If tobacco companies were nation states, some or all of them may have followed the lead of Gambia, Burundi and South Africa, all of which this autumn announced their withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The court was created to try war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity. The departing members said the court was picking on Africa, while ignoring like crimes elsewhere.. When Gambia left in October, nine of the 10 cases concerned Africa. Preferring to try its own war crimes cases, the US never joined the ICC.
Tobacco companies do not have the option of rejecting what they don’t like about international tobacco control measures. When it comes to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), they also do not have the option of listening to what is being said and decided about their futures.
In what appears to be one of the few concrete actions taken at this year’s FCTC plenary meeting held in India, the body again closed the gallery to observers from the tobacco sector. When talks failed to produce decisions, tobacco interests at work inside COP7 sessions were blamed. Normally an FCTC cheerleader, the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), comprised of about 500 organisations with an interest in tobacco control, said this year’s COP produced only “mixed results.” The US signed, but never ratified the FCTC.
President-elect Donald Trump has signalled the US will put more distance between it and internationalism. At home, US regulators may face a Republican-led backlash.
One pack for all
Next year will see more countries remove branding from tobacco products by adopting plain packaging laws. This is another FCTC goal, but the driving forces are in Europe. France and the UK already have it, Ireland should have had it - the legislation ran into snags - and Hungary will have it by 2019. Sweden, Finland, Norway, Belgium and Slovenia are working on it. Only four years ago Australia became the first country to adopt plain packs. Until this year, plain packs could only be found Down Under.
Australia’s matt brown packs with brand names standardised in size, font and placement have become the global norm for plain packs. Bright colours are confined to the graphic warnings – 75 per cent on the front and 90 per cent on the back in Australia.
One company for all
Cigarette shipping volumes are down. Until 2015, two decades of Chinese growth had blunted the message but volume fell in 2015 and should continue to fall. Next year China will make life tougher for its 300 million smokers by implementing a national ban on smoking in public places.
Public companies face an imperative to expand that comes from shareholders, who expect continued growth to be translated into improved profits and higher dividends. See page 24 to find out what tobacco companies are doing about this.