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BAT cautions against WHO measures

24 Nov 2008. Paul Adams, CEO at British American Tobacco, warned that some of the efforts by governments to reduce the health impact of tobacco are counterproductive and promote the illegal tobacco trade.

Adams' comments were in response to a global World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting in South Africa where guidelines to be positioned as “best practice” for governments in tobacco policy-making were adopted. 

The company argues that aspects of the guidelines conflict with widely accepted legal principles and could drive the tobacco trade deeper into the hands of smugglers, counterfeiters and criminals.

“We fully agree that the manufacture, distribution and sale of tobacco products should be regulated,” said Adams. “But these ‘guidelines’ raise serious questions about real best practice in policy making.  They are a potential recipe to vilify and marginalise legitimate, tax-paying, regulated businesses employing thousands of people, and risk forcing tobacco products ‘underground’ where the illicit, non-taxpaying, unregulated trade is already flourishing.”

The WHO guidelines include a ban on the display of tobacco products in shops, the reduction of government contact with tobacco companies to a minimum and a proposal for plain or unbranded cigarette packaging.

“Governments do not have to follow the more extreme proposals – the ‘guidelines’ are not binding,” continues the CEO in a statement issued on the BAT website. “They can turn their backs on extremism – as many already do – and consult properly with the well run and responsible part of the tobacco industry to shape sound regulation that can reduce the impact of smoking on public health while also sparing their countries from the chaos of tobacco markets run by traffickers.”

The statement also calls on all governments to look at Canada as a serious warning. “Canada has gradually become one of the world’s most heavily regulated countries for tobacco and has seen the growth of an illicit tobacco market that is now out of control. In some areas, the government is now regulating only half of the industry, while illegal traders have stolen the other half and flourish”. (ci)