Tobacco Doesn’t Need to be Controlled; it Needs to be Abolished

IMG_1202These cigarette machines are ubiquitous in Japan.

Note the ad for Parliament cigarettes. The attractive models imply that smoking is sexy. The wording says something like ‘vivid, strong menthol, crystal blast’. You can undergo this refreshing experience by crushing the menthol flavour capsule in the filter. The small print at the bottom, covering only about 16% of the ad, is a vaguely worded warning about the health risks of smoking and includes advice not to do it.

If you’re under twenty years of age you can’t use these machines because you have to insert a card first which is only obtainable by people over twenty. But isn’t this reverse discrimination? Don’t older people also deserve to be protected from the dangers of smoking?

Flavour capsules are the latest gimmick by Big Tobacco to entice more people to become nicotine addicts. Menthol cigarettes are often wrongly perceived as being less harmful and they may be more attractive to younger smokers than ordinary cigarettes.

Although Japan signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004, in many ways it hasn’t implemented even the minimum requirements of the Convention. For example, health warnings are meant to cover at least 30% of the surface of cigarette packs and advertisement, and is it acceptable to imply that smoking is sexually attractive?

What is the FCTC anyway? On their website there’s a ‘death clock’ that shows the number of people who have died from tobacco-related diseases since it was inaugurated in 1999 – so far it’s over 85 million. Shocking and scandalous.

But what does it actually do? Some idea can be gleaned from a slickly produced video, with background muzak, of a conference about the activities of the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Evaluation Project of the FCTC. It’s not clear exactly when or where it was held it but it seems the purpose was to show off the progress that had been achieved so far, in what is called, tellingly, tobacco control. You can see this at http://itcproject.org/

The moderator is Professor Geoffrey Fong. He starts by lamenting – as well he might – the huge worldwide death toll that smoking causes and will continue to cause, and emphasises ‘it is even more important to consider ways in which tobacco use can be curbed.’

Note he says curbed, not abolished. Some other tobacco control heavyweights are then wheeled out, such as Ron Borland from The Cancer Council Victoria.

He, similarly, laments how

…the tobacco epidemic is affecting every community in the world, especially the poor, because they tend to smoke more and have more trouble giving up…smoking ends up killing one in two of its long-term users…a terrible scourge on our society and we need to be doing more to get rid of it.

At least he’s talking about of getting rid of it rather than just curbing it.

Geoffrey Fong:

About a billion people could die of tobacco use in the 21st century. The ITC project has brought together over 100 experts…to work on research that is evaluating the policies of the FCTC…so that we can promote stronger, evidence-based actions to reduce tobacco use.

There we go again. Reduce tobacco use, not abolish it.

Next we hear from Professor Simon Chapman, talking above a banner reading ‘Towards a TOBACCO-FREE WORLD’ (sic). Sounds promising. But he just waffles. Repetitively.

Tobacco is globally number one public health problem in the world today. There’s been a revolution in tobacco control in that we’ve had the framework convention of tobacco control. This has drawn together international action against tobacco in a way that’s never been seen before. I’ve been working in tobacco control myself for thirty-five years. I don’t think there is really any research project that’s ever been mounted in international tobacco control which has made the breadth and depth of contribution that the ITC project is making and it’s really just only hitting its straps. I can’t think of any other research project that comes remotely close to generating as much highly strategic and useful research as the ITC project is producing.

Thank you.

Ron Borland again:

…tobacco control requires [cigarette] taxation, smoke free policies and smoking support services…banning advertising…strong messages to the community to get the message through to smokers that smoking is harmful. These messages need to be graphic and show the harms that they are, so smokers become emotionally engaged with the topic. They need to understand in their gut that smoking is harmful, not just in their head. Health warnings on packs can also do this very effectively particularly where you use graphic images of some of the diseases caused by smoking.

So smokers smoke because they don’t know the harm it may do them? And if it’s true that smoking is so harmful, why is tobacco allowed to be sold? Nary a mention of that.

Michael Cummings, Medical University of South Carolina, an unsmiling cancer surgeon:

I work at a cancer center…a third of all cancers are due to smoking…it’s a personal failure on our part not to have addressed this problem fifty years ago…it’s been fifty years and twenty million Americans have died [from smoking]. The first world conference on tobacco and health held in 1967 in New York City had a compelling address by  Robert Kennedy…he talked about what we were up against in terms of the tobacco industry and the need to work in partnership across the globe to address the problems related to tobacco…nothing’s changed.

That’s the point. Nothing’s changed. In fifty years.

Robert Kennedy: ‘We must be equal to the task for the stakes involved are nothing less than the lives and the health of millions of people around the world.’ He was a straight talker and one can only speculate if his life hadn’t tragically been cut short whether he might have been effective in working towards abolishing tobacco.

Geoffrey Fong, with more repetitive waffle:

…because of the magnitude of the tobacco epidemic it is clearly the case that population level approaches need to be taken to curb tobacco use. The FCTC represents an extraordinary opportunity…to address the tobacco epidemic…to move tobacco control forward and push tobacco use down…my hope is that the ITC project can continue in some way to helping provide the kind of evidence that stronger tobacco control measures need to be taken and provide more of a foundation with respect to what works and what doesn’t. We can altogether do something about the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the world, that is, tobacco.

Why does he talk in this way? Curb rather than abolish? Why aim so low? And ‘push it down’. By how much? And how many people will die while he’s trying to to do that?

The only thing that will work to stop the tobacco epidemic is to abolish tobacco.

Text and image © Gabriel Symonds

Gabriel Symonds

Dr Gabriel Symonds is a British doctor living in Japan who is interested in helping smokers quit. He has developed a unique simple method without nicotine, drugs, hypnosis or gimmicks that he has used successfully with hundreds of smokers. Further information can be found at www.nicotinemonkey.com

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