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International World No Tobacco Day 2012 – Feature Article

June 17, 2012

- by: Dr. Aishath Aroona Abdulla, Maldives Medical Association -

Tobacco Industry Interference with Promoting Good Health

On 31 May every year, the world commemorates World No Tobacco Day. This day has been set apart to give an opportunity to educate people worldwide and to help nations to focus on interventions for tobacco control, because tobacco is an extremely hazardous and highly addictive substance, causing a great deal of death and suffering, and needs special collective efforts by a multitude of groups and individuals to control its use and consequences.

Tobacco was introduced to the world after Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492. It was since transported to other countries across the world and within 150 years, has become a major trade commodity with a huge market internationally.

Tobacco is a major health hazard, causing 6 million deaths worldwide every year. 600,000 of these are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco kills one in every two users of tobacco, and it kills slowly, bringing much suffering – physical, mental and social – over several years before finally killing. Scientific research has proven that tobacco causes many illnesses involving almost all the different systems in the body, and affect people of all ages, particularly children and pregnant women. Some common illnesses include stroke, heart attacks and many illnesses of the respiratory system that become irreversible later in adults, in addition to lung cancer and many other types of cancer. Second-hand smoke causes asthma, pneumonias and many other respiratory illnesses in children. Exposure to tobacco smoke in pregnancy causes abortions, premature delivery, small for gestation babies and can lead to sudden infant deaths (SIDS). Newer research also suggests that exposure to tobacco smoke in early life may be associated with certain disorders of brain development. And no benefits have been shown to-date despite extensive research. In Maldives, it is estimated that tobacco accounts for more than a quarter of deaths. Thus tobacco is a hazardous substance that should be strictly controlled.

Tom And Jerry Slapped With Smoking Ban. by Stuart Heritage on August 22, 2006 http://www.hecklerspray.com/tom-and-jerry-slapped-with-smoking-ban/20064524.php

If tobacco were not harmful to health there would be no reason to control its use. Four cigarette manufacturers dominate about three-quarters of the global market. These are very wealthy, trans-national companies, thus yielding immense power, above that of individual nations. Tobacco companies work for profit. They resort to various devious tactics to increase their sales.

  • Tobacco industry targets low and middle income countries
    • Many developed countries have now made strong laws that prohibit smoking in public places, prohibit advertising, restrict production, import, sales, and tax tobacco heavily. These are proven methods to reduce tobacco consumption and thus the harm. Tobacco industry knows they cannot sell in these countries, and so specifically target low and middle income countries which have poor laws and low education among their population. Nearly 80% of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries
  • Tobacco industry targets children– tobacco companies know that tobacco causes premature deaths. So they want to recruit more smokers to make up for the loss from premature deaths. They specifically target children by interfering with laws, specific advertisement and promotion in films.
    • In the United States, 390,000 kids are recruited to smoke each year by the smoking they see on screen, worth $4 billion in lifetime sales to the tobacco companies.
    • Do your kids see smoking in movies in Maldives?
      • Check the cartoons – e.g.
      • Check the cable TV channels – they may not be regulated under our laws.
      • Movies from the internet (e.g. YouTube) are not regulated at all. Many teenagers in Male’ watch films off YouTube.

Tobacco companies target the youngest children possible. Younger the child, the more lasting the impression, the higher chances of taking up smoking, and the harder to quit.


  • Tobacco industry targets women– “women are vulnerable” they say. Actually, they know that if a mother smokes, it increases the chances that her children will smoke , creating a whole family and generation of smokers. They specially advertise to women since post-world war 1920’s, when they deceived women into associating cigarettes with women’s rights.
    • In 1929 – a tobacco company hired Edward Bernays (named by some as the father of public relations) to stage a  parade in New York City, showing models holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, that they called “Torches of Freedom“. Women immediately associated it with women’s rights, and smoking increased among women. Today, many women still think it is a woman’s right to smoke, while tobacco slowly kills more women.
    • In modern times, tobacco industry advertises that cigarettes help loose weight, showing models with slim figures, while in reality, smokers lose their appetite, and become thin and wasted.
    • New types of cigarettes like “Lights”, flavoured cigarettes (mint, strawberry, etc. are specially targeted for teenage girls.
    • (“Lights” are a misnomer. They claim to have low tar, but actually have low nicotine, that makes people smoke more cigarettes and spend more of their money, while exposing themselves to the same risk or higher, of getting ill.)

