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On World No Tobacco Day Governments Must See Through Tobacco Company Hypocrisy, Stay Focused on Policies Proven to Reduce Tobacco Use

Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – As the world prepares to mark the annual World No Tobacco Day on May 31, tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are promoting themselves as part of the solution to the health problems resulting from tobacco use. This hypocrisy must be rejected for the fable that it is. Today, we call on governments around the world to see past these misleading re-branding attempts and prioritize implementing proven tobacco control policies that save lives.

Around the world, tobacco companies and their deadly marketing tactics remain the single greatest obstacle to curbing the global tobacco epidemic that kills eight million people each year. More than 80 percent of those deaths occur in low- and middle- income countries that are being targeted by tobacco companies as promising markets for growth. Just this year – while simultaneously claiming it wants to “Unsmoke” the world – Philip Morris launched a new cigarette in Indonesia called “Philip Morris Bold.” Tobacco companies are also directly targeting kids by surrounding schools in countries around the world with cigarette ads and sales. If tobacco companies really wanted a smoke-free future they would stop selling cigarettes immediately.

Tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco justify their new heated cigarettes including IQOS and Glo with claims that they are only targeting current smokers. Yet, time and again the tobacco companies have been found to be marketing their products in ways that reach youth and non-smokers. E-cigarettes like Juul – a company partly owned by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA – are being used by youth at epidemic levels. The companies are placing the brands of these experimental products on race cars and hiring popular influencers to post about these products on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Content from these influencers can be viewed by anyone all around the world, and this strategy mirrors similar tactics used to promote traditional cigarettes on social media. Our study showed that social media content on just 100 tobacco brands reached more than 25 billion people worldwide in over 40 countries. Now, governments have launched investigations into this tactic in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Colombia.

The good news is that even as tobacco companies are focused wholeheartedly on addicting the next generation to their deadly array of nicotine products, governments are fighting back. Earlier this week, the Constitutional Court in Uganda issued a resounding rejection of British American Tobacco’s legal challenge of the country’s tobacco control law that included life-saving provisions like making indoor places free of tobacco smoke and placing large pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs. In Brazil, the government has filed a lawsuit against British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International and their Brazilian subsidiaries to recover the tremendous costs their products have cost the Brazilian health care system. In the UK, the Serious Fraud Office is investigating British American Tobacco for efforts to bribe lawmakers in Africa. Ethiopia recently adopted a comprehensive tobacco control law and both Uruguay and Canada have adopted plain tobacco packaging, removing misleading branding from tobacco packs.

To end the global tobacco epidemic and truly create a smoke-free future, we need strong action by governments, not empty promises from tobacco companies. This World No Tobacco Day, we call on governments around the world to see past the tobacco companies’ efforts to appear concerned with health and pass and implement the evidence-based policies called for by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Without urgent action, tobacco will claim one billion lives this century.