Big Tobacco’s Latest Target: Myanmar

August 22, 2013

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As smoking declines in many developed nations, the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting low- and middle-income countries.  The industry’s latest target: Myanmar.

As Myanmar emerges from decades of isolation and military rule and international sanctions are lifted, the Associated Press details how tobacco companies – including multinational giants British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco – are moving in as quickly as possible.  And they’re trying to do it under the radar.

“They seem to think by entering the market stealthily, they can avoid public scrutiny,” Tin Maung, Myanmar’s top tobacco control advocate, told the AP.

As they do in many poorer countries, the tobacco companies are exploiting a need for economic development and weak tobacco control laws to sell more of their deadly and addictive products.  Unless countries take strong action, the result is usually higher smoking rates and more tobacco-caused death, disease a nd economic costs.

“We expect the (Myanmar) economy to boom and a growing middle class to emerge with more disposable income,” said Mary Assunta, senior policy adviser with the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.  “This gives plenty of room for tobacco companies to focus on targeting the middle class and teenagers with cheap cigarettes.”

Myanmar has ratified the international tobacco control treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  But the country needs to adopt and enforce proven measures called for by the treaty, including higher tobacco taxes; 100 percent smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public bans; large, graphic health warnings; and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The tobacco industry’s aggressive tactics are driving a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.  Countries around the world must be equally aggressive in working to reduce tobacco use and save lives.