Sunday, 20 March 2011

Just take their profits

You can tell just by reading it that the authors of the Tobacco Control Blog run by the British Medical Journal have a narrow focus on life. This month Luka Solmajer recommends ways to reduce the profitability of the tobacco industry worldwide. He recommends taxing the industry over 90 per cent of its profits, the proceeds to be invested in health care and social services in order to right the wrongs done by tobacco. (Social services?) And of course the beauty of mechanisms such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is that such tactics can be employed globally.
What could happen if a country decided to do as specified above and really make tobacco unprofitable? There would be huge opposition from the industry, but then the companies would stop their activities and go elsewhere, where they will still be able reap the profits. But once other countries do the same, they will have nowhere left to go. Millions of people will live longer and healthier lives. [Emphasis added]
He also surmises:
I strongly believe this is the equivalent of making tobacco products illegal, without actually doing so. The only counterargument I can think of is the threat the toxic tobacco industry will make about the emergence of black markets and counterfeit cigarettes, but this is only a potential problem there are very effective measures to prevent it. And even if there would be a flourishing black market for cigarettes, it would never be as large and as a harmful as the present state.
Discussion invited: 'What do you think? Will governments be willing to adopt such a system? Will it lead to fewer smokers?'

I think Mr Solmajer is well off the mark thinking that a lid can easily be put on the demand for tobacco, especially if it is cheap and illegal, and especially in times of economic austerity. I also think a 90 per cent tax is far less likely to be applied in countries with a heavy reliance on export tobacco.

Guaranteeing funding for health care from tobacco industry profits (even supposing the tobacco companies could not fight such a tax rate in the courts) also creates reliance on the tobacco market for these funds, which is not in the interests of tobacco control. Tobacco companies may not be allowed to sponsor sports clubs directly, but what will be the difference if it is known that their profits fund healthcare and social services? Your doctor might start recommending Camels again! It is already known that the governments can't afford to lose the tobacco industry, but surely the answer is not to direct all its profits into essential services. A loss in market strength would then damage the services.

Another problem with this idea is that is highly prejudicial. Tobacco may be injurious to health but is it really more injurious than countless other commodities (junk food, alcohol, armaments, prescription drugs to name a few). Singling out tobacco does not say that tobacco is more dangerous than these other products: it merely speaks to the strength of the lobbying groups campaigning on tobacco. Can we imagine a world where no one was allowed to profit from the sale of armaments or oil? No, because these commodities are far too important to the stability of governments. Prescription drugs? What if no one were allowed to profit from the production and sale of medicines? Would health care improve? What of banking profits?

Companies dealing in commodities like oil, armaments and even drugs cannot be pushed into giving up their profits, even though their profitability can work against the common weal. Can tobacco companies? And if tobacco companies were forced out of business, where would those evildoers who are employed by tobacco companies put their skills to use? And would people stop smoking regulated tobacco when tobacco companies go out of business?

I think Mr Solmajer should apply himself to a different problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree! The absurdity of the tobacco control movement has no boundaries!