Big Impact for Newport Non-Menthol?

NEW YORK — As Lorillard Tobacco Co. prepares to launch non menthol newport in early November, retailers seem ready Newport Non-Mentholfor the new offering. According to “rough-math” research from UBS Securities LLC, the new cigarette could take as much as a 0.5% share of the total cigarette category (close to 5% of total Newport volumes) over the next 12 months.
“Factoring in an introductory, off-invoice discount of $1.65/pack (putting its effective wholesale price in line with Maverick), we estimate Newport Non-Menthol could generate about $100 million over the next 12 months,” Nik Modi, an analyst with UBS, New York, wrote in a research note yesterday.
Although this is not Lorillard’s first attempt at a non-menthol version of Newport, recent U.S. Food & Drug Administration (IFDA) scrutiny of menthol could make this launch “more meaningful,” according to the report. The previous efforts were test marketed about 10 years ago, but a broader national launch wasn’t pursued, the report states.
When Lorillard first announced the new non-menthol cigarette in August, the company said that it believes the new product will further strengthen its competitive position and its Newport brand family with the national introduction. It described the cigarette as a premium product with broad competitive consumer appeal that delivers the high-quality tobacco taste that adult smokers expect from Newport.
“We are excited to leverage Newport, one of the most-recognized names in the cigarette industry,” said Martin Orlowsky, chairman, president and chief executive officer at the time. “With the introduction of Newport Non-Menthol, Lorillard will be afforded greater opportunity to compete in the largest segment of the U.S. cigarette market, as the non-menthol category represents approximately 70% of total industry volume.”
In other analysis from the UBS report, Modi said it is unlikely that Lorillard will foray into the moist smokeless tobacco (MST) category–despite now having Murray Kessler, former CEO of MST-maker UST Inc., at the helm.
Explaining that launching a new MST product is “incredibly difficult,” the report says Kessler understands the competitiveness of the category “better than anyone, which is why we ultimately do not believe Lorillard will launch its own MST product.”
Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc. is the third-largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the United States. Newport, Lorillard’s flagship menthol-flavored premium cigarette brand, is the top-selling menthol and second-largest-selling cigarette in the United States. In addition to Newport, the Lorillard product line has five additional brand families marketed under the Kent, True, Maverick, Old Gold and Max brand names.
By Linda Abu

Removing cigarette butts: Chinese city's controversial hygiene campaign

XI’AN, – How does a Chinese city get rid of unpleasant cigarette butts discarded in public places? Should it slap heavy fines, set up cigarettes buts bring moneyblaring loudspeakers, or train red-armband wearing staffs to remind careless smokers?
In Xianyang City in northwest China’ s Shaanxi Province, authorities have adopted a novel policy of removing cigarette butts as the city spruces itself up for the upcoming “Clean City” inspection.
“You can get five cents (0.75 U.S. cents) for each cigarette butt you hand in,” read a poster that has been put up at locations throughout the city since September.
Enthused residents lined up outside local community offices, ready to trade bags of cigarette butts for cash.
“Most are older residents who have abundant leisure time and are happy to add to their pensions,” said Sun Kun, who works at the public sanitation office in one community.
Mr. Li, a senior citizen in his seventies, said he had been collecting cigarette butts every morning on his walk. In his eyes, the act was both noble and profitable.
“I’ve collected more than 3,000 butts in five days, which I can exchange for 150 yuan (22.5 dollars),” said Li.
Overall, the city has received millions of discarded butts, and hundreds of thousands of yuan have been handed out in reward, said Xing Wanchuan, spokesman for the city’s “Clean City” application office.
“After the implementation of this policy, our city streets have basically become free of cigarette butts,” said Xing.
But not all citizens welcomed this policy.
Zhao Ang, a 28-year-old local resident, said he once threw away a cigarette butt on a city square. Much to his astonishment, an old man bent down and picked up the litter.
“I felt so bad — an older person was collecting the rubbish dumped by a young man,” said Zhang.
After that embarrassing experience, said Zhang, he didn’t want to litter any more.
However, not everybody believes that exchanging cigarette butts for cash is the best way to root out such behavior.
“Only when smokers quit the nasty habit of dumping butts can we truly wave goodbye to that kind of litter in public places,” posted a netizen called “Crazy Potato”.
“Chinese people should also smoke less,” posted another netizen, “db0923”. China is estimated to have 350 million smokers — one-third of the world’s smoking population.
Some also claimed the money-driven campaign degraded moral standards.
“Picking up discarded butts should be a spontaneous act driven by virtue, not a cash reward,” argued local resident Wang Chao.
“Will people still pick up butts when this policy concludes?” he asked.
For many local communities, the “butts for cash” campaign seemed unsustainable from the moment it was introduced.
“Cigarette butts are taken in without checks, and many apparently came from ash-trays,” revealed a community employee.
According to the staff, the colossal amount of butts has placed many communities under a heavy financial burden.
In addition, some community offices had stopped offering rewards as the inspecting delegations left, triggering a public outcry against the ad hoc nature of the campaign.
“It seems the local government is just improving for the inspection and has not come up with any long-term remedy,” posted a netizen “Drunk Southeast” .
In fact, some cities resort to “window dressing” when applying for the award of national or provincial “Clean City” .
A flurry of campaigns, often controversial, will be implemented to improve cleanliness standards — the streets will be tidied up, chaotic marketplaces will be made to look more orderly, and pest control programs will be introduced.
On the eve of a hygiene inspection in 2007, the government of Luoyang, a central Chinese city, reportedly purchased dead flies from local residents to encourage killing flies, a policy that netizens joked “might create a new industry of fly farming.”
In 2006, Nanchang, capital of the southeastern province of Jiangxi, welcomed the Clean City delegation by clearing out small snack stands that had been blamed for dirtying the city’s streets.
The ban, albeit temporary, made life difficult for residents, who usually ate breakfast or had a late-night snack at these outlets.
And after the departure of the delegation, many streets soon returned to their untidy ways.
“Many cities do not make continuous efforts to improve living conditions, but are intent on short-term campaigns for honorary titles,” said Wang Mingmei, professor at the Jiangxi Academy of Social Sciences.
“China needs clean cities at all times, not clean cities when delegations come,” he added.
By Xinhua Writers Yao Yuan, Liang Aiping

