29 November 2017 ¦ GENEVA – In major victories for tobacco control efforts, four U.S. tobacco companies are publishing court-ordered “corrective statements” to set the record straight on the dangers of their products, while a major French bank has announced it will divest its interests in the tobacco industry.
Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Prevention on Noncommunicable diseases department, says these moves reinforce to the world the need for accelerated action to protect people from tobacco.
“The tobacco control community has been saying for decades that tobacco kills, is addictive and that its manufacturers have known this, while profiting from the suffering of millions of their customers,” says Dr Bettcher. “But by being ordered by the courts to issue these corrective statements in American newspapers and on TV stations, the industry itself has been forced to come clean and acknowledge once and for all that its tobacco products kill.”
The publication of the corrective statements, which started 26 November 2017, follows a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in 1999 under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law. The Federal Court first ordered tobacco companies to implement these corrective statement adverts in 2006, but years of tobacco industry appeals blocked their publication.
But last month, a U.S. court directed that four American companies, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Altria, publish the corrective statements on the health effects of tobacco use, second-hand smoke, the false sale and advertising of low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes, that smoking and nicotine are highly addictive, and that they have designed cigarettes to enhance the delivery of nicotine.
The statements, appearing in advertisements paid for by the tobacco industry, were ordered to appear in more than 50 U.S. newspapers, as well as on American television stations.
Also, on 24 November, French bank BNP Paribas announced that it would stop its financing and investment activities related to tobacco companies, including producers, wholesalers and traders.
In its announcement, the bank acknowledged the efforts by WHO, and the focus of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to ensure people have access to the highest standard of health and “the importance of measures regarding the reduction of demand and supply in order to meet this objective.”
BNP is the latest financial institution to declare it is ending its association with the tobacco industry, including Axa SA and the Bank of New Zealand.
“The message we must take from all this is that the industry cannot be trusted, not now, and not in the future when it tries to market new products as less harmful, like heat not burn, and by funding new organizations that purport to be working for a smoke-free world,” says Dr. Bettcher.
The admissions by the U.S. tobacco companies that its products kill and are designed for addiction should strengthen national tobacco control efforts, including implementation by governments of commitments in the WHO FCTC.
To assist in country-level implementation of the WHO FCTC, WHO has introduced the MPOWER package of technical measures and resources, each of which reflects one or more of the demand reduction provisions of the Convention.
These include monitoring tobacco use and the impact of prevention policies; protecting people from tobacco smoke by introducing smoke-free public and workplaces; offering people help to quit tobacco use; warning about the dangers of tobacco use, including by implementing graphic health warnings and plain packaging; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising excise taxes on tobacco.