Impossible Claims for Tobacco Controls (Letter to the Editor)

From Dr Roger Bate.

Sir, Last week in Geneva the World Health Organisation started down the road to a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). According to the WHO, smoking is a disease spread by multinational tobacco company advertising — an epidemic worthy of the largest health crusade in history. The FCTC will have the full force of international law (not to mention international funding of advocacy groups). It is perhaps inconvenient that the European Union’s own ad ban directive was thrown out by the European Court of Justice at the beginning of the month.

The FCTC should be rejected, its current form, by national governments because the restrictions proposed on smoking are substantial: guaranteed protection from passive smoking, tax to make up at least two-thirds of the pack price (a massive price rise for smokers in developing countries), a ban on vending machines, removal of tobacco from retail price indices, WHO approval of all chemicals in tobacco products, bans on all forms of advertising and sport sponsorship, bans on sales of cigarettes in packs under 20, no mention of “light” or “mild” to describe products, tobacco

 packaging to include at least 50  percent coverage with anti-tobacco pictures and warnings, international legal compensation for “victims” of tobacco … and the list goes on.

The WHO may have a proper role in informing existing and potential smokers around the world that smoking is harmful and arguably it should establish labelling standards for tobacco packaging. But it undermines the sovereignty of nations when it tries to harmonise tax rates.

Not only would this be economically inefficient but harmonised taxes are invariably higher taxes and high tobacco tax countries are plagued by underground markets. Smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes account for more than 20 per cent of the market in the UK, which costs the Treasury more than $3bn a year despite its well ‘policed customs controls. The FTCT draft says it will “eradicate smuggling”. This is more than a bold claim: it is impossible. But in attempting to do so, international bureaucrats are In for boom times.