1. What makes tobacco industry different from other industries?
Tobacco is unique – it is addictive and harmful. It is the only consumer product that kills half of its regular users prematurely when used as intended by the manufacturers.
Globally about 6 million people die every year from tobacco related diseases and 1 billion people will die in the 21st Century. In the ASEAN region, about 500,000 people die annually from this epidemic, a figure matched by no other catastrophe.
Tobacco is the only consumer product that is the subject of a global treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC requires States Parties, of which there are now 180, to reduce tobacco use.
2. What is the tobacco industry’s reaction to public concerns on the harms of smoking?
The tobacco industry has long denied the harms and deaths associated with smoking. It is only in recent years that the industry started making some statements about dangers of smoking on its websites after the internal documents of the transnational tobacco companies revealed how the industry know the harms for many years.
The internal documents also reveal how the industry fought tobacco control measures:
“Our objective remains to develop and mobilize the necessary resources …to fight the social and legislative initiatives against tobacco….We shall carefully target our opponents. We shall precisely identify, monitor, isolate, and contest key individuals and organizations.”(ii)
The tobacco industry has not withdrawn cigarettes from the market. It states it strongly believe that smoking should only be for adults who are aware of the risks.
3. Why must the tobacco industry be denormalised?
The tobacco industry continues to sell a products that cause disease and death. It misleads its customers about the real effects of the product and recruits new customers among children.
The tobacco industry seeks to dilute, delay and undermine tobacco control restrictions. When governments enact strict legislation, the industry intimidates them with law suits. Thailand was sued by tobacco companies to stop the government from increasing pictorial health warning to 85% on packs. Australia was sued by tobacco companies when it applied plain packaging to stop the companies from using the pack as a promotional tool.
A tobacco company executive once said, “If you can market a product that kills people, you can sell anything.”(i) The tobacco industry is the problem and it cannot be part of the solution. Hence it needs to be de-normalised and its tactics exposed. To date the tobacco industry has not admitted wrongdoing and continues to deny in the courts that its products cause disease and death.
The industry has targeted Southeast Asian countries as an important region to grow its profits. Within the region Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam are vital markets for the industry, and the industry fights regulations aggressively.
4. How to de-normalise the tobacco industry?