Defiant Greeks Prepare to Keep Smoking as Ban Compounds Economy

Athens restaurant owner Petros Migdos says it’s not just policies to tackle the ailing Greek economy that are hurting his business, it’s also one greece smoking adsaimed at improving the health of his countrymen.
Greece, home to Europe’s heaviest smokers, prohibited puffing in public places such as bars and tavernas on Sept. 1. This month, proprietors began returning ashtrays to indoor tables in preparation to defy the law as winter approaches.
“I agree it’s a good thing to cut the cigarettes, but it is not the time to impose these measures because of the economic crisis,” Migdos, 50, said as he took a break to smoke.
Greece is the only European country to implement a tobacco ban during the financial turmoil of the past two years. Consumers and companies are enduring some of the continent’s biggest tax increases and spending cuts as Prime Minister George Papandreou tries to rescue an economy that required a 110 billion-euro ($152 billion) international loan package.
The Pan-Hellenic Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, representing 121,000 restaurants and bars, urged its members to put ashtrays back on tables starting Oct. 18.
“It will take time for people to accept the smoking ban,” George Lezos, 52, a civil servant, said as he sat outside a cafe in the Athens neighborhood of Vyrona, dragging on one of the roughly 20 cigarettes he smokes every day. “We Greeks tend to resist laws telling us what to do.”
Rising Prices
Papandreou’s government has raised taxes on tobacco, alcohol and fuel to help cut Europe’s second-biggest budget deficit. It increased the price of 20 cigarettes three times, by 60 cents to 3.80 euros, starting in January. Greece’s economy is set to contract 4 percent this year and 2.6 percent next year, the government forecasts.
Polls indicate most Greeks will use their votes in Nov. 7 local elections to protest the measures. A GPO survey published on Oct. 22 showed 67 percent of 5,000 voters had a negative opinion of the government compared with 57 percent in August.
Greeks should be patient when it comes to adjusting to the new smoking law, Deputy Health Minister Michalis Timosidis said at a press conference in Athens on Oct. 26.
“We are talking about a law that changes the culture and mindset of Greece,” he said. “We never hid the fact that there would be difficulties. There are shops that are not complying, but there is also a number that are.”
No Excuse
The economic situation in Greece should not be an excuse to postpone the smoking measure, according to Constantine Vardavas, a professor at the University of Crete and a collaborator with the Harvard School of Public Health who helped the Greek government craft its anti-smoking policy.
Greece has the highest rate of smoking among European Union countries and about 20,000 people die from smoking-related diseases every year, according to the Ministry of Health. Smoking-related health costs for the government, which has the second-highest debt in the EU, total 2.1 billion euros.
“Resistance to the smoking ban was expected,” Vardavas said after the press conference at Greece’s Ministry of Health. “But what are we going to do? Stop public health in Greece for the next decade because we’re in an economic crisis?”
European countrywide smoking bans in bars and restaurants started in Ireland in 2004 and then in countries including Norway, Italy and Scotland over the following two years and places such as England and France later.
In Ireland and Scotland smokers brave the elements and stand outside pubs with ashtrays on the wall.
King Otto
Greece’s law prohibits smoking in all enclosed public and private workplaces. Casinos and night clubs over 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) with live music will have eight months to adjust to the new measures.
Fines for individual smokers start at 50 euros and rise to 500 euros for repeat offenders. Businesses face fines of as much as 10,000 euros for non-compliance.
Greeks, who today celebrate a national holiday to mark when they stood up to an Italian ultimatum during World War II, have defied smoking bans since 1856, when King Otto and Queen Amalia prohibited smoking inside state buildings. An attempt by the previous government last year failed.
Papandreou should wait two years for the ban to take place to give time for the economy to improve, Migdos said.
“Now when we have a wedding or baptism reservation, instead of 100 people, only half come because of the smoking ban and the ones that do come leave early,” he said.
Smaller Greek businesses face funding problems and reduced revenue for the remainder of this year as the economic slump and increased taxes hit consumer spending, according to a poll by Athens-based Marc SA conducted July 15-28.
Of 960 businesses asked, 78 percent said revenue declined in the first half of 2010 and 66 percent see a further drop in the second half, the poll showed.
“The politicians don’t want to understand what we are experiencing,” said Migdos. “They have to be stupid to want to pass a measure like this in the middle of an economic crisis. Even a young child could figure that out.”
By Tom Stoukas

Dissolvable Tobacco Dubbed 'Candy' by Oregon's Sen. Merkley

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week opened a 60-day comment period on dissolvable tobacco products which Senator Jeff Merkley’s office has dubbed “tobacco candy.”
I was going to publish their press release without editing it, but then I realized that the product they are describing as ‘candy’ is actually an extremely awful tasting tobacco tablet that I’ve tried in the past. I believe that any child who placed one of these in their mouths would spit it halfway across the room after they realized how awful tasting it is.
They are the foulest tasting item one could ever try to ingest.
I believe the senator and possibly his entire staff, have never actually experienced one of these items that they very clearly choose to describe as ‘candy’ when it is nothing of the sort. This is a product strictly sold to adults and my take on it was that if a person wanted to quit smoking, they could somehow wrestle these things down and the last thing they would want afterward would be a cigarette.
Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley is urging Oregonians to submit their stories and opinions relating to the sale, distribution, and use of “tobacco candy” to the FDA and again I cringe; I feel this statement is extremely misleading and poorly selected.
But they love this language.
“Tobacco candy poses two significant threats to our children,” Merkley said.
“First and foremost, these products are designed to hook the next generation of Americans into nicotine addiction, jeopardizing the health of young people for the rest of their lives. In fact, tobacco causes more than 443,000 deaths each year. And second, upon rare occasions, these candies can pose a serious poisoning threat if ingested by young children. If you have concerns over the way these tobacco candy products are being marketed to our children, now is the time to make your voice heard.”
Jeff Merkley always struck me as a well intentioned person, from most everything I have seen over the years. I’ve watched Jeff go from the Oregon capital to the national capital as a U.S. Senator. To me that means increased responsibility. This whole approach however rings of false advertising.
Also, the Camel Orbs box in particular, is very hard to open. It makes childproof pill bottles look easy.
Again from Merkley’s press release:
In June 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allows the FDA to regulate tobacco products for the first time. A provision of the bill authored by Merkley and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) requires the new Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to study the public health effects of tobacco candy and report to the FDA on its findings.
Tobacco candy products are designed to appeal to children. They are made of dissolvable tobacco and resemble breath mints and other candies and come in flavors such as mint and caramel.
I know the Camel tablets were awful; perhaps these new products somehow actually carry the tastes mentioned above. I think in the end it is very hard to make a foul product like tobacco taste good and I allow that anything is possible, but from what I have seen so far, the thing Merkley calls ‘candy’ is anything but candy. I also can’t see this product as something designed to entice a new generation of tobacco users; I see it as a bridge for a person who seeks to quit smoking.
The press release states that a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in April 2010 showed that dissolvable tobacco products, including Camel Orbs, Sticks and Strips, can poison and ultimately cause death in children.
Already, there has been a confirmed case of a 3-year-old in Oregon ingesting Camel Orbs, a small, compressed tobacco pellet.
There is no mention of anything adverse happening to the child in the press release.
According to one of the authors, a single Orb can contain about 1 milligram of nicotine roughly equal to the amount in a typical cigarette and enough to sicken a small child. Ingesting a handful of pellets could be lethal.
My point is that the public should not be swayed by such strong wording by one of our elected officials; using ‘candy’ to describe a product that will not be labeled as candy, placed in a candy section, or available to children. Adults who use these products, quite obviously, should keep them out of any child’s reach; the same way people carefully manage their prescription medicines, many of which also resemble ‘candy’.
As part of the FDA’s information collection process, tobacco companies will be submitting their own documents and research.
Oregonians can share their stories on the website at:

