Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Cancer Business

Health officials and experts from across the planet descended on Cape Town, South Africa, on March 7 for a  conference aimed at finding a solution to one of humanity’s deadliest preventable scourges — smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, and tobacco use kills about six million people worldwide annually. British American Tobacco estimates that the global tobacco market is worth $770 billion, with cigarettes accounting for $700 billion of that.

Facing dwindling fortunes in Europe and America due to strong regulations, the tobacco industry has made Africa the new front line in its pursuit of profits.

Michael Bloomberg said, “Philip Morris International continues to aggressively market tobacco to children. They are fighting back against policies aimed at fighting smoking, including suing countries when they pass measures warning people about the dangers of tobacco.”   The continent is home to the largest youth population in the world, making it the most vulnerable to tobacco industry tactics.

Though the overall prevalence rate of smoking in Africa is still relatively low at 14%, it also demonstrates the highest growth rate in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, consumption increased by 52% between 1980 and 2016, or 164 billion cigarettes to 250 billion. Lesotho has seen a significant spike in smoking from 15% of its population in 2004 to 54% in 2015. The authors attribute this to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies. A 2010 survey by The Lancet showed a 220% increase in cigarette consumption in Mozambique over the prior 16 years, while Nigeria’s consumption rate grew by 60%. A 2013 Preventing Tobacco Epidemic in Africa expert committee report warns that “without comprehensive tobacco prevention and control policies, it is estimated that smoking prevalence in the African region will increase by nearly 39 percent by 2030, from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 21.9 percent — the largest expected regional increase globally.”

Tobacco prevention and control are two major weaknesses for most African states. While the continent still has the fewest tobacco-related deaths in the world, 90% of its population remained unprotected by smoke-free laws in 2009. Africa is bound for an entirely avoidable health crisis if things do not change. Unfortunately, the industry has resorted to its tried and tested series of (often unethical and even patently illegal) tactics to expand and solidify their market. Like in other parts of the world, the global tobacco firms use their influence — through lobbying, litigation, and undermining of scientific evidence — to interfere with regulations and law enforcement mechanisms.

 Many African politicians and public office holders are themselves complicit in deliberately weakening or leaving unimplemented tobacco laws. Some are reputed to receive bribes or other material gratification from companies in exchange for this “service,” while others are allegedly active participants in illegal tobacco trading and tax evasion. In South Africa, the son of erstwhile President Jacob Zuma has been accused of manipulation and fraud in connection with his cigarette manufacturing business.In 2015, for example, British American Tobacco (BAT) was accused of bribing a Kenyan politician with £50,000 ($70,000) to prevent a company, which was not under its control, from providing the country with technology that could stamp out tobacco smuggling. Compared to some of BAT’s other alleged misdeeds, the Kenya scandal seems downright tame. According to whistleblowers, BAT has also exploited instability in countries such as Somalia and South Sudan to sell its products and even built a secret town in the Democratic Republic of Congo to secretly grow tobacco crops.

“Low- and middle-income countries represent over 80% of tobacco users and tobacco-related deaths, placing an increased share of tobacco-related costs on those who can least afford it,” said the report authors in a statement. The anti-tobacco activists, from the American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies, said that if African governments do not intervene,” a growing proportion of that burden will fall on countries across Africa in the future”.

No comments: