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Facing The Tobacco Industry

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I had an unusual experience last week. I was invited to speak on “The Future of Tobacco Harm Reduction” at the 92nd Tobacco Merchants Association (TMA) Annual Meeting, in Williamsburg Virginia, (May 7-8). I’ve been invited to participate in industry events before, but always declined – partly because by participating one runs the risk of being used by the industry PR machine to imply that they are working with public health professionals to solve the remaining issues with tobacco and health (not true). Another practical issue with participation is that I don’t accept any funding from the tobacco industry but also don’t feel inclined to spend my own money traveling to their events. However, on this occasion I’d also been invited to speak on tobacco at Virginia Commonwealth University, near where the TMA meeting was taking place, so that wasn’t an issue. I was also advised by a colleague that if you have a message you want to get across to the tobacco industry then this meeting is one of the best venues to do so. I have a pretty clear message for the tobacco industry. I believe that if some of them pay attention to it, (and I am aware thats a big "if") millions of people could avoid smoking-caused diseases and premature death. But I think its worth a try. So off I went at the beginning of last week to give a presentation to over 200 representatives of all the major tobacco manufacturers, on the future of tobacco harm reduction.

One of the points I wanted to get across, was that public health workers have every good reason to be wary of entering into any dialogue with the tobacco industry, as they have a long and clear history of abuse of science, and neglect of health, in order to make more profit. I will put my whole presentation up on a link early next week, but just to give you a flavor, I presented data showing that the biggest US tobacco manufacturers had sold over 21 trillion cigarettes, for around $600 billion, and caused the premature deaths of over 13 million Americans since the 1964 US Surgeon General’s Report concluded that smoking causes lung cancer. I then asked for a minute’s silence to remember the 13.4 million people whose premature deaths had been caused by the tobacco industry during those years. I presented a series of quotes by industry executives that we can now clearly see to be lies. Just in case anyone wanted to argue that all that stuff is in the past, I ended that section by presenting the conclusions of Judge Kessler in her ruling on the Department of Justice law suit against the tobacco industry (in the past year):

They mounted a coordinated, well financed, sophisticated public relations campaign to attack and distort the scientific evidence demonstrating the relationship between smoking and disease…..

The evidence …proves that defendants have engaged in a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the American public.”


U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, August 17th, 2006, in finding the major US Tobacco companies guilty of racketeering.

There were certainly moments during my presentation in which the audience looked a bit stunned (rabbits in the headlights sprang to mind), but I think it is important to remind the tobacco industry as frequently as possible of the health effects of their work, and the reality of their business. Frankly the only reason they have gotten away with it for so long is because they make so much money they can afford to have lots of politicians in their pocket. I gained the impression that the industry hardly gives a thought to the health effects of its products. It proceeds as if it is selling widgets, thinking only of the next marketing gimmick and how to make more profit. Early next week I’ll tell you what I suggested that they do next, and provide you with a link to the whole presentation.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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