Legalization, Medical Marijuana, and Alcohol Taxes Go Before State Voters Nov. 2

A marijuana-legalization question on the California ballot has better than a puncher’s chance of passage on Nov. 2, and voters will Marijuanago to the polls in Arizona and South Dakota to decide whether to allow medical use of the drug. The alcohol industry, meanwhile, is trying to strangle new impact and mitigation fees in California and roll back an alcohol tax passed in Massachusetts just last year.
This actually is a rather quiet year for alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related ballot initiatives, with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) counting just eight such citizen-initiated measures nationally, including:

  • Massachusetts’ Question 1 to appeal the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages;
  • Washington’s Initiative 1100 and 1105 differ slightly, but both call for the end of the Prohibition-era state liquor store system and the legalization of private liquor sales;
  • California’s Proposition 19 to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana;
  • Arizona’s Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana;
  • South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 13 to legalize medical marijuana;
  • Oregon’s Measure 74 to amend the current state medical-marijuana law to allow the drug to be sold from regulated dispensaries;
  • South Dakota’s Referred Law 12, a challenge to a state law banning smoking in casinos, restaurants, bars and liquor stores.


Alcoholic beverages were among the very few products exempt from state sales taxes in Massachusetts until last year, when state lawmakers lifted the exemption and began charging 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol purchases. With part of the new revenues directed toward paying for addiction-related services, the move was hailed by the treatment and prevention community but abhorred by the alcohol industry.
After failing to get enough repeal votes in the legislature earlier this year, alcohol retailers succeeded in getting a tax-rollback question on the statewide ballot. Massachusetts’ Question 1 asks voters to restore the sales-tax exemption for alcohol, with proponents arguing that the tax encourages state residents to buy alcohol tax-free in neighboring New Hampshire and costs Massachusetts money and jobs.
Opponents of the measure counter that the alcohol industry doesn’t deserve a special tax break, and state voters seem to agree. (Watch a video from No on 1 Campaign)
A Boston Globe poll conducted in late September found that while 46 percent of likely voters support Question 3 — which would cut the overall state sales-tax rate from 6.5 percent to 3 percent — 50 percent opposed the Question 1 tax rollback for alcohol.
California’s Proposition 26 is not an alcohol measure per se, but backers of the measure calling for restrictions on new government-imposed fees and changes include alcohol industry groups that want to block the state and local governments from imposing so-called “mitigation” fees that seek payback for harm caused by their products. Currently, state and local lawmakers can pass such fees by a simple majority, but Proposition 26 would require a two-thirds majority in the statehouse and for two-thirds of voters to approve such fees proposed by local governments.
Proposition 26 supporters are framing the question as a bid to end “hidden taxes” and “protecting the right to vote on local taxes,” but environmental groups, alcohol prevention organizations and other industry critics say the measure is really an attempt by Big Oil, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco to dodge accountability.
Environmental groups have taken the lead on the anti-26 advocacy campaign, urging voters not to protect polluters by “making it more difficult to pass fees on industries that pollute our air, dirty our water, and endanger our health.”
“We think the public is not going to fall for it,” said Bruce Livingston, executive director and CEO of the Marin Institute, which has backed statewide and local (San Francisco) campaigns for “Charge for Harm” fees on alcohol companies. “Not that fees are popular, but these are things that businesses should pay for,” not taxpayers, he said.
“We’ll either win big or lose big on this. If we win, we will have alcohol mitigation fees in California,” Livingston predicted.

Initiative 1100 has been dubbed the “Costco Initiative” because the Issaqiuah-based warehouse retailing giant is one of the leading backers of the plan to take liquor sales out of the hands of the state and allow private retailers to sell hard liquor.
The measure also would eliminate the state’s 51.9 percent markup on all liquor sales, and allow big-box retailers like Costco to directly purchase alcohol from producers (cutting alcohol wholesalers out of the process) and seek out volume discounts when purchasing beer, wine and liquor.
The similar Washington Initiative 1105 is sponsored by a group called Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform: it, too, would see the state get out of the retailing business but calls for strict regulation of alcohol sales and would retain the liquor-wholesaler system. This measure also would temporarily repeal the state’s existing alcohol tax while a new regulation and taxation scheme is developed by the legislature.
Not surprisingly, the state’s alcohol wholesalers are among the leading opponents of these measures. The Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association and the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention are both members of a group called Protect Our Communities, which opposes both Initiative 1100 and the similar Initiative 1105 on the grounds that they will cost the state tax revenue, cause a “massive expansion of liquor stores,” and hurt compliance with laws governing alcohol sales to minors.
“Through our current system, liquor sales generate consistent revenue for state and local programs, help local Washington businesses like wineries, breweries and distilleries thrive, and does the best job of all 50 states preventing underage kids from purchasing alcohol,” Protect Our Communities said.
“The major difference between [1100 and 1105] is their treatment of how liquor would be distributed and taxed,” according to an analysis by the Washington Policy Center, which endorsed Initiative 1100. “While both measures effectively end the state’s liquor monopoly, Initiative 1100 offers more market freedom because it would end the Prohibition-era distribution requirements and quantity discount restrictions for retailers,” according to the Center’s analysis. “This has the potential to lead to fierce competition in the marketplace to the benefit of consumers.”
As for voters, recent polls have found weak backing for 1100 and 1105 among Washington voters, with large numbers of undecideds who — according to convention wisdom — are more likely to oppose than support such referenda.

Many state-level ballot initiatives have been overshadowed during this year of Tea Parties and candidates who may or may not be witches, but California’s Proposition 19 — which would legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana — has garnered national attention, especially when polls started showing that a majority of state residents were supporting the measure.
As the NCSL noted: “Initiatives that get their start in California have a tendency to spread eastward. Consider a similar issue — medical marijuana: California voters approved it in 1996 (it was approved in Arizona that year too, but flaws in the drafting of the Arizona initiative prevented it from ever being implemented). In 1998, similar measures were approved in Alaska, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. To date, it’s been on the ballot in nine states.”
“There’s already talk in at least two states — Colorado and Nevada — of bringing a legalization initiative to the ballot in 2012 if Prop. 19 is approved this November,” according to the NCSL. “The hope is that it would mobilize young voters in those states, who may also vote for Democratic candidates while they’re casting their votes on legalizing marijuana.”
The law-enforcement community and alcohol industry have both been involved in the No on 19 campaign, which argues that allowing legal use of marijuana will lead to more impaired-driving crashes and tragedies and create a regulatory and enforcement nightmare. The measure also is opposed by current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, and Republican candidate Meg Whitman. Law-enforcement groups, drug-prevention groups, MADD and DARE, and even some medical-marijuana organizations have joined the No on 19 campaign.
Proposition 19 backers contend that the measure will generate massive tax revenues for California and provide better control of the drug, which is widely available on the unregulated black market. Oakland medical-marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee has supplied major funding for the campaign, which is coordinated by the Drug Policy Alliance and has also attracted donations from some of the founders of Facebook and adult-entertainment tycoon Phil Harvey, among others.
Recently, the Obama administration, which has followed a hands-off policy regarding medical marijuana, has vowed to enforce federal drug laws in California if Prop 19 becomes law. The latest polls indicate that voters now oppose the measure by a slim margin — 49 percent to 44 percent — the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 20.
Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said that some voters have been scared off by the details of implementing Prop 19, and said passage may come down to the strength of the youth vote in November. “There’s strong support among young voters, and not just Democrats but also independents and even some Republicans,” he said. “It seems to be more of an age issue than a party issue.”
“Win or lose, this initiative has transformed and elevated the national discussion,” added Nadelmann. “It’s become not so much whether we should do this but what the details are.”

