1 November 2001
MEMBER STATES NEED TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST TOBACCO ADVERTISING
Tobacco company self-regulation does not work
The World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s leading international public health agency, is calling on law-makers around the world to take action against advertising of tobacco and tobacco products in order to protect the health of the young and the old, smokers and non-smokers alike.
The call comes ahead of talks between 191 countries meeting in Geneva, Switzerland later this month to negotiate global rules for tobacco control. "Three years ago when we started the process of negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), I said tobacco addiction is a communicated disease – communicated through advertising, promotion and sponsorship,’’ said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General.
Dr Brundtland urged countries to remain vigilant and alert. Her word of caution comes as tobacco companies embark on a massive global public relations bid to woo governments away from negotiating strong agreements against the promotion and advertising of tobacco.
British American Tobacco (BAT) recently launched a new global public relations campaign entitled "International Tobacco Product Marketing Standards". Together with rival manufacturers Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco, the companies have agreed to voluntarily adopt measures to prevent marketing activities from being directed at non-smokers, particularly the young. They are calling on governments, United Nations agencies and the World Bank to put their faith in a "new initiative’’ that is neither new nor effective.
"We know what works and what doesn’t. Voluntary codes have proved to be a failure. A World Bank – WHO study, on the other hand, found that interventions like comprehensive advertisement bans and price increases have a measurable and sustained impact on decreased tobacco use," said Joy de Bayer, Tobacco Control Coordinator at the World Bank.
Voluntary codes of advertising were first adopted – and found wanting – by the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. WHO says no country has succeeded in designing regulations that eliminate children’s exposure to tobacco advertising while allowing advertising aimed at adult smokers.
Tobacco companies know this. So do people who invest in their stocks. A Credit Suisse First Boston Equity research document that analysed the recent proposal had this to say: "…by proactively setting new international standards, the multinationals could be trying to counter a number of proposals that the WHO has been working on to curb the amount of cigarettes that are consumed on an international level". The analysis added that in many countries existing laws are stricter than the provisions of the international marketing standards.
WHO says youth smoking rates are on the increase worldwide. It is impossible for advertising to differentiate between a 19-year old and a 17-year old. Global experience often shows that partial bans on advertising and sponsorship produce partial results. Consequently, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Finland, Sweden, Thailand, to name a few, have replaced voluntary agreements with legal bans on tobacco advertising and promotion.
In 1999, WHO estimated that tobacco killed 4 million people per year. New estimates for the year 2000 put that figure at 4.2 million deaths per year. One billion people will die from tobacco use in this century, about 150 million in the first two decades with the developing world accounting for seven in ten of those deaths. Of the 300 million Chinese males currently alive between the ages of 0 and 29, 100 million, or one third, will eventually be killed by tobacco.
The call by the Organization’s Member States for increased monitoring of tobacco company activities worldwide came after an internal WHO enquiry found that tobacco companies had come together to develop plans to thwart tobacco control through a series of overt and covert means. Following this discovery, the Organization’s highest governing body, the World Health Assembly, passed a resolution in May 2001 requesting that Member States be kept informed about all open and concealed efforts by tobacco companies to derail the FCTC negotiations.
WHO says the tobacco companies’ proposal is attempting to reopen debates about the type of marketing that many countries regard as unacceptable, such as radio, television, internet and cinema advertising. It also promotes the false concept that it is possible to eliminate advertising that is just "targeted at" or "appeals" to young people. All advertising reaches children and teenagers – whether intended or not. Tobacco advertising nominally aimed at 18-24 year olds is especially attractive to younger teenagers aspiring to enter this age group. The proposals have been formulated without regard to established research on youth smoking and without any intention to evaluate the results.
"We have seen no evidence that tobacco companies are capable of self-regulation," said Dr Brundtland, "and we need to be alert to any new attempts to persuade us that this new effort will succeed."
For further information please contact Reshma Prakash, NMH Communications, WHO Geneva, telephone: (+41 22) 791 3443; fax: (+41 22) 791 4832. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int