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Published On: Thu, May 29th, 2014

Anti-tobacco lobbyists and culture of misinformation

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Anti-tobaccoBy Isa Korede

The idea of a multiple approach to tobacco control was birthed through several ‘academic advances’. In 1993, a decision was made by Ruth Roemer and Allyn Taylor to apply to tobacco control Taylor’s idea that the World Health Organisation (WHO) should utilise its constitutional authority to develop international conventions to advance global health’. After several negotiations most of which were initially resisted, on February 27, 2005, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was birthed and soon after gained world-wide acceptance.

Similar to other UN advocacies, most of the advocacy for the adoption of the treaties of the FCTC is largely driven by local and multi-national NGOs who are heavily funded by foreign partners to ensure local adoption by governments all over the world.Tobacco control advocacy is a heavily funded activity hence an extremely attractive venture for many anti- tobacco lobbyists. Whilst majority of the stakeholders involved in tobacco control policies agree that industry regulation is extremely important, the successes recorded in the tobacco control debate over the past decade is often at variance. In some instance, studies have shown that tobacco consumption especially in the western world has decreased and focus has now shifted to the developing world, in other studies, it has been found that smuggling in tobacco has negated the effects of tobacco control policies. Even more frightening is the fact that tobacco smuggling is controlled by those who perpetuate the acts of terror.

Whilst the whole world waits eagerly for solutions to the perceived issue of tobacco scourge, anti-tobacco lobbyists adopt the strategies of smear campaigns, believing that the uglier the industry looks the more difficult it is for them to operate. The concept of effective policy control, however, belies this strategy. Has it has been proven without a shadow of a doubt that industries like the tobacco and alcohol are part of the solution and not outside of it. The tactics of the anti-tobacco lobbyists, however, also belies the intent and motives and expected outcomes from their campaigns. The aggression with which they push for a cause seems totally unconnected to the need for reduction of consumer intake of tobacco. The tactics and lack of depth of their various and seemingly spurious media allegations underscores the amount of funding which is often at their beck and call.

One of the main funders of the anti-tobacco lobbyists, Bloomberg, lists as amongst the recipients of the donations received organisations like Environmental Rights Action ‘ERA’. It was stated that they received a total of $657,960 between the period of September 2007 to November 2009, this funding was meant for ‘a consolidated campaign for passage of FCTC implementation bill’. This amount translates to over a whooping N100 million (one hundred million Naira).

The amount of money which has been passed into the hands of the lobbying groups is enormous, one, however, wonders where the consumer is in the middle of all these and how judiciously and ethically such funds have been utilised. It is obvious that the overriding focus of the lobbying groups is the tobacco industry and one tactic that they have sought to deploy is something they call de-normalisation. De-normalisation is apparently used to categorise all well intended activities coming from the tobacco industry as bad. While such tactics may seem good enough for some, one begs to ask the question for whose benefit is this for? The lobbyists who seem to be getting more funding or the consumer who languishes away in the heat of their tobacco smoke desperately waiting for some protracted consumer education that will help empower them for better choices, or the provision of another alternative like a coke zero is to the beverage drinker (We should also have a tobacco zero which will give the consumer more pleasure and no harm) or the smuggler who eagerly waits in the shadow for the triumphant moment that big tobacco will make room for it; or public health?.

In a funny twist of events, another entrant came into the scene a couple of years ago, an American ‘franchise’ anti-tobacco lobbying organisation called CTFK – Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, who appears more aggressive and also more social media savvy. CTFK has introduced other streams of advocacy into the campaign – tagging along with this organisation are youths and popular actors who they use to pass on their message and champion their cause. CTFK states that ‘The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been designated as one of five partner organizations to coordinate activities under this initiative, working with governments and non-governmental organizations to implement effective measures to reduce tobacco use!’

As part of this initiative, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids provides legal, media, and research support to governments and non-governmental organizations around the world to assist in promoting, adopting and implementing tobacco control policies.’

The organisation in a style that is typical of anti-tobacco lobbyists has also launched series of attacks against the industry. Whilst the tobacco company, BAT, has through the media on a number of occasions stated its support for regulation, balanced regulation they call it, CTFK continues to allege that the company and industry wants to ‘stop or significantly weaken legislation’.

Although this ‘hate mongering’ is just picking up momentum in Nigeria, the unethical tactics deployed by CTFK and its cronies has been going on abroad for several years.

The question now is how much of the information both scientific and moral that CTFK and its anti- tobacco cronies regularly spew out can be trusted? The issue of regulation and the right form of tobacco in Nigeria cannot be understated. The focus is, and should never be, the tobacco industry. If this is the case then public health proponents stand the risk of not being able to identify the solution to the problem when it arrives. With so much funding availed for the sole purpose of mudslinging and truth twisting one is obligated to ask what the real aim of this campaign is. Attacking interest free loans and other similar initiatives is a tactic that puts the integrity of such organisations to question.

The loss of focus puts the entire smoking population in grave danger, and this can be seen in an overriding push back to the new e-cigarettes that is said to be less harmful. One would have assumed that for such campaigns which seek to protect human health, the immediate reaction will be to put resources and efforts into testing the science of e-cigarettes, with the aim of finding harm free options for the consumer.

It is, therefore, pertinent that media sensationalism should stop the use of twisted tactics, falsehood and a deliberate attempt to subvert the appropriate process of legislation through spurious allegations. There must be genuine intent to bring in and establish the right kind of legislation and this should be done in the right way. Policy that is unfavourably skewed towards one side of the divide has never worked. It is also important that all the stakeholders, most importantly the tobacco industry should sit down at the table and fashion out what is best for Nigeria, not what has been handed down by others outside of this community. We must sift what has been successful from that which has not been successful. We must understand our terrain and what comes with it i.e. the porous borders, the number of terror organisations who are capable of taking over the industry and the vulnerability of the youths where no ID system works plus the lack or otherwise of enforcement capabilities on ground and determine what form of legislation is appropriate and what part a compliant industry will play within it.

We must also demand that these anti-tobacco lobbying groups desist from their unethical ways and play by the integrity that is expected of such types of organisation. The word out there is that the intensity of their campaigns is largely driven by motives outside of what it is intended for. Their strategies tell all.

Isa Korede is on linkedIn

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