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Can Macron get France to finally quit #smoking ?

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Emmanuel Macron is gearing up to mark the first anniversary of his election as Elysee-watchers ask whether – or when – nationwide rail strikes will start testing his resolve for reform. For the young leader’s liberal agenda, it’s imperative the showdown over the railways not sap too much political capital or momentum. After all, the vast majority of his nearly 400 campaign promises have yet to be realized.

While it has not gotten nearly as much press as the railway battle, Macron’s government did take a key step towards at least one of those promises last month. Keeping to a campaign pledge Macron’s ministers have held to, France upped the price of a pack of cigarettes one euro to €8 on 1 March. The results have been immediate and impressive. After the price increase, cigarette sales plummeted by nearly 20% in March.

This is all part of a longer-term – which corresponds to one of those many campaign promises made by Macron – to push the price of a pack of cigarettes up to €10 by 2020. According to a road map laid out by Health Minister Agnès Buzyn, the government’s priority is to “rapidly and strongly” raise the price of tobacco starting in 2018 with the ultimate objective of producing a “cigarette-free generation”. It’s a bold endeavour, given the French have a reputation for one of the most deeply-rooted smoking cultures in Europe.

Tobacco use is certainly higher in France than in much of the rest of the EU. According to Eurostat, total smoking rates in France stood at 20.5% in 2014. By comparison, that rate stood at 17.4% in Italy, 15% in Germany, and 13.7% in the UK. In real terms, that translates to nearly 14 million French smokers and 73,000 premature deaths every year.

Macron came into office promising a transformative brand of politics. Getting France to quit smoking would certainly count as revolutionary change. That said, neither the global tobacco industry nor the politically powerful buralistes (the local tobacconists and newsagents who sell France’s cigarettes) are willing to go down without a fight.

They don’t pack quite the same numbers or clout as the SNCF employees grinding the French transport sector to a halt, but France’s cigarette sellers did use about one hundred vehicles to stall traffic in Paris last October. Officially speaking, their protests are not targeted at the increase in cigarette prices but instead at the government’s supposedly insufficient efforts to combat the black market in tobacco.

By focusing on illicit cigarettes, the industry and its local allies are trying to pin down the government on two contradictory international obligations. On the one hand, the European Commission has mandated each member state (including France) implement an ad hoc “track and trace” traceability system to fight the illicit tobacco trade. On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – which both the European Union and France have ratified – stipulates in its Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products that systems meant to interdict illicit tobacco must be kept independent of vested interests (namely the tobacco industry).

The Commission claims its “track and trace” approach complies with the FCTC by turning the responsibility over to member states as opposed to industry. Critics remain unconvinced. As French MEP Philippe Juvin explained: “We started from 0%. The WHO Convention makes clear there needs to be a very strict separation between those making the cigarettes and those tracing them. Very strict separation means 0% shared revenue. The European Commission has opened a window – a small window, true, but a window all the same – allowing for track and trace companies who already work with the tobacco industry to take a share of the market.” Another French MEP, Younous Omarjee, attempted to block the Commission’s approach with a parliamentary veto but was ultimately stymied by the EC health directorate.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Uruguay’s President Tabaré Ramón Vázquez seemingly issued their own warning against industry back doors in an op-ed published just a few days after the EC’s final “track and trace” decision. Their article contained the following admonition, among others: “Governments face a moral and legal imperative to use the strongest possible measures to protect their citizens from tobacco.”

Since then, multiple Commissioners have undercut their own protestations by failing to maintain distance from the tobacco giants. France’s Canard Enchainé reported Pierre Moscovici and Julian King were both scheduled to take part in a Brussels conference titled “Contraband, counterfeits, and the financing of terrorism” on 11 April. According to the Canard, the conference was hosted by the Robert Schuman Foundation and funded by Philip Morris International.

That puts the Commissioners’ presence squarely at odds with the WHO’s requirements for independent policymaking, all while the Commission implements a trace and trace system exposed to industry influence and Moscovici oversees negotiations on tobacco excise taxes.

Macron himself wrote to the Confederation of tobacconists just over one year ago to inform them he would apply the WHO FCTC protocol during the campaign. All the same, France’s cigarette sellers promise to up the pressure if the government tries to exclude them from the fight against illicit tobacco. France is not the only EU member country navigating the discrepancy between the EC’s alleged willingness to continence industry influence and the FCTC’s express prohibition of it. Austria, Spain, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia and Germany (and indeed the European Union itself) have all ratified the additional Protocol. Among member states, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovenia have also signed. Many of those countries are wrapping up the process of ratifying.

