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Swedish Match, a large manufacturer of smokeless tobacco products based in Sweden, purchased the largest match company in India (WIMCO) in 1997. Although WIMCO had nothing to do with tobacco products, those concerned about health were apprehensive that the takeover might lead to Swedish Match launching new smokeless tobacco products in India.
These fears proved not to be unfounded. In April, Swedish Match launched a new smokeless tobacco product in India with a brand called Click. Although the company has made claims for the safety of its smokeless tobacco products in Sweden, and its products are being supported by some as harm reduction strategy for smoking (see “Suckers today, smokers tomorrow” above), no such claims were made while launching Click. The reason given for the launch by Lennant Sunder, president and chief executive officer of Swedish Match was simply: “India has a long tradition of smokeless tobacco use and thus offers exciting business opportunities to Swedish Match in its strategic focus in this category.”
Currently there are few restrictions on the advertising and sale of smokeless tobacco products in India. The situation may change soon as a comprehensive bill is under consideration in the Parliament that would ban advertising of all tobacco products. Swedish Match has probably launched Click specifically at this time so as to be able to advertise this new product before a bill is passed into a law and comes into effect.
India has a huge smokeless tobacco problem—40% of all tobacco consumed is in smokeless form. The health consequences of tobacco use in India are huge. A substantial portion of the 630 000 premature deaths attributable to tobacco each year is attributable to smokeless tobacco. In a recently reported cohort study, the age adjusted relative risk of all cause mortality among women who used smokeless tobacco was 1.35, whereas for men who smoked it was 1.63. There is a large variety of smokeless tobacco products in India, but so far they have all been indigenous. The entry of a multinational further complicates a situation that is already very serious.
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