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All articles written by David Simpson unless otherwise attributed. Ideas and items for News Analysis should be sent to: d.simpson@iath.org

World: new tobacco pandemic

In the past few months, there have been outbreaks of a specific tobacco-related public health problem in many countries around the world, apparently in more virulent and concentrated form than has ever been observed before. It manifests as the forceful misrepresentation of arguments against increased tobacco tax. Symptoms include the use of front groups, often posing as quasi-academic research organisations; bogus statistical data gained by hand-picking convenient numbers from apparently solid sources; new data generated from poor quality surveys, sometimes using shamefully biased leading questions; and most consistently, vastly magnified and scary images of the dreaded spectre of smuggling. In addition, campaigns have included many other sophistries familiar from more than half a century of desperate, last ditch campaigns to resist the most immediately effective component of tobacco control policy.

Some detailed examples appear below; they represent only a sample of those seen worldwide in recent months. Why now? Is it just because a new year always heralds new budget planning by finance ministers, with tobacco taxation as one of the big earners high on the list for review? Or does the upcoming formulation of a draft protocol on illicit trade under the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) explain it? The consistency of the industry's concentration on illicit trade in its propaganda suggests that it may be the latter, despite documented tobacco company complicity with international smuggling gangs. But other tired arguments have been appearing, too, including one of the most distasteful of all, the industry's professed concerns over smokers suffering disease from the poor ‘quality’ of forged or smuggled cigarettes.

Employment threats still feature in some of these campaigns, too, with dire forecasts of mass job losses …

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