Campaigners take on tobacco expo

19 Nov 2009

Anti-tobacco campaigners have prosecuted a tobacco industry expo in Thailand for violation of the country’s tobacco control law. This is the first time this has happened in a host country.

Anti-tobacco campaigner and national health foundation president of the Conference of Parties, WHO FCTC (2007-2008) Hatai Chitanondh said tobacco control advocates and alliances were prepared for the TabinfoAsia 2009 expo and “ready for the kill.”

According to Chitanondh, after rallying outside the expo a team of anti-tobacco campaigners infiltrated the exhibition hall and took photographs of violations of Article 8 of the Tobacco Product Control Act 1992. This article prohibits tobacco product advertising, of which there was many examples in the expo.

The expo’s organizers were taken to the police station and fined.

This is a small win for the tobacco control movement, however, director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Ms Bungon Ritthiphakdee said the expo was a public health nightmare for people of the region.

“From TabinfoAsia 2009 we can expect the industry to step up its tactics to fight, delay and dilute national tobacco control legislation,” she said. 

“TabinfoAsia 2009 discussed how to wipe the regulatory slate clean, how to make packaging more attractive, and innovations in sustaining addiction through ‘nicotine delivery systems.”

These industry tactics will be detrimental to Asia as the region struggles to contain its smoking epidemic.

Around 2.4 million per year die of tobacco-related deaths in Asia. That’s 6,575 deaths per day. And still the tobacco industry is determined to increase its market and profits from the region, spelling more diseases and deaths, particularly for Asia’s poor and underprivileged.

As it stands, almost 31percent (about 125 million) of the adult population in the ASEAN region are already smokers. China has about 350 million smokers and 1 million deaths every year.

According to Ritthiphakde, the 2005 Tabinfo in Malaysia led to tobacco companies delaying and diluting tactics in many South East Asian countries. For example in:

  • Cambodia, the industry sought to frighten legislators if they applied graphic warnings on cigarette packs.
  • Vietnam, tobacco companies circumvented retailing rules by releasing a variety of cigarette products and brands – arguing that each product line was entitled to its own shelf space, which mocked laws intended to limit the display of cigarette brands at points-of-sale.
  • Indonesia, tobacco companies prevented legislators from banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship by scaring them with an imaginary threat of adverse impacts on farmers, the advertising sector and overall economy.

Ritthiphakde says governments should not allow the tobacco industry to bully them with scare tactics.

To do this SEATCA recommends:

  • Implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) key obligations in particular the most stringent measures such as high tobacco taxes, graphic health warnings on packs, smoke-free public and work places, and a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco promotions including pack display at point-of-sale and corporate social responsibility activities by tobacco companies.
  • Applying FCTC Article 5.3 and expose tobacco industry tactics to delay and dilute regulatory efforts.
  • Excluding the tobacco industry from attending national and sub national tobacco control task forces.

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