If France’s buralistes plan to stymie French government implementation of the Protocol with pressure tactics, the current railway fight could prove informative. French cheminots have far more clout, and yet neither Macron nor France’s prime minister Édouard Philippe have shown any intention of backing down. €10 cigarettes already seem a fait accompli. Macron, with his need for kept promises to point to, should be expected to do the same with the FCTC.

Cigarettes

Backing #Vaping to beat #Cancer

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The upcoming European Union's Beating Cancer Plan is a historic chance to improve public health in Europe. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the EU. 1.3 million people die from cancer each year in the EU and 700,000 of those deaths are associated with smoking. Despite these terrifying numbers, approximately 140 million Europeans are still smoking. The European Union is right to tackle the disease with a holistic approach, writes Michael Landl (pictured).

A comprehensive approach needs to include prevention and harm reduction. While it is important that lawmakers do everything, they can to prevent people from starting smoking, it is equally important to support current smokers in their quest to quit. Including e-cigarettes (vaping) in the EU Beating Cancer Plan will help millions of European who are struggling to quit smoking and consequently prevent many deaths associated with cancer from smoking.

E-cigarettes contain liquid which is heated and turned into vapour. There is no tobacco nor tar in e-cigarettes and many of the toxins in cigarettes are not present in e-cigarettes. In 2015, Public Health England declared that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and began recommending that current smokers switch to electronic cigarettes. Countries like Canada and New Zealand followed their lead and have helped save millions of lives. In fact, these policies promoting vaping arguably achieved more in a short period of time than what lawmakers tried to accomplish for years: fewer people smoking cigarettes. 

We know that abstinence is not as effective as alternatives, such as vaping. According to a 2019 study from Queen Mary University London of 100 smokers trying to quit cold turkey, only three to five succeed - while according to the same study, vaping is even more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapy, like patches or gums.

Despite the weight of evidence, a number of governments have considered new restrictions on vaping, rather than make it more accessible. While often well intentioned most newly proposed regulations, such as flavour liquid bans or higher taxes, would disproportionately harm smokers who are trying to quit. This runs directly against the goal of beating cancer.

The EU Beating Cancer Plan is a massive opportunity to ramp up the fight against smoking. Lawmakers should include vaping in the plan as a harm reduction tool to prevent cancer. The European Union's institutions and governments should follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand and encourage the use of vaping as a less harmful alternative for adult smokers.

If the European Union is serious about improving health, we must back vaping to beat cancer.

About the World Vapers' Alliance

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) amplifies the voice of passionate vapers around the world and empowers them to make a difference for their communities. The alliance partners with 19 groups representing vapers worldwide and represents individual vapers. Michael Landl, the WVA’s director, is an experienced policy professional and a passionate vaper.

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Does #COVID-19 represent a mortal threat to the tobacco sector?

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The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has spelled bad news on the whole for smokers and the industry which supplies them. The most recent developments include the debunking of research that suggests smokers are supposedly less susceptible to the virus – accompanied by revelations that in fact the habit exacerbates the effects of the disease – as well as a public smoking ban in Galicia that has now spread across the whole of Spain.

With over one million smokers in the UK having reportedly kicked the habit since the onset of COVID-19, how great a threat does the current crisis represent to the industry which profits from their addiction? Public awareness of the dangers of smoking have never been higher, meaning the time is ripe for authorities in Europe and elsewhere to introduce measures aimed at curbing the deadly practice – but they must be wary of interference and prevarication from the ever-tenacious tobacco industry itself.

Big Tobacco under threat

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, smokers may have been initially cheered to hear the results of a study from China, where they were disproportionately underrepresented among sufferers of Covid-19. Subsequent research has not brought nearly such positive news; more than one peer-reviewed paper has found smokers are roughly twice as likely to experience coronavirus symptoms as non-smokers. This aligns with other studies, which found that smokers with the virus were twice as likely to be hospitalized and 1.8 times more likely to die than their non-smoking counterparts.

The addiction isn’t just damaging to those holding the cigarette, either. With bar patrons urged to keep their voices down and even theme park goers warned against screaming for fear of transmitting the virus orally, the huge clouds of smoke emitted by tobacco enthusiasts could be an ambient epidemic waiting to happen. Aware of the danger, South Africa took immediate action to ban tobacco sales in late March, although it has since revisited those restrictions. More recently, the Spanish region of Galicia and the Canary Islands archipelago both announced public smoking would be prohibited, with the rest of the country considering following suit.

