On Smoking

On Smoking


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Smoking provides a massive cost to the health systems of Europe. The tobacco companies profit from their goods. They find ways to market their addictive products, to reach children and adults, to make them loyal customers for the rest of their shortened life. The tobacco companies also find ways to control the legislature, through lobbying and other means. They also provide our Europe with “donations” to the supreme European institutions which amount to thousands of millions (in other words billions of Euro) with the aim to aid the crackdown of smuggling.

On the Treaty…

The Treaty of the Maastricht provides in Article 3a that the activities of the Community shall include “a contribution to the attainment of a high level of health protection.” Article 129 of the Treaty also provides that Community action shall be directed towards the prevention of diseases, in particular the major health scourges. It also provides that health protection requirements shall form a constituent part of the European Union’s other policies. This Article also states that Member States shall co-ordinate among themselves their policies and programs towards ensuring a high level of human health protection and that the Commission may take any useful initiative to promote such coordination

On marketing…

The idea of using the mass media as a tool for marketing has been around as long as the media have existed in their public and commercial form. It does not take much imagination to analyse what might happen if a product that is addictive is marketed through as many media as possible, with an advertising budget of about USD 12.5 billion per year (figure for the year 2002 as provided in Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign Associated with Substantial Decrease in Youth Smoking, Medical Study News). Without a counter-balancing marketing tool and legislation, and with such a high expenditure, the tobacco industry’s messages would be shot into the public and affecting receivers of the message worldwide.

On the bold legislation…

There have been two decisive steps in reducing tobacco marketing reach.

Firstly, the Council directive on Television Without Frontiers (89/552/EEC), which harmonised a ban on television advertising of tobacco products. As a result since the mid-1990s, there have been no television advertisements of tobacco products in the European Union.

Secondly, the Tobacco Advertising Directive of 2003 bans all tobacco advertising in the print media, as well as the internet and radio in all EU member states. The directive also prohibits tobacco sponsorship of cross-border events. These events include but are not exclusive to Formula One and the International Rally Championship. This directive was imposed as of July 31, 2005 and is theoretically (to a very great extent practically) being upheld since then by the member states. To this day a few countries are still not complying with this directive, including Germany and Luxembourg.

Now let us look at the Tobacco Advertising Directive. Television is just there. Children are free to turn it on and off in the home. However magazines and newspapers are not the same case. The consumer has to purchase these, and does so at his own risk, accepting what he may find inside, whether these are naked pictures articles talking about the effects of drug use, or why not tobacco advertisements. Why take away a much needed injection into the declining markets of the print media? The answer is simple- because it is the right thing to do for Europe. It is the right thing to do for our health, whether we smoke or are passive smokers. The problem is not this. The problem is that on billboards, and in cinemas, tobacco advertisements still continued (whether they are allowed is at the discretion of the member states). It is unacceptable that of billboards, whether it is a private individual or in some cases the State itself, can profit from tobacco advertisements, while the publishing world cannot. Billboards are set up in places with the highest visibility, where adults and children forcibly look whether they like it or not. These tobacco advertisements need to disappear from the streets, because keeping them is not ethically sound. Children and adults are subjected to advertisements of tobacco products. Publishers are at the same time not getting fair and equal treatment as billboard owners. The latest Silk Cut advertisement features a playful cat pawing at a purple computer mouse as a real mouse sits by and watches curiously. I wonder if that makes kids or adults want to smoke? The allusion to Tom & Jerry, or Mickey Mouse should be enough to get kids at least curious. How can the European Commission allow this to go on?

On new-lobbying…

Lobbying is a multi-million dollar industry, having Washington DC and Brussels as the main markets. The promotion of interests of the tobacco companies is happening, and that is a fact. Millions of dollars are being spent to ‘soften’ legislation against tobacco companies, and maybe prevent large scale campaigns from taking place. Two large scale campaigns have happened on behalf of the European Commission, totalling to over 90 million Euro. They both have used, and are using the theme of ‘romantic rejection’ to try and achieve maximal impact on youths. This has been found in numerous studies to be the least effective method of counter-advertising as it is not effective in its impact to both youths and adults. It is a possibility that this may be the outcome of lobbying efforts of the tobacco-representing lobby firms.

Lobbying by the tobacco companies continues and is getting stronger in Europe and the USA. Indeed, since advertising through the mass media has been banned in the European Union, there is a large budget surplus which will remain in the marketing sector of the tobacco companies, a large proportion of which will inevitably be spent on lobbying interests. This can be shown through the fairly recent astounding development which is shocking and appalling. Philip Morris has taken the initiative to cooperate (or reward) the European Union in its efforts to reduce contraband cigarettes. It has ‘rewarded’ the European Union by giving the sum of USD 1.25 billion to aid the crackdown of cigarette smuggling. Furthermore, Philip Morris has vowed to pay the taxable amount for all the contraband cigarettes that the member-states seize as a result of future efforts. This effort of Phillip Morris is clearly another effort to promote their interest. A USD 1.25 billion injection into the European Economy will be treated with respect and attention.

How can the European Commission lay out its palm and accept this money? Is Philip Morris wholeheartedly donating this money for the crackdown of contraband? For sure it is in their interest to reduce contraband, but it is not as if they are the only ones to gain from a reduction in contraband. All the other tobacco companies will gain too. So it just begs the very obvious question: will the Commission do the right thing the next time a case comes up and Philip Morris is involved- or will the USD 1.25 billion help resolve the issue quietly and safely for Philip Morris?

Simply put, is this the greatest attempt to directly lobby into the heart of the European Union institutions cutting out the middle man (the lobbying companies) to make it look acceptable to the public? Can we just ignore the fact that Philip Morris is destroying the health of European citizens, contributing to the massive costs incurred to the health of Europeans and European health systems?

On the European Commission antismoking campaigns…

With the process of globalisation, it seems that even anti-smoking advertisements and campaigns have been caught in the process. In Appraisal of Anti-Smoking Advertising by Youth at Risk for Regular Smoking: A Comparative Study in the United States, Australia, and Britain, the authors measure the reactions of youths in the US, Australia and Britain to 50 anti-smoking advertisements. The authors conclude that the youths in these countries studied had very similar ways in which they reacted to the advertisements. They extrapolate this to suggest, that “such adverts might be more actively shared among nations.”

This idea is exactly what the European Commission can use to justify their appealing to 15, and after the enlargement, to 25 different countries, each with different cultures, with the same campaign. It is necessary to take into account however the limitations of such campaigns. Indeed it is possible to use the same messages, images, and media to target what can in theory be considered one single target audience (the susceptible youth of the European Union).

This means however that it is not possible to take the cultural elements of all these countries into account to create messages that uniquely affect individuals in a way to utilise cultural differences to maximise this impact. Furthermore, elements of such a campaign would have to be very basic, appealing to individuals on a level that cannot be interpreted culturally as to avoid misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the messages. The messages of the European Commission funded campaigns are simplistic as such. Although there is globalisation occurring in anti-smoking campaigns, it is having adverse effects as to the impact of these campaigns. For the globalisation of such messages to be successful, elements such as language and culture also have to become global and this is not possible in the European Union of 25.

Alexander Coronakis

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