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Another in our occasional series about real health ministers, the sort who ignore the fact that the president’s cousin is on the local board of a big tobacco company, and tell the people how it really is. Our last example was from Fiji (see Fiji: finger for BAT, Tobacco Control 2003;12:7), and now a rival has been spotted in the same region, in Papua New Guinea. In June, health minister Melchior Pep talked to journalists about an advertisement run by BAT to publicise its World Environment Day clean-up. His succinct conclusion? “Utter rubbish.”
Mr Pep went on to say that the advertisement, run in two daily newspapers about “working together to create a clean environment” on 5 June, made a mockery of the efforts of health service providers to promote healthy lifestyles and a clean environment. “The damage that BAT and other international tobacco companies inflict on the human body and the environment has far-reaching consequences on the health and well-being of millions of people throughout the world,” he said. “[BAT] has carefully designed this advertisement in the disguise of helping to keep the environment clean. BAT contributes to the unhealthy lifestyles of our people and the pollution of the human tissue environment. To commemorate the World Environment Day, BAT thinks and sees fit to tell us that it is very concerned about the environment.”
Mr Pep also questioned BAT’s efforts to clean roadsides, asking what the company had done about the spread of cancer, commuters who are constantly being exposed to smoke, and the polluted air at public places such as markets and workplaces. In the rest of the world, health ministers’ attitudes towards the tobacco industry are all too often appeasing, placatory, and conciliatory, or to put it concisely, pacific. Perhaps it is time to follow the lead of their Pacific colleagues.