Concerns over influence of tobacco firms in low income countries

This week's BMJ raises serious concerns about the influence of global tobacco companies when they invest in low income countries.

For example, in 2004 the Mexican government agreed on tobacco control measures with the tobacco industry in return for contributions to a public health fund. The terms of the agreement included abandoning tax increases and restricting health warnings on cigarette packages. It also provided the industry with a tax subsidy worth $50 million.

These elements conflict with the World Health Organisation's antismoking treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Mexico ratified days before the agreement with the industry was announced.

The agreement comes with considerable future costs, warn the authors. It binds the fund to industry sales and makes it difficult for Mexico to enact stricter controls in future. It also provides the industry with an opportunity to improve its public image.

"We are concerned that this agreement is yet another example of industry efforts to seek voluntary agreements rather than endure effective government legislation as required by the FCTC," say the authors. "We urge Mexico to reconsider its pact with the tobacco industry and caution other nations against following its example."

Another article analyses British American Tobacco's erosion of health legislation in Uzbekistan. Using corporate documents, the authors show how BAT overturned legislation that banned advertising and smoking in public places as part of its investment conditions.

After the deal, tobacco advertising in Uzbekistan became ubiquitous, they write. Tobacco consumption has reportedly increased by 7% to 8% annually, primarily among young people, and cigarette sales rose by over 50% between 1990 and 1996. By 1999, BAT had achieved a market share of over 70%.

Documents suggest that such policy influence has not been confined to Uzbekistan. Safeguards are needed to prevent tra

Contact: Emma Dickinson
BMJ-British Medical Journal

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