Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Scent of Blatantly Sinister Hypocrisy

"It was a very conscious strategy. HIV ... was legitimately so terrifying that it was also a good health issue to put up and say, 'Wait, this has to be the urgent priority, as opposed to looking at tobacco control."
"Any partnership with a tobacco company [charitable groups accepting funding from tobacco interests], does provide that company and that industry with legitimacy."
Julia Smith, post-doctoral fellow, Global Tobacco Control program, Simon Fraser Health Sciences faculty, British Columbia

"Being the disease of the century and a preventive disease, AIDS should be 'public enemy No. 1' because of its terminal consequences at every age."
British American Tobacco (BAT) official in Argentina

“The tobacco industry is very sophisticated at protecting its sales, whether in Canada or globally,” a Canadian Cancer Society policy analyst said.
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg   “The tobacco industry is very sophisticated at protecting its sales, whether in Canada or globally,” a Canadian Cancer Society policy analyst said.
That kind of sanctimony sits ill with anyone cognizant of the destructiveness to human health posed by the tobacco industry. And for one of its representatives to  slyly attribute to other health-impairing agents the role of absolutely most dangerous to human health, hoping that no one notices that the statement emanates from the hypocritical mouth of a tobacco-pusher is like an illicit drug seller tut-tutting people jaywalking.

The tobacco industry has gone through a very trying time in the past several decades. Shown by investigators to have known very well how tobacco use endangers human life, the industry kept that knowledge, gained through their own research and never publicly disclosed, to themselves. They have been shameless in their skilled use of public relations and advertising to convince vulnerable people that smoking is cool and sophisticated as a lifestyle habit.

Knowing the deleterious effects on heart and lungs of nicotine as a cancer agent and an addictive substance, the industry geared its advertising to entrap people from a young age. When governments began to realize that public health costs were skyrocketing as a result of runaway cancer rates attributable to nicotine in all its nefarious forms, legislation at every government level, from mandating warnings on cigarette packages to outlawing smoking in public places put a dent in tobacco use, as did raising the taxation rate to discourage smokers.

The trauma of lung cancer and prematurely lost lives led people to finally withdraw from tobacco use in large numbers. And that's when the tobacco manufacturers turned their malicious attention to third world countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Their public relations manipulation of the public never did cease, however, and over the past 25 years the industry paired its financial resources with the cause of battling AIDS and HIV, and funding other look-good charitable causes.

As good corporate citizens what was there not to like in the industry supporting research and support for the battle against AIDS? So donations to HIV/AIDS groups was embraced, along with activism on the part of big tobacco to call on government for greater action to battle the disease. At the same time, downplaying the scourge of tobacco on societal health as nothing compared to the destructiveness of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Millions of internal company documents formed the basis of a study that led to a recognition of a surreptitious campaign to white-wash tobacco by focusing on concern for HIV. Philip Morris International sponsored a tennis tour in support of HIV groups, British American Tobacco brought a conference on HIV to Nigeria, while one BAT official responded to a major anti-smoking conference by arguing that it is AIDS, not tobacco, that should be recognized as "public enemy No.1".

Fotolia     One HIV advocate called the former financial links between AIDS groups and tobacco companies a “pact with the devil.”

AIDS groups have, for the most part, decided to reject continued tobacco-sourced funding, a practise characterized by one anti-HIV advocate as making a "pact with the devil", in agreeing to accept that tainted funding. The situation prevails and remains particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa. Even high-profile public groups who should know better, though, still accept that tainted funding: Philip Morris has given donations of over $100,000 yearly to the United Way of Toronto.

The study out of Simon Fraser University used data from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library representing over 14 million internal industry records on file and used to prosecute lawsuits against tobacco corporations in the United States. Philip Morris, the study points out, donated to a number of American AIDS groups, sponsoring a patient meal program to the value of $3 million, as an example, through the Virginia Slims Legends tennis and music tour.

As the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was being put into place the tobacco industry attempted to divert public attention away from simple realities and took to questioning the priorities of the World Health Organization in condemning tobacco use as the vector of a world-wide lung cancer epidemic. Concerts and soccer matches spotlighting AIDS prevention and care was sponsored by British American Tobacco in Argentina at the very time that a major international tobacco conference was taking place there.

It took some time, but eventually HIV/AIDS groups globally understood how they were being manipulated, and spurned further tainting by funding from big tobacco. Even so, their campaign continues in the expanding African market. Tobacco consumption in Africa doubled to 80 billion cigarettes per year, from 1990 to 2010. BAT is listed by South Africa's Centre for HIV/AIDS as one of six "partners", alongside the United Nations and American-government agencies, even while BAT supplies 90 percent of South Africa's adult smokers.

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