M A Jabbar
Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) selects a theme on the occasion of the World No Tobacco Day. The theme this year on the occasion of the Day which takes place on 31 May 2012 is "Tobacco Industry interference" which focuses on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry's increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) because of the serious danger they pose to public health.
Giant tobacco corporations like Philip Morris/Altria, BAT and JTI have attempted to derail the FCTC process from its outset. According to input from NGOs and government officials from more than 20 countries, in addition to direct lobbying of government officials in various countries and campaign contributions, the tobacco industry attempts to influence public health policy in the manner such as sponsoring major sporting and cultural events, conducting youth smoking prevention programme, supporting environmental protection and tree-planting programme, organizing roundtable discussions and funding university research on health issues etc.
What is FCTC- the FCTC is an international agreement adopted by the 192 member-states of the World Health Assembly (WHA) - the governing body of the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) unanimously on 21 May 2003. The FCTC is the first global health and corporate accountability treaty to save millions of lives and change the way the tobacco industry operates globally. The FCTC requires member-states to exclude the tobacco industry from involvement in public health policy making and calls on governments to be alert to the industry's attempts to undermine such policies. These provisions represent an important evolution in the global community's attitude to the deliberate production, distribution and marketing of a dangerous and deadly products and set precedents for other industries that profit from harmful practices.
WHO study reveals that tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are people exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless we work together, it is estimated that up to 8 million people will be killed by 2030, of which more than 80 percent will live in low and middle income countries.
Available data suggested nearly 47 percent of man and 12 percent of women smoke globally and in developing countries 48 percent men and 7 percent women are smokers. In Bangladesh the situation is still alarming. As many as 60 percent men and 30-40 percent women smoke or use tobacco. Smokeless tobacco is hardly considered as harmful. On the other hand, it is a social custom to offer betel nut, smokeless tobacco jarda, tobacco leaf or its product, pan-mashalla etc. as a symbol of hospitality. As a result oropharyngeal and upper ocsophagal cancers are common in Bangladesh.
As more and more countries move to fully meet their obligations under the WHO FCTC, the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine the treaty are becoming more and more energetic. WHO cites examples that in an attempt to halt the adoption of pictorial health warnings on packages of tobacco, the industry recently adopted the novel tactic of suing countries under bilateral investment treaties, claiming that the warnings impinge the company's attempts to use their legally-registered brands. Meanwhile, the industry's attempts to undermine the treaty continue on other fronts, particularly with regard to countries attempts to ban smoking on public places and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
There is evidence to show that people's decision to smoke is enhanced by advertising and promotion of tobacco especially in the entertainment, sports and music industry. The tobacco industry understands this well and actively markets tobacco in many parts of the world through a strategic and insidious mix of pricing, placement and promotion. Sponsorship and product placement in films and sports are key strategies used by the tobacco industry to circumvent advertising restrictions where they have been enacted.
World No Tobacco Day 2012 aims to raise awareness and counter these global marketing practices of the tobacco industry which lure customers, especially young people through sponsorship, advertising and glamourisation of tobacco in films, music, art and sports. The theme of the WNTD 2012 will serve as a catalyst to reframe the tobacco debate by disseminating information about the untruthful, deceptive and manipulative marketing practices of the tobacco industry as revealed in their own "secret" documents; sharing global and national tobacco control experience in countering this deception and creating a powerful international alliance of artists, sports and media people endorsing tobacco control issues. The theme will pave the way for the larger policy debate on the pressing need for globally-binding advertising and promotional bans on tobacco. Tobacco is in fact the only consumer product which, when consumed makes one addicted slowly and silently and kills the consumer. The industry has powerful supporters to sell a product and makes its consumers addicted slowly and ultimately kills them. In several surveys it has been found that the teenagers taste their first cigarette for many reasons of which the deception of the tobacco company through misleading advertisement and alluring practices are dominant.
The WHO study reveals that the tobacco problem requires a concerted effort and tobacco control cannot succeed solely through the efforts of individual governments, national NGOs and media advocates. It needs an international response to an international problem. The FCTC is the central component of whose response to the global tobacco epidemic. Its development and implementation will depend on continuous political support of national governments, global institutions and civil society. The rationale for the Convention is that the tobacco is a public health tragedy, the problem exists in every country, key elements such as smuggling transcend national boundaries and the tobacco problem has proved incapable of being significantly tackled by countries acting in isolation. If member-states work together, they win over the powerful industry.
We sincerely hope Bangladesh as a member state of the WHO will respond to the call of WHO and demonstrate its political will to solve this problem for the health and welfare of the people. Bangladesh Government is fully aware of the importance of the tobacco control. Bangladesh signed FCTC in 2003 and ratified it in 2004. Bangladesh National Parliament passed the tobacco control law in 2005. Now it needs implementation of the law.
The world recognizes that the tobacco is a global problem. Therefore it has to be tackled globally. International regulations can offer classic tools for action towards the tobacco problem at international level with international understanding and some extent moral and ethical aspects. If the whole world unites against the miseries of mankind and mischievous tobacco industry shall stand nowhere and time will come when it will be difficult for it to find a footing. Let us work together to expose and counter tobacco industry interference in public health policy.