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More clues are emerging about how, apart from using Formula One and a few other high profile renegades, tobacco companies think they can keep on promoting their brands as increasing numbers of countries adopt comprehensive tobacco control laws under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In those without existing or effective legislation, of course, an obvious first line of action is to lobby hard to ensure that any new legislation introduced is ineffective. Japan leads the way here, with the ministry of finance, not the health ministry, formulating Japan’s response to the FCTC, due to its status as guardian of the government’s controlling interest in Japan Tobacco (JT).
In such pushover conditions, it is not surprising to find proposed new health warnings for industry apologists to die for, with misleading texts such as “Smoking could be one of the causes of lung cancer for you”, and sentences mentioning “epidemiological studies” which are guaranteed to bore or bamboozle and, seeing it is proposed that the warnings cover only 30% of the pack, be hard to read, too. JT was taking advice from US tobacco companies from as far back as the mid 1980s, and industry documents show that Philip Morris in particular assisted with and sometimes also supervised JT’s actions and statements on smoking and health issues. It looks as though this sort of relationship still exists.
On advertising, Japan’s finance ministry does not seem to understand that a ban on promotion means just that—a ban; instead, it is proposing mere restrictions on tobacco ads, based partly on those tired old tobacco industry voluntary curbs. Thus Japan is proposing to allow advertisements up to 12 times a year and three times a month in daily newspapers, with no restrictions at all on magazine ads.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the industry has been getting back to basics, trying to prevent ratification or accession to the treaty by governments yet to take such action. In Georgia, for example, industry officials were working with members of the new parliament earlier this year, to try to prevent ratification, and will no doubt be keeping up the pressure to avoid accession. Even in countries with moderately good tobacco control, tobacco companies may still have about a decade of what they would call “a level playing field”—business as usual—while proper enforcement backed up by public support and compliance catches up.
But in countries where reasonably strong legislation already exists, more sinister plans are being hatched. In the UK, where public debate on banning smoking in public places has at last broken through to include cabinet level discussion, the industry must feel particularly vulnerable. Not only have there been widespread reports that a commitment to act will feature in the governing Labour Party’s next general election manifesto, but the much cited success across the Irish Sea prompts an industry nightmare of a British government following Ireland’s lead.
The Irish ban on all workplace smoking, including hospitality premises, was fought tooth and nail by the hospitality industry, with the usual support from tobacco interests. Britain would be an even greater loss to the tobacco industry, both in terms of subsequent market decline and the likely international domino effects. Perhaps this is one reason why British American Tobacco (BAT) recently advertised for “Business Managers (Hotels, Bars Restaurants and Clubs)” to “forge lasting strategic relationships with key customers in this dynamic sector… to optimise business performance”. The job involves “building strategic business relationships, influencing customer awareness, planning and executing brand strategies”. This sounds like a two-for-one objective—ensuring any proposed ban is resisted as strongly as possible, and promoting BAT’s brands while they’re at it.
The BAT job ad was illustrated with a sample of what the successful applicants’ diaries might look like, filled with appointments from morning through to the small hours at some of London’s most glamorous hotels, clubs, and bars. Reminiscent of industry attempts to use such venues for promotion in Australia, the ad indicates that existing ad bans are unlikely to be enough to stop the next generation of promotion. Only ensuring that any and every effort to promote tobacco is a serious legal offence, as for heroin or cocaine, can stop it altogether.