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The Union staff and partners took part in the fourth National Conference on Tobacco or Health (NCTOH) in Mumbai, India, in February.

The NCTOH is held annually in India and focuses on strengthening the implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) MPOWER policies and the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP).

Dr Rana J Singh, The Union’s Tobacco Control Lead in India, chaired the Scientific Committee of this year’s conference. Dr Singh said: "It was an honour to chair the Scientific Committee. A large number of high quality scientific papers were presented during three days and I hope that those who attended the conference learned a lot and are equipped with the tobacco control tools to help end tobacco use in India."

Dr Gan Quan, the Director of The Union’s Tobacco Control Department, participated in the Tobacco-Free Generation panel session and chaired two sessions on promoting tobacco control research in India and combatting tobacco industry interference.

The Union also organised a plenary session entitled 10 Years of NTCP, a workshop to strengthen monitoring, evaluation and research, and a symposium on tobacco industry interference and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3.

The Union staff and partners presented more than 10 abstracts at the conference, supported the State Tobacco Control Cell of Maharashtra in their NTCP training, and distributed hundreds of technical resource materials.

 

The Union is concerned with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision this week to authorise Philip Morris International’s (PMI) IQOS – which heat rather than burn tobacco using a battery-powered system – for sale in the United States.

The FDA decision comes despite growing concerns from public health organisations about the health impacts of heated tobacco products (HTPs). The potential benefits and risks from HTPs to the public health remain undetermined but early independent research indicates that tobacco companies are understating the risks.

The Union is concerned that decisions like the FDA’s authorization of the sale of IQOS should not be made until more independent evidence on the health impact is available.

One of the biggest risks of allowing IQOS to be sold is the uptake of use among non-smokers and young people. We need much more evidence in this area before products should be allowed to be marketed in order to protect non-smokers and young people from the scourge of tobacco.

Furthermore, this decision sets a dangerous precedent to governments around the world who are similarly under pressure to allow IQOS to market. This is of particular concern in low- and middle-income countries where the tobacco industry is already aggressively targeting consumers and the tobacco control policies are not yet strong enough or well implemented to protect non-smokers and young people.

It is a small consolation that a decision on the separate modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) application that PMI also submitted for these products to market them with claims of reduced exposure or reduced risk has not yet been made. This means that PMI cannot make any explicit or implicit claim that IQOS are less harmful than cigarettes.

The FDA decision comes with marketing restrictions on the products in an effort to prevent youth access and exposure. This means that the products have been banned from advertising on TV and radio, and online marketing. The Union is concerned that the enforcement of IQOS marketing restrictions will be difficult, especially on social media, where children and young people are particularly vulnerable.

The Union urges the FDA to carefully monitor and analyse the marketing and sale of this product to protect children and young people. To assess the impact of the FDA’s decision, it will be crucial to establish post-market assessment of the uptake of IQOS among non-smokers and youth.

 

The Union welcomes new analysis published by the Tax Justice Network highlighting how British American Tobacco (BAT) is taking advantage of accounting loopholes to systematically shift profits out of low- and middle-income countries to avoid paying the full corporate income tax in the countries that most need these revenues.

According to the report, for every dollar British American Tobacco (BAT) paid in tax in the developing countries it operates in, it shifted more than half a dollar that would have been taxed locally to a subsidiary located in the UK where BAT paid almost no tax.

Tax Justice Network estimates Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Guyana, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago together stand to lose a total of nearly $700 million in tax revenue by 2030 from the financial manoeuvring of just one tobacco company if business continues as usual.

Tobacco use imposes massive social and economic costs, especially in low- and middle- income countries where 80 percent of the world’s smokers live, yet British American Tobacco is exploiting the rules to pay far less than countries’ tax codes call for.

Ashes to Ashes: How British American Tobacco avoids taxes in low and middle income countries was published on the heels of BAT’s annual shareholder meeting in London. It reveals a range of mechanisms used by the tobacco company in 2016 to shift income equivalent to over 12 per cent ($941 million) of its pre-tax profits to BAT Holdings Ltd, a UK-based subsidiary where BAT paid almost no corporate income tax.

Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control, says: “The Union welcomes this evidence reinforcing that BAT cannot be trusted, particularly by low- and middle-income countries and investigations should be launched immediately in these countries into the company’s corporate tax payments. These countries are being left with a huge burden of death and disease caused by tobacco products.”

Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control, says: “The Union welcomes this evidence reinforcing that BAT cannot be trusted, particularly by low- and middle-income countries and investigations should be launched immediately in these countries into the company’s corporate tax payments. These countries are being left with a huge burden of death and disease caused by tobacco products.”

 

Deal puts youth at risk and undermines Disney’s commitment to reducing youth tobacco use and exposure to smoking imagery

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 25, 2019) – A coalition of eight national and international health organisations today urged The Walt Disney Company (Disney) to require its partner network, Vice, to terminate its relationship with Philip Morris International, the world’s largest manufacturer and seller of cigarettes.

Disney, a prominent stakeholder, has invested more than $400 million in Vice and reportedly owns more than 10% of the company. The health organisations are asking Disney to require that Vice adopt a strict policy prohibiting the company and its subsidiaries from working with tobacco companies. Second, the groups want Disney to require Vice to make all tobacco-related business relationships public, including a detailed description of all tobacco-related marketing activities.

Vice’s existing partnership with Philip Morris International undermines the strong anti-tobacco stance taken by Disney and its commitment to protecting youth from tobacco and smoke exposure, according to the health organisations.

“We are confident that Disney, which has been a leader in reducing youth exposure to tobacco use in entertainment, would not want to be associated with a company actively supporting the tobacco industry,” the letter from the health organisations states. “We hope you will use your influence as a shareholder and as a respected public company to encourage Vice to cease working for an industry whose major product is projected to kill a billion people worldwide this century.”

The groups that have signed on to the appeal include: Truth Initiative®, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, The Union (International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease), the American Academy of Pediatrics and Vital Strategies.

The Financial Times recently reported on a $6.5 million deal between Vice and Phillip Morris International to produce sponsored content endorsing e-cigarettes. Vice and Phillip Morris International have disputed the details of the arrangement and claim it will not promote vaping, but they have acknowledged that Vice is accepting funding from Phillip Morris International to create a media platform.

The prospect of a media platform with the presumed intent to promote e-cigarettes and smoking products is deeply troubling to national health organisations. In 2018, the U.S. surgeon general declared e-cigarette use among youth a public health epidemic. Recent data show that in 2018, 20.8% of U.S. high school students used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. Further, young people who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to progress to cigarette smoking compared to their peers who do not use e-cigarettes.

Largely considered a leader in reducing youth exposure to tobacco, Disney has long been committed to addressing tobacco in its youth-rated (i.e., G/PG/PG-13) movies. In 2016, Disney was the only company of the six major movie companies who belong to the Motion Picture Association of America who had zero tobacco incidents per movie. Further, Disney recently banned smoking at its Florida and California theme parks.

“The game plan seems clear: continue the pipeline of nicotine addiction to preserve profits and markets even if the new users are kids,” the organisations write in their letter. “Vice appears to be committed to continuing to be an industry shill.”

 

The Union has joined forces with organisations from across the globe to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with tobacco control, as part of STOP.

STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) is a new global tobacco industry watchdog group funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and collectively directed by The University of Bath, The Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union, and Vital Strategies.

Launched in December 2018, STOP is working to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to hook a new generation of smokers, attempts to undermine tobacco control, work to derail policy and unethical business practices.

The Union is supporting the broad strategy of the project by creating in-country connections and synergizing with those already doing industry interference work on the ground.

The Union’s role in the project is also to facilitate linking to and coordinating with the wider Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use network.

Overall, STOP aims to expose tobacco industry tactics in all forms and arm stakeholders with evidence and tools to effectively counter the industry and advance policy.

 

In June 2018, The Union launched a new Global Enforcement Programme funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. This is a pilot programme running for three years in two cities in each of the following countries: China, Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

The focus is on sub-national support, working with city governments to increase compliance with laws on smoke-free and tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) ban at points of sale.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health is supporting the programme by conducting pre- and post-compliance surveys in each city. The baseline surveys have already taken place in China and Indonesia; India and Pakistan surveys will be completed this year. In addition to the program activity in each city, a global resource hub is being developed to share learning, tools, resources and case studies with other cities and countries across the globe.

 

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