In Arizona
, Gov. Jan Brewer opposes the medical-marijuana measure on the November ballot, but polling suggests that voters will approve Proposition 203 by a wide margin. The state has had a medical-marijuana law on the books since 1996 but it was never enacted because the U.S. Drug Administration threatened to punish doctors who wrote prescriptions for the drug. The 2010 measure only requires a recommendation from a doctor, not a prescription, in order for patients to get marijuana for legal medical use.

A 2006 medical-marijuana ballot initiative
was narrowly defeated by South Dakota voters, but the issue is back on the ballot in 2010 in the form of the South Dakota Safe Access Act, a.k.a. Measure 13. Unlike in 2006, however, there’s very little money being spent on either side of the issue, so the question may be whether shifting national attitudes toward medical marijuana are enough to sway South Dakota voters to push the measure over the top this time around.

Measure 74 calls for medical marijuana to be sold from nonprofit dispensaries, with mandatory background checks for operators and employees and fees to pay for regulation of the system. Oregon voters approved a medical-marijuana law in 1998, but the measure didn’t establish a legal means for distributing the drug to patients, meaning users still had to buy the drug on the black market.
By Bob Curley

Obesity in America: Are Factory Farms, Big Pharma and Big Food to Blame?

One third of our economy thrives on making people sick and fat. Big Farming grows 500 more calories per person per day than 25 years ago because they get paid to grow extra food even when it is not needed. The extra corn (sugar) and soy (fat) are turned into industrial processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages — combinations of fat, sugar and salt that are proven to be addictive. These subsidized ($288 billion) cheap, low-quality foods are heavily marketed ($30 billion) and consumed by our ever-widening population with an obesity rate approaching three out of four Americans. The more they eat, the fatter they become. The fatter they become the more they develop heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a myriad of other chronic ailments.
Today, one in 10 Americans have diabetes. By 2050 one in three Americans will have diabetes. The sicker our population, the more medications are sold for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and many other lifestyle-driven diseases. The Toxic Triad of Big Farming, Big Food, and Big Pharma profits from creating a nation of sick and fat citizens.
This structure is built into the very fabric of our economy and culture. It could be called the medical, agricultural, food industrial complex. It is what is known as “structural violence”–the social, political, economic and environmental conditions that foster and promote the development of disease.
But there is a way to turn the Toxic Triad into a Health Trinity. Through innovation and creativity we can create a new economy based on products and services that make people thin and healthy instead of sick and fat. Business can do well by doing good! We just have to change the default choices and behaviors both at a policy and a grass-roots level. I learned a few things about this in Haiti from my friend Paul Farmer.
Addressing Structural Violence
When I was in Haiti in January 2010, after the earthquake, I visited Zanmi Lansante, the health center started in the 1980’s by Dr. Paul Farmer. Much to the world’s amazement he showed how, in one of the poorest places on the planet, he could successfully treat complex infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS. The conventional wisdom was that poor people sleeping on mud floors would not take complex regimens of medication so we should essentially leave them to die. The problem wasn’t that doctors didn’t know what medications to prescribe, but that poverty and social conditions such as lack of access to health care, food, shelter, jobs, clean water and sanitation prevented effective treatment.
Paul Farmer didn’t accept this. Through his foundation, Partners in Health, with the help of the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation, he demonstrated the flaws in conventional wisdom and has successfully treated “impossible to treat patients in impossible conditions” around the world. He did it because he addressed one simple thing: Structural violence.
To successfully treat people in Haiti, Paul Farmer did not simply focus on what medication regimens were needed to cure tuberculosis or treat AIDS. He “accompanied” patients into their lives. By using local, trained community health workers he helped patients change the conditions of their lives, find shelter, food, jobs, clean water and sanitation–all necessary “structural” changes that allowed for effective treatment. He addressed the system, not just the symptom.
We must do the same if we are serious about addressing the wave of chronic illness sweeping across the world. We must focus, not only on the individual, but the system that has created 1.7 billion overweight citizens worldwide if we are to slow and reverse the national and global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease threatening not only our health, but the survival of our economies.
Big Food, Farming And Pharma: How They Are Killing Us
The default condition of a human being in the 21st century is to be obese. Nearly 75 percent of Americans are overweight. This is not an accident. Specific, traceable forms of structural violence promoted by Big Food, Big Farming, Big Pharma (see my recent blog on “Dangerous Spin Doctors”) and government polices is leading to the global spread of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Current food policies and subsidies encourage Big Farming to overproduce corn and soy which are then used to create sugary, fatty, factory-made, industrial food products sold as processed, fast, or junk food as I noted above. The government essentially stands in line next to you in fast food chains helping you buy cheeseburgers, fries, and cola. But in the produce isle of your supermarket you are on your own–the 2010 Farm Bill offers little support to farmers for growing fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole foods.
The resultant omnipresence of cheap, high-calorie, nutrient-poor processed foods (or “food like substances”) in homes, schools, government institutions and food programs, and on every street corner creates default food choices that drive obesity. How can you eat fruits and vegetables when you can’t buy them in your neighborhood convenience store or their price has increased five times as fast as sugar-sweetened beverages?
Big Food takes advantage of this glut of processed food to drive up profits through the use of mass media technologies. Other than drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, the number of hours of screen time or television watching is the single biggest factor correlating with obesity which, in turn, drives the diabetes epidemic. In addition to the metabolism-slowing, hypnotic effect of watching television, relentless food marketing focused on children is one of the major factors driving this problem. The average two year old can identify, by name, junk food brands in supermarkets, but many elementary school children can’t readily differentiate between a potato and a tomato as Jaime Oliver recently demonstrated.
Big Food claims that the problem is one of personal responsibility– that processed foods can be part of a healthy diet as long as they are eaten in moderation. But the more we delve into the research on food marketing practices, the impact of food deserts where healthy foods simply can’t be found, and the biologically addictive properties of these overly available cheap, high-calorie, nutrient poor junk/processed foods, the clearer it becomes that environmental factors override our normal physical and psychological mechanisms that control weight.
