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BAT has learned little from having its John Player Gold Leaf ocean going sailing boat banned in Bangladesh and declarednavicula non grata in Sri Lanka (Tobacco Control2000;9:9,129). Continuing its marketing of addictive and carcinogenic products by associating them with the healthy, exciting sport of ocean racing, whipping up a frenzy of advertising and sponsored events for young people at ports of call, the “Voyage of Discovery” arrived back in Karachi in September. It had already visited the city, the largest in the country, on its way east the previous year, and free cigarettes were handed out to an estimated 10 000 youngsters at promotional events. This time Pakistani health advocates decided to go to court, inspired by legal success in Bangladesh and assisted by colleagues there (Bangladesh was formerly East Pakistan). While not getting a ban in time to stop the visit, they did achieve two important gains.
First, the event galvanised concerted action by medical and health groups in a way that numerous tobacco control lectures and workshops had failed to do in the past. Most importantly, it bought the Pakistan Medical Association out fighting, taking an important lead in the court action, and helping to create an ad hoc coalition of a wide range of medical specialists and people from other disciplines. The ultimate result of the court action is still awaited.
Second, this time the publicity surrounding the event was not all one sided. Certainly BAT's gift of Rs4.5 million (US$77 000) to Radio Pakistan for a live broadcast of the climax of the visit, a concert for young people at the city's most prestigious yacht club, helped to generate favourable publicity. However, several newspapers and other media gave detailed coverage to the health arguments against the visit, and a multidisciplinary doctors' group addressed a major press conference. BAT even felt obliged to trot out the almost irrelevant assurance that it would exclude under-18s from the big event (thereby making it even more attractive to the young).
And perhaps there were benefits in the event not actually being stopped, as the newly coordinated health advocates put in hand an elaborate network for capturing a record of as many of the promotional activities as possible. These should prove invaluable in the future, whenever BAT repeats its assurances that it does not promote cigarettes to youth. It's an ill wind . . .