The pandemic hasn’t just prompted a response from lawmakers – smokers are also reconsidering their relationship with tobacco in light of the dangers posed by the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease. In the UK, over a million smokers have quit in the last six months, with 41% of those claiming fears of coronavirus were their primary motivation for doing so. Meanwhile, the University College London found that more people have given up smoking in the year up to June 2020 than in any other 12-month window since records began over a decade ago.

Underhanded tactics at play

Never one to take such setbacks lying down, Big Tobacco has resorted to its tried and tested tactical playbook. Among other machinations, that playbook involves obfuscating and influencing the science by funding favorable studies on the subject of coronavirus and smoking, delaying anti-tobacco regulations and claiming the industry comprises an “essential business” to avoid lockdown measures in places as diverse as Italy, Pakistan and Brazil.

At the same time, major tobacco firms have been accused of crisis-washing. Philip Morris International (PMI) donated a reported $1 million to the Romanian Red Cross and 50 ventilators to a Greek hospital, as well as an estimated €350,000 to a Ukrainian charity, with other big players reportedly having done the same. Critics claim these apparently altruistic contributions are nothing more than opportunistic PR stunts which capitalize on a global tragedy to paint Big Tobacco in a positive light – something which the industry itself vehemently rejects.

Regardless of the intent behind the donations, there are heavy suspicions that they may have contravened the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol, which specifically prohibits governments or government-owned bodies from taking funds from the tobacco industry. Unsurprisingly, this kind of chicanery is nothing new for Big Tobacco, who have been ploughing a similar furrow for decades. Unfortunately, it’s one that continues to yield advantages for those behind the yoke, despite efforts to curb their influence.

Ineptitude and inefficiency in the EU

EU policymakers have, disappointingly, demonstrated themselves to be particularly susceptible to the tobacco industry’s malignant influence. As detailed by the OCCRP, the EU has effectively handed over large parts of its track and trace (T&T) system for illicit tobacco to firms with close ties to the industry. The system, which the FCTC has highlighted as an integral step in clamping down on a black market that costs the bloc over €10 billion per annum in lost public revenue, is intended to monitor a packet’s progress at each stage of the supply chain via a unique identifier, thus eliminating any opportunity for wrongdoing.

A central element of any successful T&T system, as defined by the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), is its complete independence from the industry itself. However, the OCCRP investigation has uncovered how key firms developing T&T software and handling the process have ties to the tobacco industry, including seven out of eight of the companies tasked with storing the all-important cigarette data. Meanwhile, one of the main companies monitoring hundreds of supply lines into the EU – Inexto – appears to be at least partially funded by Big Tobacco, while the very software it uses to carry out its obligations was purchased from PMI themselves for a rumored fee of just one Swiss franc.

The whole process is so riddled with inefficiencies that nine months after its implementation, insiders have said they have no idea how effective it has been in clamping down on the illegal trade, while one official from the UK’s trading standards office has called it “completely useless”. Nonetheless, EU officials have travelled the world touting the benefits of their system and several nations have already bought into the myth, with Inexto winning contracts from Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and governments in Western Africa to date. The Pakistani contract, at least, has since been invalidated by court order.

A vaccine for industry influence

At a time when the Covid-19 crisis has thrown health concerns into sharp relief, governments and health groups should be taking a page out of the obesity debate book and generating momentum towards cutting smoking rates in their territories. While that momentum does seem to be gaining ground, it sadly does not appear to have escaped the pervasive and pernicious influence of the industry itself, which undermines the entire process.

Big Tobacco’s stratagems are widely documented and well understood – but this knowledge does not seem to be capable of preventing their success all the same. In addition to a vaccine for this deadly new coronavirus, it seems immunity against industry intervention should also be on the EU’s priority list.

Continue Reading

Cigarettes

Does #COVID-19 represent a mortal threat to the #tobacco sector?

Published

on

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has spelled bad news on the whole for smokers and the industry which supplies them. The most recent developments include the debunking of research that suggests smokers are supposedly less susceptible to the virus – accompanied by revelations that in fact the habit exacerbates the effects of the disease – as well as a public smoking ban in Galicia that has now spread across the whole of Spain.

With over one million smokers in the UK having reportedly kicked the habit since the onset of COVID-19, how great a threat does the current crisis represent to the industry which profits from their addiction? Public awareness of the dangers of smoking have never been higher, meaning the time is ripe for authorities in Europe and elsewhere to introduce measures aimed at curbing the deadly practice – but they must be wary of interference and prevarication from the ever-tenacious tobacco industry itself.

