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Germany: BAT’s sick notes
  1. Annette Bornhäuser
  1. DKFZ, Heidelberg, Germany; a.bornhaeuser{at}

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    BAT Germany recently released its social report for 2003. Where tobacco is concerned, Germany is the sick man of western Europe. Rampant tobacco promotion saturates youth oriented media, especially student publications, and the government is infamous among its European Union partners for taking a fiercely pro-tobacco line at intergovernmental negotiations (see

    ). So it takes more than average industry duplicity for a German tobacco company to portray itself as socially responsible.

    But even German health advocates, accustomed to industry excesses not seen for many years in other western European countries, were amazed to see the front cover of this entirely predictable example of the tobacco industry’s “We’ve changed” public relations policy.

    At first glance, and even on a second inspection, the cover of the latest glossy bundle of industry make believe, which differed significantly from that of BAT’s first social report (June 2002), bore an unmistakeable resemblance to a German public health report on tobacco published in September 2002.

    Many tobacco companies have parodied the design of health documents, often to try to devalue them, or even use them as crude marketing ploys (for example, BAT’s “Think and Win” scheme in Uganda, taking off the international Quit and Win smoking cessation programme—see

    ). Nowadays, as part of their attempts to reinvent themselves after exposure of their past dishonesty in the Minnesota documents and similar revelations, big tobacco companies are trying a different approach. They attempt to set up dialogues with health organisations and others that are trying to address the massive damage to health caused by tobacco, as if to suggest that they are somehow linked together as colleagues.

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    Spot the difference! The covers of the German public health report on tobacco (left panel) and BAT’s own social report for 2003 (right panel).

    It is hard to escape the conclusion that BAT wanted to associate itself with public health policy, to be seen as an equal voice discussing policy to tackle Germany’s largest preventable disease problem, or even just to create confusion to take the focus off the well publicised health report. That report, from the highly respected Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (the German cancer research centre DKFZ), contains a comprehensive summary of the current state of knowledge on tobacco control issues, and sets out recommendations for effective action to curb Germany’s tobacco epidemic. The tobacco industry supports none of them; and its only pretence at action, the familiar cosmetic, ineffective youth campaigns, are probably making things worse.