As I explained in my recent blog on food addiction, it is not a failing of personal responsibility, moral fiber, or will power that drives people to over consume these unhealthy foods. Industrial, processed food has been found to be addictive. We are like rats in a cage with unrestricted access to processed sugar and fat. When given a choice between cocaine and sugar, rats always choose sugar. So do we.
Poverty and food scarcity also drive poor food choices and are linked to obesity, and diabetes. The poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, the highest since 1994. As I pointed out in my article “Not Having Enough Food Causes Diabetes” there is a correlation between the poverty rate and the obesity rate. The poorest states in the nation are the fattest.
The government’s approach to these issues echoes Big Food. Government interventions like industry initiatives are predicated on education and encouraging personal responsibility. The rhetoric is that regulating the food industry strips away our right to choose, and that the market should be self-regulating.
It’s true that market-driven forces often do effectively control commerce. Companies can produce and sell poor-quality products, and if consumers choose to not buy them, the market regulates itself–companies begin supplying what consumers demand instead. This model works in our society unless those products affect our health, safety, or the greater social good. In this case, we expect our government to step in and take action.
Consider cars or medication. The government has mandated the production of safer, less polluting cars and protects us from harmful medication. In cases like these, government regulation is accepted. Poor diet causes many more deaths than auto accidents, yet as a society we resist government regulation over Big Food. Why?
If our normal protective biological mechanisms don’t work in this toxic food environment–and they don’t–it is lack of government oversight that erodes personal freedom. Big Food may make the right “noises,” but it will not self-regulate just as Big Tobacco wouldn’t.
Perhaps more to the point, there is an element of blaming the victim in all of this that misses the structural violence–the environmental conditions–that drive obesity and disease and lead to what is not being called an “obesogenic” environment. The main factors of which are:
1. Industrial processed, fast, and junk food is addictive. Processed food full of sugar, fat, and salt is neurochemically, biologically addictive in the same way cocaine, heroin, nictoine and caffeine are addictive, and it increases food and calorie consumption and obesity as a result.
2. Big Farming’s influence over the global increase in obesity. Agricultural practices and government subsidies promote the growing of cheap corn and soy which is turned into the sugar, fat, and processed food that drives disease and fosters the spread of this cheap, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food across the globe.
3. Unethical, manipulative food marketing that drives eating habits. There is very little government control over Big Food’s marketing practices which shape behavior in insidious ways, especially in children.
4. Poverty’s relationship to obesity and disease. Poverty promotes obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease because processed food is cheap while being high in calories and low in nutrients.
5. The destruction of the family kitchen and home cooked meals. The family meal, and family and local food culture, has been replaced with convenience or fast foods. This has led to a generation of Americans who can’t recognize any vegetable or fruit in its original form and can’t cook except in a microwave.
6. Obesity is contagious. You are more likely to be obese if you have fat friends, than if you have fat relatives. Social norms promote weight gain.
7. Environmental toxins. These contribute to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. Not only do we have to worry about what we eat, but also the burden of plastics, metals, and pollutants which have been shown to poison and slow our metabolism leading to weight gain.
Important initiatives have been created by the Obama administration within the health care bill and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program that mark a beginning of a shift that needs to happen in our food climate, but to really change our obesogenic environment we need to create healthier default choices for citizens. We must focus on specific actions we can take personally and politically to alter our food landscape.
Ending Structural Violence: What We Can Do to Create a Healthier Nation and World
What can be done to change the social and economic conditions that fuel the fattening of America and the world? The public can vote with its fork and with the ballot! Here are some choices we can start making individually and as a society today:
1. Eliminate unhealthy foods from all schools, child-care and health care facilities, and all government institutions. The government must establish rigorous standards for school nutrition consistent with current science (through the USDA). Similarly, we need to create nutrition programs for other public and government-run institutions.
2. Stop food advertising to children. Food marketing directed at children should be banned (through the FTC). This has been done in over 50 countries across the globe including Australia, the Netherlands, and Sweden. We should follow suit. The FDA should also restrict unproven health claims on labels.
3. Develop more funding for nutritional science. Congress should mandate greater funding of nutritional science and place guidance for dietary policy with an independent group such as the Institute of Medicine.
4. Change the Farm Bill. Agricultural policies should support public health and encourage the production of fruits and vegetables, not commodity products like corn and soy.
5. Lobby reform. We must change campaign finance laws so that corporate political donations from entities like Big Food, Big Farming, and Big Pharma can no longer control the political process.
6. Tax sugar. Scientists suggest a penny an ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. This would reduce consumption, obesity, health care costs, and provide revenue to support programs for the prevention and treatment of obesity.
7. End irresponsible relationships between medicine and industry. Public health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association should avoid partnerships, endorsements, or financial ties with industry that compromises their independence and credibility. Coca-Cola sponsoring events at the American Dietetic Association, or the American Heart Association promoting chocolate sugary cereals as heart healthy because they have a few grains of whole wheat–is this credible?
Perhaps the most important initiative we could enact is the creation of a “Health Corps for the nation–a workforce of community health workers to educate and support sustainable change by addressing structural violence in homes, schools, the workplace and most institutions. By following Paul Farmer’s model in Haiti, we would create jobs, improve health, and lower health care costs.
My friend, Dr. Memhet Oz, has started working on this. He created HealthCorps, an organization that trains college students in lifestyle change and then provides them with the infrastructure to go into schools and communities around the country and share what they have learned. We should follow this model on the national level.
If pushed, Big Farming can start growing healthy food to feed the nation and Big Food can come up with innovative solutions that satisfy consumers and supply healthful, economical, convenient, and delicious foods for our world. However, these industries will not police themselves.
With appropriate checks and balances put in place by government, it can become profitable to create products and foods that create and promote health. When this happens the Toxic Triad can become the Healthy Trinity!
By Mark Hyman, MD

