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July 12, 2017

Tobacco Companies Are Threatening Governments in at Least Eight African Countries, For Using Proven Policies To Protect The Health of Their Citizens

(New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today commended The Guardian newspaper for exposing the tobacco industry’s insidious practices across a number of countries in Africa. The continent is seen as a major prize for the industry; without strong tobacco control policies, the number of smokers in Africa is expected to soar from 77 million to 105 million within 12 years. With intimidating legal threats against governments, the alleged use of bribes and financial connections to politicians, and untruthful and alarmist warnings about economic losses, tobacco companies are revealed to be using every tool at their disposal to try to stop the implementation and enforcement of proven, life-saving and cost-effective tobacco control policies that are promoted and endorsed by World Health Organization and others.

Online, the Guardian’s reporters also point out that tobacco industry executives (some of whom earn multi-million dollar salaries) and non-executives at British American Tobacco (BAT) benefit from the use of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), even while tobacco-related illness costs the NHS up to $6.5bn (£5bn) a year. That figure roughly corresponds to BAT’s annual profits (£4.6bn). In contrast, many impoverished smokers aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry across Africa and Asia do not have access to universal health care when they become sick as a result of their tobacco use. The very policies that could have encouraged them not to start smoking or encouraged them to quit are the target of the tobacco industry’s determined opposition.

José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies commented: “The danger of tobacco is not an old story; it is the present. The industry is using every tool at its disposal to hook new smokers, especially kids, in Africa and other parts of the world.

“There is a huge gap between what the industry says in public and what the industry actually does. While tobacco companies use every possible opportunity to try to claim to be responsible actors, this report confirms what we have long known: the industry cares only for profit. It does not respect governments, nor the rights of governments to protect the health of their citizens, if that interferes with tobacco sales. It claims that it is being deprived of the right to conduct business by unfair policies that threaten economic calamity, even as its revenues and profits continue to increase – funding multi-billion dollar merger deals – and tobacco use places severe health and economic burdens on many countries. And while the industry claims to be focused on reduced harm products, it’s focusing its actual efforts on the products that deliver those revenues and profits – cigarettes.

“It’s time this sham was called out in every country and in every public forum. When the tobacco industry gets near government, it poisons efforts to protect health. Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control must be honored; tobacco companies do not deserve a place at the policy table. And we must do more to counter the tobacco industry’s use of legal threats. The vast majority of legal actions brought by tobacco companies end in failure, because the cases are entirely spurious and governments have a right to protect health. We were glad to see Australian courts brand Philip Morris’ attempt to stop plain packaging as an “abuse of rights.” Governments can stand up to the industry and win; science and international law is on their side. We hope the courts in Kenya, Uganda, and other countries agree. The lives of millions of people depend upon it.”

Note: Vital Strategies supports The Guardian’s reporting on the tobacco industry, but does not have any input into editorial content or decisions, which are entirely independent and conducted under the newspaper’s published editorial guidelines.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

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