Tobacco industry advertises in devious, indirect ways

  • Movies – they use a method called “product placement”. Film-makers are paid to add scenes where main characters are shown to smoke in various situations, and can be depicted as rebellious, fun, stress-relieving, the list goes on. Brands are often displayed in the film. This is an underhand way of sending messages to the unsuspecting brain, where people don’t realize that they are seeing an advertisement. Big Tobacco pays actors, actresses and producers to get their products into the movies.
  • Using role models to entice young adolescents to smoke – e.g. actors smoking off-screen, paid models smoking in places young people frequent, like shopping malls, supplying free cigarettes to film-stars and armed forces officers to entice young boys to smoke, etc., especially where advertising is restricted.
  • Philanthropy – They sponsor sports, arts charity events, etc. to get sympathy and “show people they do good”, while they kill millions of people worldwide (estimated 600 million deaths per year)
    • Tobacco industry distorts scientific research – As scientific research increasingly proved that many illnesses, like lung cancer, and an extensive list of other illnesses are caused by tobacco, the industry hired scientists to write to journals and lay media questioning these research, and stating that these findings are doubtful. This helps to keep their consumers. People continue to not worry about smoking when they are not sure if it causes illness. Many diseases are actually proven to be caused by tobacco, several by good scientific research studies with large numbers of participants and good study methodology.
    • Tobacco industry lobbies politiciansand political parties in most countries. – They do this to prevent good laws, make loopholes for them, so that they can continue to “do business”. They make monetary deals, bribe, fund election campaigns, and even send false “experts” to give unsuspecting governments advise against making solid tobacco control laws.
      • Joint manufacturing agreements: Tobacco companies form joint ventures with state monopolies and subsequently pressurize governments to privatize monopolies
    • Creating Smokers’ rights groups: Tobacco industry make an issue and create their own supportive groups to create an impression of spontaneous, grass-roots public support. These include: Smokers’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, tobacco farmer’s groups, tobacco company workers’ groups, tobacco seller’s groups, and even so-called “consumer groups”. These are fake groups. Tobacco companies bring out issues as if they affect these people severely, and make the people gather together to “stand up for themselves”, while they actually fight to make the companies richer.
    • Intelligence-gathering: Tobacco industry carries out regular market study and researches on how they can create demand by influencing how people think to promote their products. Thus they are often ahead of public health authorities.
    • International treaties: Tobacco industry uses international trade agreements to force entry into closed markets and limit countries ?form increasing taxes. Now, however, the World Bank no longer supports tobacco industry (including tobacco farming) with any type of funding or concessions.
    • Intimidation: They use legal and economic power as a means of harassing and frightening opponents. They have filed court cases in countries that introduced smoke-free laws, e.g. India

  • How did this information come out?

    In earlier days, tobacco companies would openly advertise that their brand did not bring cough, or were safer, etc. As people who got cancer learned from doctors and medical evidence that tobacco cause lung cancer, they sued the tobacco companies for lying. That is how many of these company secrets leaked out. Today, health authorities follow them stringently and try to identify their strategies. Still tobacco companies are ahead, because they have wealth and power, and conduct regular market research.

    The solution:

    Tobacco is difficult to control due to its addictive nature, and due to the influence from tobacco industry. Therefore the World Health Organization (WHO) established a special Tobacco-Free Initiative in May 2003, to focus on tobacco control, and prepared a treaty called the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) which came into effect in February 2005. WHO FCTC recommends a package including multiple methods of control, named the MPOWER package. To-date, 174 countries including Maldives are signatories to the FCTC. By signing, a country agrees to commit towards tobacco control by establishing the strategies of the MPOWER package.

    All these methods are proven to be effective. However, the size of effect of a single intervention is relatively small, therefore WHO recommends that all these interventions be used in combination to control tobacco and tobacco-related disease effectively.

    So it is important that we as a nation carry out all these methods to prevent harm from tobacco in Maodives. Act now.

    Towards a Tobacco-Free Maldives.


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