Multi-billionaire American businessman Michael Bloomberg today pledged to spend $20 million on founding a new international watchdog to monitor the deceptive practices employed by big tobacco companies as they attempt to offset falling smoking levels in the west by hooking young people in developing nations.
Announced at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, the Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) watchdog will be charged with countering the industry’s influence by publishing reports on pro-smoking activities and tactics.
In a press release, Bloomberg, who is an ambassador for the World Health Organisation (WHO) on non-communicable diseases, said: “Over the last decade tobacco control measures have saved nearly 35 million lives, but as more cities and countries take action, the tobacco industry is pushing to find new users, particularly among young people.
“We cannot stand by as the industry misleads the public in an effort to get more people hooked on its products — and this global watchdog will help us hold the industry accountable.”
The new watchdog will look to expose examples of the tobacco industry using its considerable resources to influence government policy, and provide tools and training to help countries fight cigarette makers as they attempt to target new smokers, particularly in developing nations.
World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “STOP is a warning call to big tobacco that they are on notice.
“The World Health Organisation and our partners will not accept efforts to undermine the huge successes in tobacco control that we have achieved over the past few decades. There is no going back.”
Big tobacco firms have been accused of using the same tactics they employed in the west to slow the introduction of anti-tobacco legislation in poorer and developing countries.
As well as lobbying to prevent the banning of tobacco advertising at sporting events in countries such as Kenya and handing out free cigarettes to people in shopping centres in neighbouring countries, cigarette manufacturers are always quick to object to any efforts to increase the price of tobacco products in developing nations, arguing that doing so will only boost the black market.
Last month, British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) executive Joe Heshu told Independent Online that a proposed rise in taxes on cigarettes in the country would result in a decline in the amount of revenue collected by the Treasury.
“Drastically raising taxes on legally-produced cigarettes simply makes illicit products that evade tax even cheaper by comparison, and contributes to the growth of the illegal market”, he said.