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Public cautioned against tobacco industry interference in public health policies

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Mr. Labram M. Musah
Mr. Labram M. Musah

Ghanaians have been urged to be vigilant of tobacco industry interference strategies in public health policies and to avoid being deceived with their corporate social responsibility offers.

Mr. Labram M. Musah, the Executive Director of Programmes of the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD-Ghana), made the call at a strategic stakeholder engagement to build the capacity of other civil society organisations (CSOs) on tobacco industry interference in public health policies.

The programme, organised by VALD-Ghana and supported by Vital Strategies, was also to introduce the CSOs to an ongoing six months (July-December 2023) ‘STOP Tobacco Interference Project,’ to monitor the implementation of the Excise Duty Amendment Act to avoid industry interferences.

The project is dubbed: “Debunking and Exposing the Tobacco Industry Interference in the Passage of the Excise Reform Tax in Ghana.”

The Act was passed by Parliament and assented to by the President this year, 2023, to help control the consumption of health harming products such as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), tobacco and alcohol and to raise tax revenue for the government.

Mr. Musah said the three health harming industries, namely tobacco, alcohol and SSB used similar interference strategies to avoid regulation and to remain in business, stating that “These strategies are passed down from global transnational giants to regional and national industry actors.”

He mentioned some of the strategies by the industry as the manipulation of the media through the staging of events to distract from tobacco control initiatives, public relations to mould public opinion, using the media to promote positions favourable to the industry while making attempts to undermine science and legitimate messages from scientific quarters, and distorting World Health Organisation research.

Others were establishing inappropriate relationships with policy and decision makers, lobbying by making deals and influencing political processes, intimidation by using legal and economic power as a means of harassing and frightening opponents who supported tobacco control, such as harassment of tobacco control professionals.

“They also buy friends and social respectability from arts, sports, humanitarian and cultural groups while using corporate social responsibility to promote voluntary measures as an effective way to address tobacco control and create an illusion of being ‘changed’ company, while establishing partnerships with health interest,” the Executive Director stated.

Mr. Musah said the industry further fund and promote false scientific studies in the universities to create doubt about evidence of health effects of tobacco use and support scientists to produce and disseminate false “scientific” findings in their favour.

He said another strategy used by SSBs industries was “issue framing” that portrayed consumption as a matter of personal choice and individual responsibility, which he stated: “This is wrong. Industry and government must take full responsibility.”

The Executive Director urged the CSOs to be vigilant and monitor the tobacco industry and act by obtaining and using evidence strategically, using ‘champions’ to tell the truth about tobacco use, applying lessons from international experiences, exposing the myths and refuting the industry’s arguments.

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