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Smoking Tuesday, 3 November, 1998, 10:42 GMT
'Stop tobacco firms targeting children'
Cigarette smoking: on the increase in the developing world
Prime Minister Tony Blair has been urged to stop tobacco companies using aggressive marketing to target women and children in the developing world.

Campaigners, including the British Medical Association and the World Development Movement, want Mr Blair to include a commitment to tough international controls on tobacco marketing in the White Paper on tobacco control due out before the end of the year.

They also want the British Government to work with other countries to launch an international campaign to curb the activities of the tobacco corporations.

Faced with declining sales in Europe and North America, the giant tobacco corporations are stepping up their activities in poorer countries. It is alleged they are particularly targeting children and women, who in most developing countries are much less likely to smoke than men.

Restrictions on tobacco marketing in developing countries are often weaker, non-existent or poorly enforced.

Aimed at children

Marketing strategies employed by the tobacco companies allegedly include:

  • In Cambodia, ice cream wagons are covered in adverts for cigarettes;
  • In Chile, a tobacco company uses gangs of glamorous young women to hand out free cigarettes to children and adults in shipping malls, video arcades and discos;
  • In China, a tobacco company sponsored the country's first "rave" event last year.
  • In Malaysia, tobacco companies side step a ban on advertising by lending their name to products such as coffee and clothing. A tobacco sponsored coffee bar in Kuala Lumpur is advertised on a massive billboard 350 miles away in Penang.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair: urged to act
The marketing tactics appear to be working. Although smoking is in decline in the industrialised world, consumption of cigarettes rose by 67% in developing countries between 1970 and 1994, according to World Health Organisation figures.

The WHO estimates that, if present trends continue unchecked, tobacco-related deaths in developing countries will rise from 1m a year to 7m a year in 2030.

Calling on the UK to act, Malaysian campaigner Mary Assunta said: "It is the moral responsibility of the British Government to address the overseas operations of British companies.

"What they cannot do at home they should not do overseas. Life outside Britain is no less valuable than life in Britain."

Under a barrage

Dr Bill O'Neill, scientific adviser to the BMA, said: "To be consistent in promoting an ethical foreign policy we have to play a lead role in curbing international marketing efforts of British tobacco companies who are responding to tighter regulations in the developed world by targeting vulnerable people in developing countries."

Emma Must, campaigns officer for the World Development Movement, said the government had a "golden opportunity" to take a world lead on clamping down on tobacco companies.

She said: "Developing countries are under siege from a barrage of aggressive marketing tactics."

Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: "It is disgraceful that children are being targeted, but that is what tobacco companies have always done. Adults don't take up smoking, children do, and they are absolutely crucial to the market."

Suzanne Meldrum, head of corporate communications for British American Tobacco, said the idea that the UK government should push for international controls "reeked of nannying tactics."

"To suggest that governments in the developing world are not capable of determining their own legislation is insulting and patronising," she said.

"It is quite legal and acceptable practice to target a specific section of the population, such as women. BAT does not target children."

Government backs WHO initiative

Health minister Tessa Jowell said the government's White Paper on tobacco would be published before Christmas, and that it would be inappropriate to reveal details in advance.

"However, I can say that we welcome the priority that the Director General of World Health Organisation, Dr Gro Harlem Bruntland, is giving to tobacco issues and the proposal to develop an international framework convention to address the issues involved," she said.

"Our officials, in contact with the relevant organisations, will fully co-operate in the planning, scheduling and information sharing that would accompany the development of an international framework, intended to facilitate and encourage member states to strengthen their own national tobacco control policies."

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