Alberta government to launch suit against tobacco companies

EDMONTON – A pending provincial government lawsuit against the tobacco industry could turn out to be one of the biggest legal Alberta governmentactions in Alberta’s history, potentially worth up to $10 billion in recovered health care costs, a leading anti-smoking advocate says.
“This is fantastic, another step forward,” said Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health.
“This industry has really been getting away with murder for decades and it’s time for them to be held accountable for an enormous impact on our quality of life.”
Justice Minister Alison Redford made the announcement Monday that Alberta would become the fourth Canadian province to initiate litigation against big tobacco. Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick have already filed statements of claim, seeking to have the industry help pay for decades of treatment of smoking-related illnesses.
“We are confident this action is the right thing to do. Some of the most costly illnesses to treat, such as cancer and heart disease, are caused by smoking,” Redford told MLAs during the first day of the legislature’s fall session. “The litigation we plan to commence will seek to share this burden with the manufacturers of this product.”
Redford said she hasn’t determined the value of Alberta’s claim, saying only that it would be “a substantial amount of money.”
But Hagen noted Ontario’s lawsuit, filed last year, is seeking $50 billion from tobacco companies — roughly the amount that province estimates it has spent on providing health care to smokers since the 1950s.
“Based on that, proportionally Alberta’s statement of claim should be at least $10 billion,” he said.
He suggested any settlement or judgment should include not just a monetary award, but also harsher restrictions on how tobacco products are sold and marketed.
“Health-care costs are an important part of this action but this is also about seeking justice,” Hagen said. “The tobacco industry must be held accountable for decades of deceptive marketing practices, including targeting youth, marketing to women, failing to disclose the health effects of smoking, promotion of so-called light cigarettes, and systematically fighting government efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use.”
Ontario’s statement of claim alleges the industry has known since the 1950s that tobacco products were harmful and addictive. Such statements contain allegations that have not been proven in court.
Redford said Alberta’s lawsuit should be filed within 12 months, but it’s unclear how long the case could take or whether it will even see a courtroom.
British Columbia, after nearly a decade of legal wrangling, is set to proceed with a trial next year. Some experts believe a successful outcome for the province in that case could force the tobacco industry to the settlement table with other provinces.
Redford acknowledged such lawsuits can drag on for years. She said it was important to join the other provinces now to be “part of the discussion” around what kind of evidence would be used to move forward with the case.
“We believe it’s important for Alberta to begin this process now so that we’re able to file our statement of claim and work collectively and jointly with other provinces to set the litigation strategy,” she said.
Hagen said Alberta’s lawsuit action could create a “domino effect” of other provinces also going after big tobacco.
“At some point when this hits a critical mass or tipping point, the industry will probably come forward with some proposals which may or may not be acceptable to provinces.”
A spokesman for the country’s three leading tobacco companies or their lead lobby organization, the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, could not be reached for comment. However, the industry has called such lawsuits “cash grabs” and promised to vigorously defend itself.
It has also called provinces hypocritical for going after tobacco companies, when such governments profit from gambling and liquor sales. The industry has also noted such provinces receive massive tax revenues from tobacco — projected to be about $900 million this year in Alberta — and suggest those governments have essentially been acting as “partners” in the tobacco business.
Redford said the pending lawsuit is another step in the province’s tobacco-reduction strategy, which has previously included two tax increases, a provincewide ban on smoking in public places, and restrictions on how cigarettes can be displayed and marketed.
The government estimates 3,000 Albertans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.
A 1998 deal between the United States tobacco industry and 46 states, known as the Master Settlement Agreement, requires the industry to gradually pay back hundreds of billions of dollars in tobacco-related health-care costs, and also imposed new marketing restrictions.
Hagen said the costs of the deal have forced the companies to raise cigarette prices, which has helped to lower tobacco use.
By Keith Gerein

NY cigarette tax law stopped

UTICA, N.Y. – Judges in two separate federal courts in New York have issued rulings stopping the state from collecting taxes on cigarettes sold to non-Indians on sovereign tribal land.
Judge David Hurd, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction Oct. 14 in a case filed by the Oneida Indian Nation against Gov. David Paterson and other state officials, asking the court to declare illegal the state’s new laws to collect cigarette taxes from Indian businesses.
The ruling was issued a day before the judge’s temporary restraining order was scheduled to expire.
In his decision, Hurd agreed with the nation’s arguments in requesting injunction.
“The Oneida Nation has established irreparable harm will occur absent injunctive relief, there is
likelihood of success on the merits, and the balance of the equities tips in its favor and an injunction is in the public interest,” Hurd wrote.
Under the new law, which was to be implemented Sept. 1, cigarette wholesalers are required to pay for and affix a $4.35-a-package tax stamp on all cigarettes sold in the state. A tribe can opt in to a coupon system for benefits to buy cigarettes online for its members, or into a “prior approval” system to buy tax exempt cigarettes from wholesalers who are approved by the state to sell a certain limited amount of cigarettes to a particular tribe.
The efforts to capture state taxes from Indian cigarette sales were spurred by the states massive $9 billion-plus deficit.
Hurd denied the state’s request to consolidate the Oneida Nation’s lawsuit with lawsuits filed by the Seneca Nation and other Indian nations and move it to the Western District federal court.
He also ruled in favor of the Oneida’s request for mediation in the case, ordering the action to the Hon. Andrew T. Baxter, a U.S. magistrate judge, for mediation to conclude by Dec. 17, 2010.
“The Oneida Nation is pleased that the federal district court has halted an attempt by New York state to circumvent the nation’s sovereignty by imposing taxes upon suppliers of products to be sold on the Oneida reservation,” Oneida spokesman Mark Emery said. “Although we are pleased with the ruling, we remain convinced that these issues are best resolved through negotiation. For that reason, we are especially gratified that the federal court compelled the state to participate in good faith mediation, as we believe that parties who negotiate in good faith resolve these differences in a way that respects all interests involved.”
In his 25-page ruling, Hurd provided a number of devastating arguments against the state’s new cigarette tax law as applied to the Oneida and other Indian nations.
He agreed with Oneida that the law would impose irreparable harm by requiring the nation to pay a $4.35-a-package tax, which he deemed “unconstitutional,” because the tribe is “an untaxable entity.”
“These impingements upon the Oneida Nation’s tribal sovereignty, self-government, and constitutional rights, cannot be compensated for in money damages. Moreover, even if the impingements could be valued at some monetary amount, the plaintiff cannot bring an action against the state to recoup monetary damages it suffers. Thus, the harm from permitting the state to enforce its new tax law will be irreparable to the Oneida nation,” Hurd wrote.
He also agreed that the tax imposes more than “minimal burdens reasonably tailored to the collection of valid taxes from non-Indians” and, therefore, the nation is likely to be successful in a trial on the merits of its case.
Oneida would have to pay out around $3.5 million to maintain the inventory for its retail businesses, plus at least $208,000 a year in financing costs, Hurd noted.
“It cannot be said that $3.5 million or more imposes only a minimal burden upon the Oneida Nation,” Hurd wrote.
In addition, Hurd noted, New York tax law already has a provision that requires the user to remit the tax to the state within 24 hours of purchase.
“Thus, New York already has a valid law providing for payment of cigarette taxes by non-member on-reservation cigarette purchasers. Given that this law is already in effect and could be enforced by the state, the new law is unnecessary,” Hurd wrote.
By contrast, Judge William Arcara in the Western District Court denied the Seneca and Cayuga Nations’ request for a preliminary injunction against the state.
Arcara found that the nations’ tribal sovereignty “is not unconstitutionally burdened” by the state’s new cigarette tax laws, and that they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.
He did, however, grant a stay.
“The nations have expressed their intent to appeal the denial of their motion (for a preliminary injunction) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which they have the right to do.”
Arcara acknowledged that the tax law “will almost certainly have an adverse impact upon the nations’ existing tobacco economies.” If the appeals court rules that the tax burden on the nations is unconstitutional, “it may be too late to undo the harm suffered by the nations’ existing tobacco businesses in the interim. Accordingly, the threat of irreparable harm favors granting a stay pending appeal,” Arcara wrote.
Morgan Hook, Paterson’s spokesman, issued a statement applauding Arcara’s ruling.
“Judge Arcara’s well-reasoned ruling makes several matters of law absolutely clear, and all of them are in favor of the state’s position. We will seek to have any appeal process completed as expeditiously as possible. It is time for decades of court battles to come to an end. Due to Gov. Paterson’s leadership, New York is now closer than it has been in decades to reaching resolution on this long standing dispute.”
By Gale Courey Toensing

