WHO: Support vigorous fight against tobacco use

Health Ministry doesn’t send representative to anti-smoking conference.

smoking (illustrative) (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
smoking (illustrative)
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The World Health Organization is standing behind Australia’s efforts – against international tobacco companies – to force the industry to go along with prohibitions of attractive graphic images on its products.
WHO director-general Margaret Chan urged the world at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health last week to “stand shoulder to shoulder” against the tobacco industry’s attempts to overturn Australia’s new groundbreaking tobacco control law.
The Australian law requires tobacco products to be sold in “plain packaging” – drab packages with graphic images of tobacco-related diseases and without logos. It also requires graphic warnings of the health dangers of smoking to be placed on cigarette packets.
Amos Hausner, head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, was in Singapore to attend the conference. The Health Ministry did not dispatch any official state representatives to the conference, unlike Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many African countries, Hausner said. He noted that there are now 174 signatory countries behind the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and that these nations included 87 percent of the world’s population. Israel ratified it in August 2005, becoming the 77th country to do so.
Turkey was cited for its vigorous effort to curtail smoking, and Norway was praised for passing legislation requiring graphic health warnings.
Israel has not yet done either this or require companies’s products to appear in plain packages.
Hausner added that Israel has not implemented Section 5.3 of the FCTC, which limits tobacco lobbying and requires full transparency and reporting of all meetings of government officials and politicians with tobacco lobbyists.
Thailand has also been drawn to international arbitration initiated by the tobacco industry on the basis of alleged violations of trade agreements, Hausner said. The Ukraine was one of the countries opposing limitations on the sale of tobacco products.
“There is a direct relation between the implementation of article 5.3 and the success in the passage of effective tobacco legislation in the respective legislatures,” the anti-smoking activist from Jerusalem said.
The smoking rate among Israeli adults is around 23%, compared to only 14% in Singapore and 11% in Hong Kong.
Hausner said that according to a recent publication, for each person killed by the use of tobacco, the industry earns a revenue of $6,000, a large amount considering that six million people die of smoking each year.
Hausner was especially interested in a scientific poster at the conference by a “Dr. Maziak” of the University of Allepo in Syria about water pipe (nargila or hookah) smoking. The researcher said that this smoking technique is “potentially more dangerous in generating heart disease than cigarette smoking. Unlike cigarette smoke, nargila smoke immediately increases heart rate.”
“We must make plain packaging a big success so that it becomes the success of the world,” Chan told Prof. Jane Halton, secretary of Australia’s Department of Health and Ageing, and other delegates to the conference in Singapore.
Australia has been sued by tobacco giant Philip Morris-Asia under a bilateral trade agreement with China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Separately, it has been sued in domestic court by the tobacco industry.
Halton promised that Australia will defend itself vigorously against both suits.
Chan congratulated Australia for its determination in fighting tobacco industry intimidation. “If we stand shoulder to shoulder, together, no tobacco industry can survive,” Chan said. “The fact that they are so desperate, I take it as an indication that the industry sees the writing on the wall. This is the death throe of the addicting industry.”
“Tactics aimed at undermine anti-tobacco campaigns and subverting the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control are no longer covert or cloaked by an image of corporate social responsibility. They are out in the open and they are extremely aggressive. The high-profile legal actions targeting Uruguay, Norway, Australia and Turkey are deliberately designed to instill fear in countries wishing to introduce similarly tough tobacco control measures,” she said.
Chan urged young people to use social networks to support Australia.