Published On: Mon, Oct 21st, 2019

The many antics of big tobacco industries

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By Olu’Seun Esan

It’s no longer a hidden fact that Tobacco is the only industry that produces things that fetch them huge profits and at the same time damage the health and ultimately kill their consumers; simply put ‘Tobacco companies kill their best customers’. For an example, Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. These cigarette ingredients include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT. It is important to add that Nicotine is highly addictive. DDT as another of the composition is ‘Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane’, it is a colourless, tasteless, and almost odourless crystalline chemical compound, originally developed as an insecticide, and ultimately becoming infamous for its environmental impacts. These are some of the compounds that are being inhaled by smokers and unfortunately, inadvertently by people in the neighbourhood of smokers and passers-by who inhale tobacco smoke exhaled by smokers or released by the burning sticks. For this reason the MPOWER, a policy package for tobacco control ratified by the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have the first three components as Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies, Protect people from tobacco smoke and Offer help to quit tobacco use. This underscore the dangers imminent in tobacco smoke and tobacco use in General.
Another product, Shisha, which is unfortunately the recent trending addiction in vogue among the elitist urban population in Nigeria is neither harmless for consumption nor for public health. Tobacco is tobacco, no matter what. Shisha is often soaked in molasses or honey and mixed with fruit, but it still contains cancer-causing chemicals and nicotine. Findings revealed that Composition of tobacco smoke in shisha is variable and not well standardized. It is evident that smoke emerge from water pipe contain numerous toxicants known to cause cancer. Level of carbon monoxide, ‘carboxyhemoglobbin’ were higher among shisha smokers than cigarette smokers or non-smokers. Also, analysis of mainstream aerosol found that shisha smoke contains significant amount of nicotine, tar and heavy metals. In a standard heavy protocol of 100 puff of 3 seconds, 2:25 mg of nicotine and 242 mg of nicotine free dry particulate were obtained. Along these, high level of arsenic, chromium and lead were found in shisha smoke. Hookah, shisha, narghile, goza, and hubble-bubble, to name a few are inventions of the tobacco industries to further advance their trade; for more variant of their products, for more customers and more sale. Some countries in Africa has placed outright ban on shisha and it is very commendable.
The Tobacco industries have consistently used colour branding to stimulate the interest of consumers. The use of colour yellow, red and gold colours by some brand of tobacco products are strategic; such that mere seeing an item branded with that particular shades of colours without even inscribing the name, people can easily decipher which brand of tobacco/cigarette is associated with that item. A recent research in Nigeria by the Nigeria Tobacco Control Research Group identified branded kiosk as a deliberate marketing strategy by Tobacco companies to target youths who are known to be attracted to bright colours. It was concluded that colour has a strong influence on the way objects are recognized and identified. The colour yellow adopted by a popular tobacco company is known to promote anxiety and attract impulsiveness in buyers. For example several researchers has established that, silver and gold colours can be used to convey status and prestige, particularly for “premium” brands according to Richard Pollay. Other researchers maintained that Red packages and logos can convey excitement, strength, wealth, and power, while pastel colours are associated with freshness, innocence, and relaxation and are more common among brands that appeal to females. Clearly, the visual design of cigarette packaging conveys brand identity and information about the product to consumers and has a way of appealing to the unsuspecting public. Research has documented that visual design of products has influence on consumers’ perceptions and consumption behaviours; colour is particularly influential.
Tobacco companies were among the earliest companies to identify and implement effective, integrated marketing strategies; cigarettes and other tobacco products have long been among the most heavily marketed consumer products in the United States; and it follows similar trend everywhere in the world. The Tobacco industries over the years deployed subtle ways crafting of information. A central feature of this strategy has been to use misleading brand descriptors. Words such as “light” and “mild” were ostensibly used in the past to denote flavour and taste, but “light” and “mild” brands were promoted in advertisements as “less harmful”. Another example is “slims” descriptors on packs promote beliefs about smoking and weight control—an important factor in smoking behaviour among young women. It is subtly associated with increased brand appeal and reinforcing beliefs that smoking is associated with thinness. Since the ban on advertisement on mass media the Tobacco industries chose to lead anti-tobacco messages, thus keeping tobacco and its product consistently being discussed in public space. Such industry-sponsored programs that purport to decrease smoking among teens may be ineffective in doing so and may, in fact, enhance the tarnished image of the tobacco industries. Most times, Big Tobacco’s media campaign, actually glamorize a smoker’s lifestyle by making tobacco use appear “adult.” Some studies suggest these ads effectively encourage teens to smoke
The Tobacco Industries also devised ways of making big promises to tobacco farmers, providing incentives and encouragements. The big tobacco is also known to target the soft, weak and vulnerable spots. The usually target and deploy massively to capture developing nations, youths and children; a claim they usually vehemently deny, but it is obvious with concrete evidence out there for all to see. Commendably, the Nigerian senate recently moved a motion urging the Federal Government ban sale of cigarette within 100m perimeter of school, this is coming at the heels of a research that established that tobacco products are conspicuously displayed beside cookies and candies in stores and kiosks close to schools where children are exposed without restraint; the inquisitive nature of children will simply take it on from there.
Most empowerment programmes, corporate social responsibility initiatives of the tobacco industries are nothing but subtle antics of the big tobacco to regain what they lost to efforts of tobacco control advocates and government legislations. Evidence also abounds the world over of scandals of Tobacco industries influencing key Government officials, subverting legislations and even sometimes deploying huge resources to installing loyal men into key offices. Evidence indicates that BAT Group money has been used to: Corrupt national parliaments of countries, get information on – and make changes to – tobacco control legislation, get market information and intelligence to undermine competitors.
Another scheme they usually deploy is using celebrities and artiste to subtly promote smoking and tobacco use in movies and musical video and even using lyrics that ostensibly depict smoking while other barefacedly refer to smoking, weed and tobacco use. Candidly when 13-year olds see their cherished celebrity lighting up on screen, millions spent on antismoking messages go up in smoke. Use of flavoured product and the continuous release of newer brand are other strategies used to advance their business. The onus lies on government at all levels to continually up their game and proactively work to curb these antics and put in place measures that will keep the ‘Big Tobacco’ in continuous check; without doubt our public health and the future of the younger generation will be better for it.

Olu’Seun Esan writes from the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance.

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