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Trinidad and tobacco

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Trinidad and Tobago illustrates the classic predicament of many less affluent countries: its people and politicians are getting wise to the problems of tobacco, but it lacks the comprehensive tobacco control legislation so essential to stop the tobacco companies, which still see a highly profitable future there. An illustration of their optimism was the massive programme of high-profile activities which Rothmans organised to launch its Craven A brand there last November. Under the sort of newspaper headline that marketing executives must salivate over—“T & T welcomes Craven A”—a sycophantic article announced that the prime minister would be among those turning out for the brand’s first launch event, to be held on the best-known promenade in Port of Spain, the capital. It added that the brand was expected “to put over $20 million into the national economy”, and that deals were being signed to sponsor sporting events, including a soccer event to be known as the Craven A Caribbean Cup.

But it was not all one-sided. First, the prime minister, Basdeo Panday, refused to attend the event; he presumably supports his health minister, who has specified tobacco as one of his two top priorities, along with AIDS. Furthermore, one of the country’s leading financial institutions, Scotia Bank, chose the same time to announce that it was going to offer customers a smoke-free environment starting from January, adding to its existing no-smoking policy for staff. This prompted a highly supportive editorial in the country’s leading newspaper, as well as a news story provocatively placed right under the puff piece for Craven A.

Delegates to the European Respiratory Meeting in Berlin last September were surprised to see this poster, obviously not in German, near the conference centre. The ad promotes the Suvari (“Cavalry”) brand, made by the Turkish tobacco monopoly, promising “Pure pleasure” and “galloping freedom” in Turkish, a pledge repeated less stridently in German lower down, though warning of the health risks in German only. It is clearly aimed at Berlin’s 300 000 Turkish migrant workers and their families—the main Turkish residential area is nearby.

Resistance did not stop there. One of the most dramatic, spontaneous expressions of disgust and frustration by an opinion leader came from popular singer Luciano, a major attraction at a huge concert organised by a local radio station. According to one newspaper report, the highlight of the evening was when Luciano, after walking on stage and praying for the estimated 25 000 people in the crowd, started pulling down all the Craven A banners around the stage. “I cannot come up here and sing Jah music in front of all this Craven A . . . dem trying to kill the youth dem”, he explained, just seconds after the radio station’s presenter had told his audience, in something of an understatement: “Luciano has a serious problem with all types of cigarettes”. If only there were more Lucianos out there.

Newspaper advertisement marks the launch of Craven A in Trinidad and Tobago.