Mad Men as an Echo of Reality

‘Mad Men’
THESE days, BBDO has two client rosters. One is composed of the clients the agency actually handles, and the other lists the clients that the agency handles in the make-believe world of “Mad Men.”
Since “Mad Men” made its debut on the AMC cable channel in 2007, BBDO has been mentioned in many episodes. But during the most recent season, the fourth, which concluded on Oct. 17, BBDO figured in one of the most significant plot lines, when it picked up the Lucky Strike cigarette account in 1965 from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the fledgling agency run by the principal “Mad Men” characters.
“The unintended and unsponsored ‘product placement’ appears to have generated some increased awareness” for BBDO, Andrew Robertson, chief executive at BBDO Worldwide in New York, a division of the Omnicom Group, wrote in an e-mail.
“To date,” he joked, “this has not resulted in any incremental business.”
The real denizens of Madison Avenue in the 2000s have avidly followed their fictional counterparts on “Mad Men” in the 1960s since the series started. But the developments of the fourth season seem to have intensified that interest because the stories were perceived as true to life.
“Like all dramas, there’s a lot on ‘Mad Men’ that’s unrealistic,” said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO North America, “but there’s a lot they get right — sometimes, uncomfortably so.”
For instance, the loss of Lucky Strike threatened the solvency of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce because it had been, by far, the start-up agency’s largest client.
Watching that unfold “hit me right in the solar plexus,” said Carol Cone, a managing director at Edelman in New York, because it brought back memories of a week in 1995 when two large accounts both left an agency in Boston that she owned.
“Your confidence is decimated, and you wonder if you’re going to make it,” Ms. Cone said. “I certainly could commiserate.”
The idea, said Barbara Lippert, the advertising critic for the trade publication Adweek, that “everything could go up in smoke the next day still keeps agency people up at night.”
“Despite all the changes in advertising, despite all the technological advances, some things never change,” she added. “No matter how big you are, you’re still dependent on connections, office politics and the whims of the clients.”
Ms. Lippert also praised small touches that added to the veracity of “Mad Men” this season. One was the introduction of a character named Ted Chaough, a partner at an agency, Cutler Gleason & Chaough, that was a rival to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. She said that the unusual name — and its unusual pronunciation, like “Shaw” — evoked Jay Chiat (pronounced “Shy-ett”), whose agency, Chiat/Day, helped change advertising in the ’70s and ’80s.
And in an episode about the advocacy of Don Draper, the creative leader of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, that agencies stop handling cigarette accounts — after losing Lucky Strike, of course, not before — there was a reference to Emerson Foote, who in real life worked for tobacco clients but later became a director of the American Cancer Society.

“ ‘Mad Men’ brings back the sex appeal of the advertising industry,” said Al DiGuido, chief executive at Zeta Interactive, a digital agency that monitors discussions in online media like blogs, message boards and Twitter through mining technology it calls Zeta Buzz.
“The show has an incredibly strong and vocal group following it,” Mr. DiGuido said, “and they love to talk about it.”
In the last month, the overall volume of discussions about “Mad Men” rose to a level higher than at any time since it came on, he added, and the average daily volume exceeded that for shows with higher ratings, like “Glee,” “Jersey Shore” and “Modern Family.”
The percentage of discussions of “Mad Men” in social media that were positive also reached a high in the fourth season, Mr. DiGuido said, at 93 percent, compared with 92 percent in the 2009 season, 81 percent in 2008 and 78 percent in 2007.
The most common words among positive comments, he added, included “advertising” and variations like “ads”; “products”; “Cadillac,” perhaps referring to the 1962 Coupe de Ville driven by Don Draper; and “Dove,” one of six Unilever brands that sponsored “Mad Men” this season and were featured in commercials that echoed the look of the series.
On Twitter, there are multiple accounts for each major character on “Mad Men,” along with accounts for minor characters, deceased characters, spouses, children and even inanimate objects like the Xerox 914 copier, the vending machine and the Dictaphone in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office.

According to Networked Insights, a company that uses a technology it calls Social Sense to analyze social media, “Mad Men” finished first on a list of the “top 10 engaged TV shows” from Oct. 15 through Thursday, exceeding the rank of series like “30 Rock” and “House.”
Why did the writers of “Mad Men” decide to have Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lose the Lucky Strike account to BBDO? Characters talk about a decision to consolidate all the tobacco company’s business at BBDO, and in real-life 1965, Lucky Strike and its parent, American Tobacco, were on the BBDO client roster.
Other clients then included vintage “Mad Men” brands like Philco electronics, Rexall drugstores and Schaefer beer. Among the 1965 clients that remain on the BBDO roster in 2010 are Armstrong, Campbell Soup, General Electric and Hormel.
Hmmm. Perhaps the fifth season will feature a battle over the Spam account.