'Big Tobacco' under threat

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, smokers may have been initially cheered to hear the results of a study from China, where they were disproportionately underrepresented among sufferers of Covid-19. Subsequent research has not brought nearly such positive news; more than one peer-reviewed paper has found smokers are roughly twice as likely to experience coronavirus symptoms as non-smokers. This aligns with other studies, which found that smokers with the virus were twice as likely to be hospitalized and 1.8 times more likely to die than their non-smoking counterparts.

The addiction isn’t just damaging to those holding the cigarette, either. With bar patrons urged to keep their voices down and even theme park goers warned against screaming for fear of transmitting the virus orally, the huge clouds of smoke emitted by tobacco enthusiasts could be an ambient epidemic waiting to happen. Aware of the danger, South Africa took immediate action to ban tobacco sales in late March, although it has since revisited those restrictions. More recently, the Spanish region of Galicia and the Canary Islands archipelago both announced public smoking would be prohibited, with the rest of the country considering following suit.

The pandemic hasn’t just prompted a response from lawmakers – smokers are also reconsidering their relationship with tobacco in light of the dangers posed by the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease. In the UK, over a million smokers have quit in the last six months, with 41% of those claiming fears of coronavirus were their primary motivation for doing so. Meanwhile, the University College London found that more people have given up smoking in the year up to June 2020 than in any other 12-month window since records began over a decade ago.

Underhanded tactics at play

Never one to take such setbacks lying down, Big Tobacco has resorted to its tried and tested tactical playbook. Among other machinations, that playbook involves obfuscating and influencing the science by funding favorable studies on the subject of coronavirus and smoking, delaying anti-tobacco regulations and claiming the industry comprises an “essential business” to avoid lockdown measures in places as diverse as Italy, Pakistan and Brazil.

At the same time, major tobacco firms have been accused of crisis-washing. Philip Morris International (PMI) donated a reported $1 million to the Romanian Red Cross and 50 ventilators to a Greek hospital, as well as an estimated €350,000 to a Ukrainian charity, with other big players reportedly having done the same. Critics claim these apparently altruistic contributions are nothing more than opportunistic PR stunts which capitalize on a global tragedy to paint Big Tobacco in a positive light – something which the industry itself vehemently rejects.

Regardless of the intent behind the donations, there are heavy suspicions that they may have contravened the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol, which specifically prohibits governments or government-owned bodies from taking funds from the tobacco industry. Unsurprisingly, this kind of chicanery is nothing new for Big Tobacco, who have been ploughing a similar furrow for decades. Unfortunately, it’s one that continues to yield advantages for those behind the yoke, despite efforts to curb their influence.

Ineptitude and inefficiency in the EU

EU policymakers have, disappointingly, demonstrated themselves to be particularly susceptible to the tobacco industry’s malignant influence. As detailed by the OCCRP, the EU has effectively handed over large parts of its track and trace (T&T) system for illicit tobacco to firms with close ties to the industry. The system, which the FCTC has highlighted as an integral step in clamping down on a black market that costs the bloc more than €10 billion per annum in lost public revenue, is intended to monitor a packet’s progress at each stage of the supply chain via a unique identifier, thus eliminating any opportunity for wrongdoing.

A central element of any successful T&T system, as defined by the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), is its complete independence from the industry itself. However, the OCCRP investigation has uncovered how key firms developing T&T software and handling the process have ties to the tobacco industry, including seven out of eight of the companies tasked with storing the all-important cigarette data. Meanwhile, one of the main companies monitoring hundreds of supply lines into the EU – Inexto – appears to be at least partially funded by Big Tobacco, while the very software it uses to carry out its obligations was purchased from PMI themselves for a rumored fee of just one Swiss franc.

The whole process is so riddled with inefficiencies that nine months after its implementation, insiders have said they have no idea how effective it has been in clamping down on the illegal trade, while one official from the UK’s trading standards office has called it “completely useless”. Nonetheless, EU officials have travelled the world touting the benefits of their system and several nations have already bought into the myth, with Inexto winning contracts from Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and governments in Western Africa to date. The Pakistani contract, at least, has since been invalidated by court order.

A vaccine for industry influence

At a time when the Covid-19 crisis has thrown health concerns into sharp relief, governments and health groups should be taking a page out of the obesity debate book and generating momentum towards cutting smoking rates in their territories. While that momentum does seem to be gaining ground, it sadly does not appear to have escaped the pervasive and pernicious influence of the industry itself, which undermines the entire process.

Big Tobacco’s stratagems are widely documented and well understood – but this knowledge does not seem to be capable of preventing their success all the same. In addition to a vaccine for this deadly new coronavirus, it seems immunity against industry intervention should also be on the EU’s priority list.

Continue Reading
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