Thursday, January 21, 2021

Assertions against plain packaging for cigarettes far-fetched and ludicrous

Oct 19. 2018
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Re: “Why Thailand risks getting its fingers burned in combating rise in smoking”, Opinion & Analysis, October 16.

While Sinclair Davidson signs off as a professor of economics from RMIT University in Melbourne, he fails to disclose that he is also a senior research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian think-tank that has received funding from British American Tobacco. 

In 2016 and 2017, Davidson was a speaker at the tobacco-industry-funded event the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum. He has declared he does not receive money from the tobacco industry. 

That said, Davidson’s position on tobacco control is the same as that of the tobacco industry – to oppose plain packaging of tobacco products. Davidson has attacked plain packaging in Australia, where the government has implemented this law. 

In 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Philip Morris had emailed to the media a piece of “independent research” – Davidson was one of the authors. According to this research, despite plain packaging, cigarette sales still rose, meaning plain packaging was not effective in reducing smoking – an industry line.

Plain packaging is an essential component of the overall comprehensive tobacco-control programme introduced in Australia. Following these measures, Australia has seen a steady decline in smoking rates and now has one of the lowest smoking prevalence in the world at 12.8 per cent. The evidence is clear for all to see.

Just as the tobacco industry scares governments by claiming that tax increase will worsen cigarette smuggling, Davidson echoes this same argument for plain packaging and how it has “made the jobs of criminals easier”. This assertion is far-fetched and ludicrous. Australia has stringent border-control law enforcement and has managed its anti-smuggling efforts well. 

The Asean chiefs of customs meet annually to discuss border-control issues in the region, including on tobacco. Addressing the smuggling problem requires proper law enforcement and inter-state cooperation.

Just last week, the first meeting of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products was held in Geneva, where 90 countries gathered to discuss a global solution to a transnational epidemic. 

The protocol provides a comprehensive set of tools to fight illicit trade, including the establishment of a global monitoring system to track and trace the movement of tobacco products and updates on their legal status.

The tobacco industry likes to use intellectual property rights to discourage governments from applying large pictorial warnings and plain packaging on tobacco. Although the World Trade Organisation challenge against Australia has resulted in a ruling granting Australia the right to use plain packaging, Davidson cannot accept this decision.

The World Health Organisation recommends plain packaging in its tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Article 11 guidelines. These guidelines were adopted 10 years ago and, to date, plain packaging is applied in nine countries and is under consideration in at least 16 other jurisdictions. 

It is mischievous of Davidson to ask Thailand to look towards Japan, which is infamous for its backwardness in tobacco control. It still allows tobacco advertising, sponsorship of sports and smoking in restaurants. 

Davidson is not familiar with Thailand’s achievement in tobacco control, and he should not jump in and mouth industry opinion. He should leave Thailand alone to protect our public, especially children from the harms of tobacco. 

Prakit Vathesatokit

Executive secretary 

Action on Smoking and Health 

Foundation Thailand

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