BAT hits at 'flawed' WHO plan to curb smoking
British American Tobacco, the world's second-biggest cigarette company, will this week attack the World Health Organisation's stringent proposals to limit tobacco use, arguing that the Geneva-based organisation's action plan is "fundamentally flawed" and
BAT is publishing its five-page submission to the WHO ahead of public hearings in Geneva in October on the impact of tobacco on global health. The move is part of an aggressive effort by big tobacco companies to influence the policy-making process.
The WHO is proposing a legally binding international framework convention on tobacco control, which would be adopted by national governments. The proposals call for higher taxes on cigarettes, stricter regulation of tobacco manufacture and distribution, and the banning of all cigarette advertising and sponsorship.
In its submission BAT acknowledges that it makes "risky" products and says it is committed to helping reduce the health impact of tobacco use. But it argues that the key to rapid progress is to create a climate of co-operation between tobacco companies, health experts and governments. That would help all parties reduce youth smoking, regulate the tobacco market more effectively and inform the public of health risks.
BAT also challenges the WHO's statistics on smoking-related deaths and criticises the limited participation of tobacco companies in the negotiating process.
"To exclude the tobacco manufacturers, growers, workers, consumers and retailers from a consultation process that should be fair and open does not make for good policy formation," it says.
However, the WHO is sceptical about the industry's intentions and is restricting its participation in the new convention. Earlier this month a group of experts, commissioned by the WHO, published a report highlighting how tobacco companies had conducted a decades-long campaign to subvert the work of the health organisation.
The report alleged that tobacco companies had secretly funded "independent" experts to attack the organisation's research and tried to provoke antagonism between the WHO and other UN bodies.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, the WHO's director general, hopes its 191 member countries will adopt the anti-tobacco convention by 2003.