USA: Anti-Tobacco Activists Add Video to Arsenal Before Framework Talks
WASHINGTON -- Anti-tobacco activists have added a new
weapon to their arsenal in advance of next month's negotiations in
Geneva for a global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
A new documentary film, 'Making a Killing,' is being released here
and in 29 other countries, including some of the top markets for
big tobacco in the Third World such as Malaysia, Nigeria, the
Philippines, South Africa, and Vietnam. It was produced by INFACT,
a US-based grassroots group famous for its boycott campaign
against corporate giant Nestle products to protest the Swiss
company's aggressive marketing of infant formula in poor countries
in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The film documents US-based Philip Morris' efforts to promote its
tobacco products in developing countries while improving its
public image in the United States. The company's image has been
tarred by a series of extremely costly court judgements and
exposes about its alleged complicity in cigarette-smuggling
operations designed to evade hefty government taxes overseas.
Philip Morris, famous for its 'Marlboro Man' logo, is the world's
biggest tobacco company and has been particularly successful in
capturing fast-growing foreign markets, particularly in Eastern
Europe and Asia.
''This (film) reveals the gap between the tobacco giants PR
(public relations) in the US and its practices overseas,'' according to
INFACT director Kathryn Mulvey.
The film's release comes 10 days before delegates from around the
world begin working in Geneva at World Health Organisation (WHO)
headquarters on the proposed Framework Convention. WHO director-
general Gro Harlem Brundtland, who launched the initiative last
year, hopes that the FCTC could be submitted to the World Health
Assembly for adoption within two years.
Its purpose would be to set international rules governing the
global use, promotion, and marketing of tobacco products. Anti-
tobacco activists are calling for a binding and enforceable treaty
that will ban all advertising, marketing, promotion and
sponsorship of tobacco products. They also oppose any direct
participation by the major tobacco companies in the negotiations.
''An industry that makes and sells addictive, deadly goods, must
not be allowed to shape public health policy,'' says John
Garrison, head of the American Lung Association (ALA), a prominent
lobby group with a century-long record of opposing Big Tobacco.
The WHO estimates that roughly 1.1 billion people around the world
smoke tobacco. It has referred to the practice as a ''global
epidemic'' whose annual death toll is likely to rise from about 4
million today to some 10 million people by the 2020s.
The two biggest US tobacco companies, Philip Morris and RJR
Nabisco, which together account for about 20 percent of global
production, have seen their sales in the United States stagnate or
even decline over the past two decades as the public has become
more informed about the dangers posed by tobacco use. As a result,
sales overseas, which now account for about 75 percent of Philip
Morris' total production, has become ever-more important to their
This is dramatised in the INFACT film which documents Philip
Morris' marketing tactics in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, in
particular. While the company insists that it has turned over a
new leaf in the United States by, among other things, officially
recognising the link between smoking and lung cancer and running
ad campaigns which warn children against smoking, its efforts
abroad, especially in developing countries, are as aggressive as
In the countries of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, for
example, Philip Morris has used advertising and marketing tactics
that would not be allowed in the United States. Much of the
advertising, which was not permitted on television or radio in
Soviet times, is directed primarily at children.
Since Philip Morris began advertising in the Czech Republic,
smoking by minors has increased by some 40 percent, according to a
Czech physician with the National Institute of Health in Prague,
who also charged that an entire section of the country's tobacco-
control legislation was written by advertising agencies working
for Philip Morris after the company took key lawmakers on a trip
After Malaysia banned cigarette advertising, the company launched
clothing stores called the ''Marlboro Adventure'' whose apparent
purpose was to ensure that the public display of the "Marlboro
Man'' logo would continue.
The Marlboro cowboy, who was described by its creator as ''the
right image to capture the youth market's fancy (and) a perfect
symbol of independence and individualistic rebellion,'' has become
ubiquitous in most of East Asia.
In Vietnam, another major bridgehead for Philip Morris, the
company also faced a ban on media ads for cigarettes. So it
created ''walking ads,'' teenaged girls and boys'' who offered
free ''samples'' to others on the streets - a practice filmed by
INFACT as recently as last April. Vietnam's legislature has since
outlawed ''sampling,'' according to the group.
Similar tactics are being used in Nigeria, according to Akinbode
Oluwafemi of that country's Environmental Rights Action. ''Radio
and TV stations (are being) taken over by cigarette ads,'' he told
an audience at a Capitol Hill showing of the video Wednesday.
''They take samples from village to village, '' he said, adding
that Washington should ''investigate these activities.''
But the US government's attitude appears ambivalent at best. On
the one hand, the administration of President Bill Clinton has
been tough on tobacco companies, particularly in curbing their
efforts to market cigarettes to children here. On the other hand,
its position on the upcoming FCTC negotiations has disappointed
Unlike anti-tobacco hawks like Canada, Britain, Singapore,
Thailand and even Brazil, which is a major tobacco producer,
Washington so far has indicated only that it supports a convention
that can be ratified by the US Senate where senators from tobacco-
producing states are likely to oppose any treaty with real teeth.
Moreover, its current support for a controversial export-subsidy
bill that would give US tobacco companies some 100 million dollars
in tax breaks on products they sell abroad has fuelled outrage
among many groups. The bill, part of a much larger package of
export subsidies, was rammed through the House of Representatives
last month and will now be taken up by the Senate where anti-
tobacco forces will try to strip it of the tobacco provision.
''It's a moral outrage,'' said Sen. Paul Wellstone, a staunch foe
of Big Tobacco. ''It gives a subsidy to a death product.''
- 109 Tobacco