House ‘snapshot’ under influence of tobacco bloc

SYDNEY—Tobacco control advocate Mary Assunta needed only to sit through a congressional meeting in the Philippines to feel the forces at work against her cause in a country where over 17 million people or almost a third of the adult population smoke.
“I was quite surprised to see some of the congressmen present there and was particularly taken aback by some of the comments made,” said Assunta, a Malaysian national based in Australia, who in 2008 attended a technical committee meeting as an invited resource person at the House of Representatives.
She was hosted in Manila by a nongovernment organization that was supporting a House bill requiring cigarette packs to show graphic health warnings, mainly photos of human organs gnawed by nicotine-induced cancer and other diseases.
“The question (during the meeting) was how addictive cigarettes are. And there was this man, for example, who had a medical background and he was challenging the addictive nature of anything. His point was that anything taken in excess is bad. He drew some really awkward analogies: eating too much rice or drinking too much water can be bad. It was quite strange to hear something like that from someone who would know the hazards of smoking,” Assunta said.
For a mere technical committee meeting, the discussions drew quite a big attendance, grew “quite intense” and were even marked by “table-thumping,” she said.
Philippine situation
At the Apact conference, the peculiarities of the Philippine situation earned special mention in the presentation made by Dr. Ian Olver, the CEO of Cancer Council Australia, who said:
“Philip Morris Philippines sells packs with text-only warnings to Filipinos, but exports packs with graphic warnings to Thailand. However, when the Philippine government tried to introduce graphic warnings to Filipinos, (the company) is suing the government.”
“That’s the sort of anomaly there,” Olver later told the Inquirer. “That’s how hard the tobacco industry will fight.”
“If the law allows them to win, then perhaps the Philippines has to look at its own law,” he said.
Industry’s influence
“I thought it was a (forum) for exploring all avenues, but the issues that were raised were not even technical and they were attacking the bill. There was even a suggestion to drop the phrase ‘graphic warnings’ from the title of the bill and have it replaced by something more generic—and we all know that won’t work.”
“This may not be an accurate assessment of the situation because it was a snapshot in a long process and I only attended one meeting,” Assunta said. “(But) it was quite clear that the tobacco industry had great influence on some of the members of that technical committee and that it was reflected in the way the congressmen behaved.”
Not surprisingly, Assunta, a senior policy adviser of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), was never asked for her views during the meeting. And all that huffing and puffing eventually choked the graphic warning bill.
Two years later, at an international summit that gathered some 700 delegates from 41 countries, the Philippine record in curbing smoking provided a stark example of what advocates like Assunta call “tobacco industry interference” in the government’s duty to safeguard people’s health.
Held in Sydney from Oct. 6 to 9, the 9th Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health (Apact 2010) served as an occasion to assess how the 171 signatory nations, including the Philippines, had complied with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first international treaty initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2005, the treaty essentially maintains that tobacco—said to be the cause of one death every six seconds around the world—should not be advertised, subsidized, and glamorized.
At the four-day conference, attention was inevitably drawn to the lone superpower of the Philippine tobacco industry—the company that resulted from the merger early this year of the global titan Philip Morris and the Lucio Tan-owned Fortune Tobacco, makers of the local brands Hope and Fortune.
With that union, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco (PMFTC) was seen cornering up to 90 percent of the domestic market.
Cheapest in the region
Advocates attribute to strong tobacco industry lobbying the fact that Philippine taxes on cigarettes remain pegged at only 30 percent of the retail price, making the product one of the cheapest in the Asia-Pacific region. They compare this to 70 percent in Thailand, 67 percent in Bangladesh, 77 percent in Sri Lanka, 60 percent in India, 54 percent in Malaysia, and 45 percent in Vietnam.
Even Indonesia, which is one of the only two countries that have yet to ratify the FCTC (the other being the United States), imposes a tax rate higher than that in the Philippines at 37 percent. China, the single biggest cigarette market in the world, taxes cigarettes at 39 percent, again higher than on those sold to Filipinos.
The FCTC itself doesn’t prescribe a minimum tax rate but is mainly wary of making cigarettes “affordable to young people,” Assunta explained in an interview with the Inquirer.
Australia taxes cigarettes at 68 percent—and has also become a cause for celebration among anti-tobacco campaigners for setting legal precedents for other governments.
Canberra announced in April that it will put cigarettes in plain packaging—devoid of all seductive colors, logos or other “cool,” youthful imagery—starting in 2012.
Plain packaging
Australia banned all forms of cigarette ads in the 1970s, and the introduction of plain packaging is considered the next step in eliminating one of the last remaining mediums used by cigarette makers to promote their product.
According to SEATCA, the Philippines has only been “partially” compliant of FCTC guidelines on cigarette advertising and packaging, particularly on the use of graphic picture warnings whose supposed shock value is considered an added deterrent to smoking.
The Philippines banned cigarette advertising on TV, radio and print media in June 2008, but tobacco fighters remained unsatisfied since ads were still allowed at the point of sale (actual stores), from sari-sari retail outlets to the duty free shop at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Tobacco companies also continue to benefit from indirect forms of advertising when they sponsor concerts, parties and sporting events, they said.
As to graphic health warnings, advocates continue to fight for every inch, literally. The FCTC maintains that such disturbing photos should be visible on a space covering at least 50 percent of the cigarette pack.
Picture warnings
Yet packaging in the Philippines conveys only written warnings, and the text occupies a mere 30 percent of the front side of the pack. In contrast, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have put both written and picture warnings on the front and back, while Vietnam requires written warnings on both sides of the pack.
In May this year, citing the Consumer Act and FCTC, then Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral issued an administrative order for cigarettes sold in the Philippines to finally contain picture warnings.
What followed was a legal skirmish that had a whiff of irony.
PMFTC and other players—La Suerte, Mighty Corp., and Japan Tobacco Inc. (Phils)—asked five local courts to block Cabral’s move. According to one of their arguments, the country’s Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (passed two years before the Philippines ratified the FCTC) only called for written warnings, hence the Department of Health would bypass Congress if it requires graphic warnings as well.
Of the five courts, two—one in Marikina City and another in Bulacan province—have issued preliminary injunctions stopping the health department order, the group HealthJustice reported to delegates in Sydney.
A court in Parañaque City declared the order null and void, while a Pasig City court has yet to rule on the matter. Big Tobacco has so far only lost in Tanauan City, Batangas province, where a court had dismissed the petition against the health department order.
Delaying tactics
Apact 2010 president Dr. Harley Stanton, an Australian scientist who spent four years in Manila working for the WHO’s tobacco control initiatives in the region, called the tobacco industry’s legal maneuver “a tragic intrusion into a very important imperative in public health.’’
“It is part of the delaying tactics. But I believe (having graphic warnings) is no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” said Stanton, who was based in Manila from 1999 to 2003.
“For the Philippines, why not make it sooner rather than later?” said Stanton, who to this day continues to praise the “Yosi Kadiri” mascot campaign launched by then Health Secretary Juan Flavier.
He said graphic warnings won’t cost the government and are actually cheap for the tobacco companies to do. “So I find it so blatantly hollow that the tobacco industry will take what they know are legal measures—they got all the money for lawyers and public relations experts—to stall the progress on this issue.”
Stanton also obliged when asked to weigh the prospect of the anti-tobacco drive in the Philippines now that it has a leader who smokes and apparently has no plans of quitting.
Beyond addiction
“I can’t influence (President Benigno Aquino III) but I would encourage people to look beyond the immediate addiction which he has to tobacco and (work for) a future country where tobacco would have much less of a role in society,” Stanton said.
“Sometimes people who are addicted know the real power (of their addiction) and they don’t always oppose the best in terms of legislation. Sometimes they can be supportive because they know the power,” he said.
But Stanton ultimately expressed high hopes for the country’s most popular smoker, the President: “He will quit, but the question is when will he quit. Will he quit before it kills him or continue on as a smoker and have the damage from there?”
A 2008 study placed the number of smokers in the Philippines at 17.3 million, representing 28.3 percent of the adult population.
According to HealthJustice, some 90,000 Filipinos die of tobacco-related diseases each year and annual health costs and productivity losses linked to smoking in the Philippines range between $2 million and $6 million.