There should be no ethical dilemma about donations from the tobacco industry

I caught the closing segment of Earl Moxam’s programme That’s a wrap
aired on RJR FM radio last week. The specific discussion mainly between
Moxam and veteran journalist Franklin McKnight that got my attention
concerned the ethical implications of public officials collecting
donations from tobacco companies. This arose from a recent disclosure
by tobacco control advocate Dr Knox Hagley that four parliamentarians
had accepted cash donations from tobacco companies which they used to
support community development projects.
Having worked as a social communicator for more than two decades, I have
long followed and supported the anti-tobacco campaign and was
especially interested in the views of journalists whose support remains a
key target of the initiative at the national and global levels. Moxam
and McKnight would be two of the best from which anti-tobacco
campaigners could draw some conclusions about their advocacy strategies.

The question placed on the That’s a wrap discussion agenda was whether
it was morally wrong to accept donations from tobacco companies. Both
panellists conceded that it was a dilemma about which they were yet to
take a firm position. Both also acknowledged that money taken from the
proceeds of tobacco sales is used to support many commendable
development objectives: education, sports and health, to name a few.
Against that background it was their contention that they could not sit
in condemnation of those in receipt of such donations. Their unanswered
question was: why should the parliamentarians or any public figure not
accept donations from tobacco companies, especially for projects deemed
worthy, while such companies are still required to pay taxes?
Unlike these journalists, the WHO and all anti-tobacco advocates have
long been very clear on this issue. This is a case of “rendering unto
Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”. The usual response is that taxes
can never be equated with donations. Taxes represent money that belongs
to the government and is unlikely to be used as a means of direct
influence on state policy, as is the case with donations. Besides,
research has categorically confirmed the damaging effects of tobacco on
health and by extension on national economies.
Further, as the leading cause of preventable death globally, there is
some evidence that tobacco has seen an upsurge in both its consumption
and its fatality rate worldwide with the increasing interconnectedness
of the global economy. Nearly every government now concedes that this
reality calls for decisive action, hence the successful campaign in
support of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
It took three years for negotiators to come to an agreement on the
inherent terms. After being adopted by the World Health Assembly, the
policy-making arm of the WHO, the FCTC officially went into effect in
February 2005. Jamaica has been a signatory to the treaty since 2005.
The treaty is supposed to be legally binding to some 176 countries,
including Jamaica.
The FCTC seeks “to protect present and future generations from the
devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of
tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke” by enacting a set of
universal standards stating the dangers of tobacco and limiting its use
in all forms worldwide. To this end, the treaty’s provisions include
rules that govern the production, sale, distribution, advertisement and
taxation of tobacco, and the treaty is particularly strong in its
protective clauses pertaining to the youth market. Advocates contend
that the FCTC standards are, however, minimum requirements, and
signatories are encouraged to be even more stringent in regulating
tobacco than the treaty requires them to be.
Regrettably, as Dr Hagley himself noted not very long ago, there are
no severe penalties for its violation beyond embarrassment and public
outcry. The consequences to the health of us as individuals and to our
fragile economy, however, are painfully obvious.
Despite knowledge about the damaging effects of tobacco use, the
industry continues to thrive, and worse, is constantly on the lookout
for new users, which invariably means that the younger members of the
population have become the main targets of tobacco marketing strategies.
Hence, although the treaty effectively outlaws advertising and sale to
minors, tobacco marketers have effectively shifted their approach. They
have somehow managed to promote successfully an appeal to youngsters and
women, especially, that it is “cool” to smoke.
They have managed to do this by clever positioning of their product
within our national and global environments that have become media
saturated. A tobacco-use study done in 2010 shows an increase over the
2006 period, albeit slight, in the number of youths in the 13 -16 age
group in Jamaica who smoke. Data for Caribbean countries show that
youngsters begin to experiment with smoking between ages 10 – 12. Also,
that some 24 – 25 per cent of those in the mid 20-year-old group now
smoke. This study suggests that there is a reversal of gains made in
recent years. Indeed, while smoking at one stage appeared unpopular,
many tobacco users now appear to be emerging from the closet and new
ones are being won over. There is also concern that many of the users
are not aware of the addictive potential of tobacco.
We also know that data on cancer prevalence indicate that the disease is
as deadly as ever and that countries are obliged to pull out all the
stops to be able to stall and halt its progress. The question is
therefore not whether our economies can survive by taking steps to
establish and sustain a hostile environment to tobacco and smokers, but
assuming we are serious about the survival of life on our planet, as we
know it, implementing the FCTC provisions is a non-negotiable commitment
that we neglect at our peril. Indeed, that should be the “wrap” in
moving forward.
Harvest extravaganza

On a more positive note, Webster Memorial United Church launched its
annual Harvest Extravaganza on Sunday, September 23. This is scheduled
to run until September 29, involving a range of activities including
personal development services for all members and visitors.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of eating well and
staying fit – the antithesis of smoking – this is the place to be.
Sports nutritionist Patricia Thompson will kick off a series of
presentations covering four personal development issues. Mrs Thompson
will speak on “Nutrition and physical well-being”. She will address some
of the myths related to nutrition and physical fitness and the
importance of making informed food choices. Three other presentations
will be made by other special consultants in the respective fields.
These are “Managing human resources” by Mrs Geraldline Wright, “How to
manage your banking” by Mrs Claudette Stephen and “Caring for your house
plants” by Mrs Jeanette Lindsay.
September 27 is also being promoted as “Medical Assistance Day” under
the Harvest Extravaganza week-long programme of activities. People
attending will be able to access several health-related services,
including blood sugar and other diabetes-related tests, as well as eye
testing. This activity will run from 10:30 to 3 pm. Admission is free
and open to the public. 
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