Sunday, July 13, 2014

Big Tobacco Makes Its Stand — in Uganda

Big Tobacco is still throwing its weight around. In the process, it is showing that it doesn’t have the weight it once did.

One sign of this is the place where Big Tobacco has chosen to make last stand. The new battleground, and likely the last chance to maintain its grip on any substantial part of the civilized world, is Uganda. Having conceded defeat in South America, Big Tobacco is using Uganda to make a point, to signal its intention to boycott countries in Africa that implement tobacco-control legislation. At The Guardian:

Yet the way that its financial clout and threatening rhetoric is falling on deaf ears tells you how much the numbers are stacked against tobacco even in one of the poorer countries in the world. Cigarettes kill 13,000 people a year in Uganda. There are 18,000 commercial tobacco farmers. Adding in political friends, the tobacco lobby may represent 1 percent of voters — a large enough special interest group to be heard politely, but not large enough to be remembered when the government faces tough budget questions such as the high cost of health care for smokers.

One way or another, Uganda will surely pass the familiar restrictions on tobacco that are already in place in half of the world. The current proposal is tame by U.S. standards, establishing limitations on marketing, creating smoke-free zones at public buildings, raising the smoking age to 21. Any successful legislation in Uganda will be imitated in other countries across central and eastern Africa, just as Ireland’s tobacco control initiatives provided a model for countries elsewhere a decade ago. This poses an obstacle to Big Tobacco’s plans. That’s why it is making a such an emphatic stand here, but it is plain to see that its scorched-earth strategy is falling short.