Statistics from Altmetric.com
In December 2005 Lebanon ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) with little fanfare by the government and no coverage by the local media, and so far it seems that the tobacco industry is behaving just as it did before (Tobacco Control 2006;15:80–1).
While the tobacco industry remains under the control of a government monopoly, the Regie—which has the exclusive right to import/export local tobacco products and issue licences to tobacco growers—competition for market share within this substantial and growing market remains fierce among the transnational tobacco companies. In 2002 Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and the French-Spanish company Altadis held 93% of the cigarette market. Altadis alone now holds more than 10% of the Lebanese market, which it describes as “outstanding”. Smoking prevalence is 46% for adult males and 35% for adult females, among the highest rates for females in the region; 8.3% of 13–15 year olds are current cigarette smokers (12.1% of boys and 5.6% of girls).
Just one of the cigarette promotions taking place in February was held at a car rally and ski race at the Faqra Club mountain resort, and was part-sponsored by Altadis. The event featured cars branded with Gauloises and young women dressed in Gitanes branded jackets distributing free samples of cigarettes before the race. The event was advertised on posters throughout Lebanese university campuses. While the distribution of free samples to people under 18 years old has been prohibited in Lebanon since 1995, the young women were not seen checking the age of the recipients. Interestingly, the distribution of free samples and university advertising would seem to violate Altadis’s own code of conduct, which claims that marketing campaigns are directed only at adults, and “our advertising never depicts people under 25”. Most university students in Lebanon are 17–21 years old.
It is clear that the Lebanese government will need to act more concertedly than in the past to ensure compliance with the FCTC. The adoption of comprehensive legislation banning tobacco advertising, marketing and sponsorship, and its effective enforcement, is urgently needed in Lebanon. Without this change, it will simply be business as usual for the tobacco industry.
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