December 25, 2011

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Nordic tobacco companies claimed they were not part of Big Tobacco's global conspiracy; documents show they were

Heikki Hiilamo and I just published a paper in Tobacco Control that uses the previously secret tobacco industry documents available in the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library to investigate the linkages between the local Nordic tobacco companies and the big multinationals. 

Beginning in the 1970s, the Nordic countries were early adopters of tobacco control initiatives, including advertising bans, health warning labels, purchase age limits and smoke-free laws. By 1986, Philip Morris officials in the USA were concerned that this activity could spread to America and other developed countries. Europe’s first product liability case against the tobacco industry was brought in Finland in 1988 when an individual smoker sued Rettig Oy (a local company that licenses R.J. Reynolds (RJR) brands) and Suomen Tupakka Oy (a British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary), claiming that their products caused his illnesses. The companies prevailed in all courts, including the Supreme Court, 13 years later in 2001.

In their effort to escape product liability claims, since 1988, local tobacco companies in Finland and Norway denied any links to the multinational tobacco companies’ efforts to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke (SHS) and oppose health policies. In contrast, tobacco industry documents demonstrate that the Nordic companies collaborated with the multinational tobacco companies, both at national and regional levels to deny health hazards of smoking and SHS and undermining tobacco control policies. It is not surprising that Nordic companies owned by multinationals implemented these international strategies. We focused on those companies that were not owned by multinational companies and on the National Manufacturers’ Associations (NMAs) in each country.

Local tobacco companies in the Nordic countries participated in the multinational companies’ conspiracy to deny health dangers of smoking and oppose tobacco control measures because of the direct effects in Nordic countries and because of concern that such policies would spread to other countries. They worked individually and through NMAs with multinational companies to undermine tobacco control. As a result, tobacco control measures, particularly smoke-free laws, were delayed for several years. The local tobacco companies have publicly claimed ignorance of multinational tobacco company strategies while in fact they are implementing them vigorously. These experiences emphasise the importance for both sides of the debate of setting and defending precedents in tobacco control. They also demonstrate that in local debates over Framework Convention on Tobacco Control implementation, public health advocates and government officials cannot trust assertions by local tobacco companies that they are simply representing local interests, not those of the multinational tobacco companies.

Read the full paper by clicking here

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