US Ban on Smoking Undermined by Tobacco Industry

Grow Food, not Tobacco. Credit: PAHO

On May 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health institutions celebrated “World No Tobacco Day” (WNTD). This year’s theme was: “We need food, not tobacco”. WNTD was created by WHO Member States in 1987 to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2023 – The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings.

But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Currently, they “spread a lot of misleading information that promotes, especially among young people, the use of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products”, he said, on the eve of World No Tobacco Day May 31.

According to PAHO, while the percentage of the population using tobacco in the Americas declined from 28% to 16.3% between 2000 and 2020, novel products and misleading information from the tobacco industry, especially targeting young people, threaten to undo those gains.

“Although eight countries in the region have banned the marketing of e-cigarettes and four of heated tobacco products, we are concerned that 14 countries have not yet taken any regulatory action in this regard,” he pointed out.

According to the latest statistics from PAHO, tobacco-use kills one million people per year in the Americas, one every 34 seconds.

In addition, 15% of cardiovascular disease deaths, 24% deaths from cancer and 45% of deaths from chronic respiratory diseases are attributable to tobacco use. In the region, 11% of young people use tobacco.

E-cigarettes are the most common form of electronic nicotine delivery. Their emissions contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users and those exposed to them.

To address the growing health threat posed by these products, the PAHO Director has called on countries to implement policies to prevent their use, especially among young people, as they can become the gateway to regular tobacco consumption.

Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, told IPS about 40 countries in the world have banned e-cigarettes while 70 countries which allow them have instituted restrictions on sales. For example, 36 countries regulate the amount (concentration/volume) of nicotine in e-liquids.

She said New Zealand, the Philippines and England, where e-cigarettes are sold more as recreational products, are facing a big problem with teenage vapers.

The Australian government has just announced a slew of strong measures to strictly regulate e-cigarettes after misinformation on the health effects of vaping helped hook children and young people.

E-cigarettes are meant to be sold by prescription only in Australia, said Assunta.

Yolonda Richardson, Executive Vice President of the Washington-based, Global Programs of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said this World No Tobacco Day, the WHO is calling for action against the tobacco industry’s human and environmental toll.

“Harming human and environmental health is pivotal to the business model of multinational tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco. Millions of people die every year due to Big Tobacco’s profit-over-people model”.

She said low- and middle-income countries increasingly feel this burden, with 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths from diseases such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease projected to be in such countries by 2030. And the tobacco industry traps farmers with unsustainable crops and appropriates arable land to grow tobacco used for deadly products.

On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joins the WHO in calling on governments to stand up to the tobacco industry’s exploitative practices and the devastating impacts of its deadly products.

One in 10 adult deaths around the globe are due to tobacco use. By holding the industry accountable and through the implementation of proven tobacco control measures, we have the power to protect future generations from tobacco-related death and disease, she noted.

“It is critical that governments act with urgency to address tobacco’s burden by passing the proven tobacco control interventions contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Richardson.

Without urgent action, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century, lock tobacco farmers into a lifetime of poverty, and cause continued harm to the environment, she declared.

The United Nations which banned smoking in its 38-storyed Secretariat building in New York, back in 2016, says smoking is one of the biggest public health threats in the world today, killing millions of people from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases.

All delegates, staffers and visitors to UN Headquarters are reminded of the strict no smoking policy mandated by the General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/63/8 and stipulated in ST/SGB/2003/9. 

A designated exterior smoking area is available in the South Garden and signs showing the shortest route from the Secretariat lobby and the General Assembly and Conference Building main areas have been posted. 

Since the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, says PAHO, the region has made great strides in tobacco prevention and control. Currently, 96% of the population in 35 countries in the region is protected by at least one of the six recommended tobacco control measures.

In 2020, South America became the first 100% smoke-free sub-region – where there is a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, and on public transport.

Mexico also adopted the 100% smoke-free environment policy by the end of 2021 and banned all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. As a result, 63% of the population of the Americas – or more than 600 million people – are now protected from exposure to tobacco smoke.

In addition, in 2022, Paraguay ratified the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which will boost regional efforts in this area.

“These achievements allow us to be confident that the region of the Americas will reach the target of a 30% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use in those over 15 years of age by 2025, established in the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases,” Dr. Barbosa said.

But to expedite progress, the PAHO Director considered it “urgent to accelerate efforts to implement key measures that have fallen behind, including tax increases, a total ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco-products, and the adoption of mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest.”

World No Tobacco Day – May 31, 2023
WHO urges governments to stop subsidizing life-threatening tobacco crops
Tobacco Control – PAHO
Tobacco: E-cigarettes
WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Report on Tobacco Control in the Region of the Americas 2022 (In Spanish)

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Hopes for Renewal Dashed in Turkey

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, Jun 1 2023 – Turkey’s election hasn’t produced the change many thought was on the cards. Now women’s groups, LGBTQI+ people and independent journalists are among those fearing the worse.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country for two decades, first as prime minister and then as president, prevailed in the 28 May runoff poll, taking around 52.2 per cent of the vote, with his opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on 47.8 per cent.

