Thailand has a very active coalition of antismoking activists who have been successful in bringing about a law that has prohibited all cigarette advertising in this kingdom. There are no cigarette ads on TV, in newspapers, magazines and no billboards advertising cigarettes are allowed along roads. One can, however, still see tobacco ads in foreign publications imported into Thailand which is Thailand’s concession to free dissemination of news and views. A majority of respected academics in Thailand have had part of their training in the United States and have strong emotional and professional bonds with America. Thailand has had over 100 years of friendly relations with the United States and there is now a growing feeling of frustration and disappointment that the US Government has been involved in this unsavory issue of forcing the export of an addicting substance on this country. It is, indeed, an event reminiscent of that when Great Britain exported opium to China during the last century and certainly one that is unworthy of a great nation such as the United States of America.
Smoking and chewing of tobacco have been recognized as major health hazards worldwide. Rather than help promote the use of these products further, would it not be wise for America to help curb tobacco consumption by taking the popular initiative and exclude cigarettes from the list of trade items under section 301 of the Trade Act? A bill to do just that (House 1249) is now under consideration by the American Congress and should be supported. We do not believe that the majority of Americans would approve the USTRs role in helping the cigarette industry find new markets in foreign countries to make up for the declining sales at home. The National Institutes of Health has estimated that by the year 2000 the smoking rate in American males will be 15 percent, while in developing countries, the rate is sure to remain over 50 percent with American cigarettes making up a significant portion of those smoked. The USTR also needs to look back at its own government s antismoking measures. It cannot claim all the credit for the significant reduction in cigarette consumption at home. The credit for this achievement should also go to many health-conscious consumer advocate groups and, above all, to the courageous former Surgeon General of the United States. Even so, the US Government has not been all that successful in restraining its own cigarette industry, indeed far less so than the government of Thailand.
Tobacco advertising in printed media is still allowed in America and is widespread and very visible. Cigarette companies sponsor sport events and there are billboards throughout the US advertising smoking. America has not yet been able to pass laws to require cigarette companies to reveal the level of harmful ingredients in their products, a provision of Canadian law which resulted in voluntary withdrawal of American cigarettes from the Canadian market.
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Thailand is not alone in the cigarette dispute with the United States. Health advocates in other countries open to US cigarette imports are outraged by the irresponsible behavior of transnational tobacco companies in evading and circumventing advertising regulations. Worst are those that target youth and women. In June, 1989, nine countries in Asia formed the Asia- Pacific Association for the Control of Tobacco. Among the priorities of this association is to prevent developing countries from being victimized by the transnational tobacco companies. While we are waiting for American lawmakers to pass legislation that would exclude cigarettes from trade items under section 301, we thoracic physicians should commit ourselves to fight further expansion of the tobacco addiction pandemic.
It is hoped that all future APCDC meetings will be “smoke free.” This will show our commitment, and set an example for other major international meetings.