guidelines) and apply pressure at the country level (where delegates are selected and the treaty is transposed into law). [13]

One popular method has been to water down the health minister delegates with trade, finance and agriculture representatives, since these people are more likely to be supportive of PMI’s deadly cause — a strategy that somewhat contradicts its smokefree advocacy. [14]

It is unsurprising that 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths are anticipated to occur in low- and middle-income countries by 2030. [15] And in addition to the personal tragedy of life lost, this is leaving less money available for food, schooling and doctors’ fees, since spending on tobacco products can add up to over 10% of total household earnings, and premature death causes a significant loss of income. [16]

Meanwhile, even though undernourishment remains a big problem in many tobacco-producing countries, 4.3 million hectares of arable land is currently gobbled up by tobacco cultivation, which could instead be used to feed hungry people. [17] Growing tobacco also pollutes water supplies with toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and generates over 2 million tonnes of solid waste each year. [18] In fact, cigarette butts account for 30–40% of all rubbish picked up in coastal and urban clean-ups. [19]

And the worst part is that this social, economic and environmental burden is falling upon those countries least equipped to deal with the consequences.

PMI’s website reads “Society expects us to act responsibly. And we are doing just that by designing a smoke-free future.” [20] But evidently for PMI that responsibility and that future are not intended for low- and middle-income countries.

With PMI’s AGM set for this week, ASH urges the company to ditch its blatant double standards.

 

by Anna Hazelwood

 

References

[1] Tobacco Tactics, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, March 2018

[2] The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Big Tobacco: Tiny Targets, a project by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

[3] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[4] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

[5] World Health Organisation, Tobacco Key Facts, 9 March 2018

[6] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[7] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[8] Philip Morris International, Underage tobacco and nicotine use

[9] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[10] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[11] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Sale of single sticks of cigarettes in Africa: survey report from 10 capital cities, March 2018

[12] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[13] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[14] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[15] World Health Organisation, The Global Tobacco Crisis, 2008

[16] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[17] World Health Organisation, Tobacco and its environmental impact, 2017

[18] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[19] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[20] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

All links active 9 May 2018