Endgame Training Course

2015 was a Very Bad Year for the Tobacco Industry

And it’s only going to get worse for them.

I was asked two weeks ago to blog about my end-of-year thoughts. Something told me to procrastinate, and I am glad I did. Within 24 hours before putting fingers to keyboard, good news came from afar. First, after several years of litigation, Australia has emerged victorious in its trade dispute with Philip Morris International over plain – or standardized – packaging. And on the same day, France announced that it too would implement tobacco packaging without industry branding.

As important as these outcomes are, they are merely piling on at the end of a year that has seen stunning defeats for the tobacco industry. It will never again be “business as usual” for an industry that kills half of its long-term customers. There is not the space to list every victory for public health, but to highlight a few: 1

• Nova Scotia, Alberta and New Brunswick [1] became the first jurisdictions in the world to ban all tobacco flavorings, including menthol. Two other provinces and several other countries will follow in 2016.

• Standardized packaging was announced in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, [2] the first countries to follow Australia. Norway, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and Canada will likely follow next year.

• Nepal implemented the largest graphic health warnings in history, occupying 90% of a cigarette pack.

These are important incremental victories, chipping away at the core business of Big Tobacco. But 2015 also saw two fundamental changes in the way the world addresses tobacco products, changes that will have a profound and growing impact on the tobacco epidemic. And ASH was pleased to be at the center of both.

1. In September, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, the blueprint for ending poverty by 2030. Unlike the previous set of goals, tobacco is front and center, and the world now formally recognizes that tobacco consumption stunts economic development and ruins families, in the U.S. and around the world.

2. Negotiations for the largest free trade agreement in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, concluded with an exception preventing tobacco corporations from suing governments over anti-tobacco measures (as PMI did to Australia under a different agreement). This is unprecedented in trade history.

Development and trade are new arenas for the public health community, and we caught the tobacco industry off-guard. The ramifications will take time to manifest, but they are inevitable. The days of the tobacco industry are numbered.

However, we are far from a final victory. In 2011, ASH made the decision to commit resources to fight tobacco in the worlds of development and trade. We will continue the pressure, and capitalize on these victories. But we are also investigating new “soft spots” in Big Tobacco’s armor. In 2016, we look forward to progress on a range of initiatives:

Criminal liability – Big tobacco’s actions easily meet the definition of manslaughter, but no prosecutor has yet brought them to justice.

Human rights – All individuals have the right to life and health. The tobacco industry continuously violates these rights.

Tobacco-Free Generation – Tasmania is considering raising the age to purchase tobacco by one year, every year, eventually phasing out tobacco from society.

Divestment – Too many institutional investors, including governments, create a conflict of interest by investing in tobacco companies.

Pharmacies – It is a travesty that retailers devoted to health sell tobacco products at one end of the store while at the other end selling drugs to treat tobacco-related illnesses.

The tobacco wars are not yet won, but we can see the end. Your grandchildren will find it curious that it took so long.

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Also in 2016, look for our campaign finance map. Many of U.S. elected representatives take campaign money from Big Tobacco, which is inevitably a conflict of interest when those same representatives legislate laws about tobacco control. Check back for an updated campaign map in 2016.


[1] As of 1/1/16.

[2] All three will come into force in 2016.