The election represented Erdoğan’s biggest-ever electoral test. The run-up was dominated by a cost-of-living crisis. Many pointed the finger at highly unorthodox economic policies insisted on by Erdoğan – of lowering rather than raising interest rates in response to inflation – for making them worse off.

Anger was also sparked by devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in February, leaving over 50,000 people dead and an estimated 1.5 million people homeless in Turkey. The government was accused of being slow to respond and of overlooking building regulations.

Erdoğan has overcome these hurdles, albeit with a narrow victory. The close vote shows that many Turks wanted change. But after a deeply polarised election, there’s no hint Erdoğan plans to moderate the way he governs.

Media dominance tells

Erdoğan prevailed despite facing a united opposition in which six parties put aside their differences. Their aim was to bring to an end Erdoğan’s hyper-presidential form of government and turn Turkey back into a pluralist democracy where parliament can act as a check on excessive presidential power.

A similar approach was tried in Hungary last year, when parties came together to try to oust authoritarian hardman Viktor Orbán, and also failed. Some of their challenges were similar. Both were forced to work in a severely unequal media landscape where media – state media and private media owned by business leaders closely connected to the government – focused almost entirely on the incumbent and starved the challenger of airtime. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers concluded that while the election was competitive, the playing field wasn’t level, with freedom of expression restrictions and media bias giving Erdoğan ‘an unjustified advantage’.

Over his 20 years, Erdoğan has concentrated power on himself and moved to suppress dissent. In 2017, Erdoğan pushed through changes that turned a parliamentary system into an intensely presidential one, placing virtually unlimited powers in his hands.

And he’s used those powers. Turkey is now the world’s fourth-largest jailer of journalists, with terrorism charges commonly applied, and the number of trials and length of sentences increasing.

The deteriorating climate for dissent could be seen in the wake of the earthquakes, when people were detained for criticising the government’s response. There were several reports of attacks on and obstruction of journalists during the election campaign.

A race to the bottom

In past elections, Erdoğan campaigned on his economic record. But this time, with the economic crisis and earthquake destruction leaving him unable to press those points, he fell back on another weapon, deploying a tactic nationalists and populists are using the world over: culture war rhetoric.

The opposition was consistently smeared for allegedly supporting LGBTQI+ rights, with Erdoğan positioning himself as the staunch defender of the traditional family. This messaging persisted even though the opposition had little to say on reversing Erdoğan’s attacks on women’s and LGBTQI+ people’s rights.

The culture war strategy was blended with a strongly nationalist appeal. Political opponents were portrayed as extremists and allies of terrorists. This was reinforced by fake campaign videos – one of many examples of campaign disinformation – that claimed to show members of a banned terrorist organisation supporting Kılıçdaroğlu.

Syrian refugees were also targeted. There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They’ve crossed the border to escape the brutal, 12-year civil war and grotesque human rights abuses. But Turkey’s economic decline has seen growing xenophobia, which has fuelled violence, inflamed by political rhetoric.

Whoever won the election promised to be bad news for refugees. The opposition reacted to Erdoğan’s attacks by pledging to be even tougher in returning refugees. In the last leg of the campaign, both sides hurled discriminatory and inflammatory language at each other.

Erdoğan’s more authentic appeal to nationalism and socially conservative values ultimately won the day. Erdoğan seems to have convinced enough people he’s the only person who can navigate the current crisis. As in several other countries, including Hungary and El Salvador, a majority of voters embraced authoritarianism.

What next?

Undoubtedly Turkey’s heavily restricted civic space and deeply skewed media landscape played a major role. But even acknowledging these barriers, the opposition will need to do some soul searching ahead of municipal elections next year if they hope to keep control of major city governments. The strategy of imitating Erdoğan’s rhetoric on migrants and terrorism having failed, they must find a way to connect with voters with a more positive message.

There are immediate challenges ahead for Erdoğan too, not least the state of the economy. Erdoğan was able to offer some pre-election enticements such as a minimum wage increases and temporary free gas supplies, buttressed by support from non-democratic states including Russia, with which he has developed warmer relations. The government has significantly depleted its foreign currency and gold reserves to try to prop up the Turkish lira – which still hit a record low after Erdoğan’s victory was confirmed.

Erdoğan can be expected to react to further economic difficulty by deepening his authoritarianism to try to silence critics. Those already targeted – refugees, LGBTQI+ people, women, Kurdish activists and the civil society that defends their rights and independent journalists who report their stories – will remain in the firing line.

But the 25.5 million people who voted against Erdoğan deserve a voice. Erdoğan needs to change the habits of a lifetime, show some willingness to listen and build consensus. Turkey’s democratic allies must encourage him to see it’s in his best interest to do so.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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