26 May 2018:
While pushing heated tobacco products (HTP) as the safer alternative, transnational tobacco companies however still mint big profits from their regular cigarettes and pride themselves with awards for increased cigarette sales. Both cigarettes and HTP are addictive tobacco products, but this is downplayed in the new messaging of the industry now trying to align itself as a “solution” for the tobacco pandemic.
On 21 May, a Vietnamese Business Forum (Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep) carried an innocuous article, “Towards a smoke free world” focusing on the risks of secondhand smoke exposure. The article quotes the Ministry of Healthʻs activities for the annual World No Tobacco Day giving the impression it is supportive of the health Department. Far from it. The article appears to be sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI) promoting its IQOS as a “harm reduction product for smokers” and its factory in Switzerland.
In 1986, when the US Surgeon Generalʻs report officially declared secondhand smoke as carcinogenic, the transnational tobacco industry stated it was in “deep shit” and devised a programme where it recruited scientists to blur the science and thwart smoking bans in public places. This industry programme, exposed in Care and Feeding, facilitated by a Washington D.C. law firm, Covington & Burling, was implemented across Asia in the 1990s. PMI, BAT and JTI, who are now peddling HTP as an alternative to harmfulness of secondhand smoke, never took responsibility for their misdeed to mislead governments and the public health community.
The duplicity of the industry is illustrated across the transnational tobacco companies. In Asia, Korea is gaining notoriety for taking steps backward even as it moves forward in tobacco control. Korea has become British America Tobaccoʻs Asian hub for both cigarettes and HTP. BAT Korea’s factory in Sacheon received an award for exporting cigarettes to 15 countries valued at $208 million between July 2016 and June 2017.
Contrary to FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy handed the Award to BAT. The CEO of BAT took pride for the “high quality of ‘Made in Korea’ products being recognized throughout the globe.” Neither BAT nor the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy acknowledged the product killed half their users prematurely.
Korean company, KT&G, currently fifth biggest transnational tobacco company, sold 55.4 billion cigarettes overseas in 2017, about 14 percent increase from sales in 2016, plans to become world No.4. In 2011, KT&G acquired an Indonesian cigarette maker to expand its reach in Southeast Asia.
Its super-slim Esse brand, targeted at women, is the major driving force of KT&G’s sales. In its quest to become one of the world’s top four tobacco manufacturers by 2025, it is tapping into emerging markets and quadrupling its overseas sales, focusing on Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The tobacco companies have not accepted liability for the harm and death their cigarettes have caused and neither are they backing down from opposing and fighting tobacco control measures. PMI fights tobacco tax increases in Vietnam through flawed illicit trade studies it funds. Imperial continues to short-change the Lao government in the low taxes it pays from an unfair 25-year deal. In Singapore and Thailand, the industry is fighting plain packaging efforts after blocking plans in Malaysia. In Indonesia, all the companies fight all tobacco control measures, maintaining its reputation as a paradise for the industry.
Addictive tobacco remains the winning formula for this harmful industry to increase profits. The HTP is the tobacco industryʻs new window dressing. Imperial claims that tobacco will be its “core business for many years to come”, which sums up the direction for all the other tobacco companies.