Brundtland’s Second Coming: Global Tobacco Governance

The photo (credit John Kaplan, 1993) shows an eight-year-old street child in St. Petersburg, Sergei, who insists on smoking Marlboros. The Former Soviet Bloc including Eastern Europe and Asia now represent about 50% of all cigarette sales globally. The tobacco epidemic has been truly exported to the developing world. The powerful Big Tobacco companies targeted aggressive marketing and advertisement to promote American cigarettes.

In Azerbaijan, the draft law on tobacco control has been deferred indefinitely in 2013, no doubt under the strong lobbying of British American Tobacco and other companies active there. At the same time, Azerbaijan needs tobacco control, 46% of its total population smokes (WHO, 2011) and hundreds of thousands die from smoking related disease every year. Russia has just passed the tobacco control law, much to its public outcry. It is interesting to observe what will follow there. Internationally, however, there has been action to control Big Tobacco.

These words belong to Brundtand, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2003 in the evening of signing the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC). Brundtland is famous for her conceptualizing and putting on the global agenda the issue of Sustainable Development. Fewer people know that having done that historic shift in how Environment and Development are seen around the world, Mrs. Brundtland has also been a head of WHO which had the courage and enterprise to draft, fight for and pass FCTC, despite the multi-billion tobacco giants and powerful governments, such as the US, lobbying against it.

Globalization gave an upper hand to the Big Tobacco which, the fact which became increasingly clear in the 1980s. The global international export of cigarettes has dramatically increased with the trends in the US and Western Europe on decline. Having been promoted as the signs of modernization, women equality, wealth and cultural trendiness, cigarettes have become very common in the developing world.

It is ultimately government’s responsibility to act and protect its citizens, often at teen-age being drawn into smoking. It is considered trendy to smoke in Eastern Europe nowadays. If you walk the streets of Budapest, you see 15 year old girls smoking in the streets, almost all of them. What kind of a future that brings to us? Brundtland made an important step in fighting tobacco hegemony, her second greatest achievement for humanity. A low bow from me personally.

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