Big Tobacco's quantum leap Editorial
Stabroek News
May 9, 2002

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A huge step taken by the tobacco giants of the world - the signing of an agreement on September 11, 2001 to implement new international marketing standards - was overtaken by the terrorist activities in the United States on that same day, which affected the entire world. The events that followed further buried that momentous occasion and many, save for those directly affected, remained unaware of what had transpired.

British American Tobacco plc, Phillip Morris and Japan Tobacco among others have agreed to radically change the way they promote and market cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. These changes will see an end to television, radio, cinema, printed and Internet advertisements for tobacco products unless and until it could be verified that these advertisements will reach adults only. The same will apply to video, audio and other electronic advertising including films, TV shows, plays, live or recorded musical performances and any similar medium. Tobacco companies will also not pay to have their products placed or displayed in any of the above medium.

They have also agreed to implement content standards in which advertisements will not be aimed at or appeal to youth, feature a celebrity or contain an endorsement, depict any person who appears to be under 25, suggest that most people smoke or that smoking enhances sexual prowess, popularity, athletic or professional success.

With regard to packaging and sales, health warnings will be prominently displayed, youth access restricted and no fewer than ten cigarettes sold to consumers. Several other standards are contained in the six-page document, which is available online.

While it seems that Big Tobacco has backed itself into a corner where promotion and sales are concerned, one has to consider that tobacco products, particularly cigarettes, already hold a large section of the commodities market. And though they had denied it before, tobacco companies had begun admitting, about three years ago, that cigarettes were addictive. So even if there were to be an end to all advertising right now, a ready market would still be available. This is true particularly in developing countries, like Guyana, where there are no nicotine addiction reduction programmes. People who want to stop smoking find the cost of nicotine patches and gum prohibitive, if they can find them at all.

Nevertheless, the new marketing standards must be welcome news for anti-smoking activists. In Guyana, where production of tobacco and cigarettes has ceased, the local distributor has announced that the new strategies will be implemented by the end of the year. In the US Phillip Morris has plunged US$1 million into a youth anti-smoking campaign, which involves advertisements depicting young people speaking out against cigarettes and teen smoking. Removing the glamour from cigarette advertising will prove a fillip to this programme. Similar strategies employed here could also be useful in preventing youth smoking before it starts.