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Is illegal tobacco more dangerous than legal?

When I wrote about the tobacco industry and its mafia methods the other day (in Swedish) I had missed an ad that was published in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on December 7. Advertisers are the Swedish Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association and an association for Swedish Stores & Fast Food.

The main message appears on the facsimile above: ”Illegal tobacco causes organized crime”, designed so that it resembles a warning on a cigarette packet.

An interesting attempt by an industry with very little goodwill to try to improve its image somewhat by pointing the finger at a branch of the same industry, which in some respects is even worse than themselves.

The products of the pirates and their business practices are perhaps a bit worse than those in the official channels, but you should be aware that they operate in a market that is created and maintained through decades by exactly the so-called legal tobacco industry. This has been done by systematically hiding the known dangers regarding tobacco harm.

The ad contains four statements:

* Those who sell illegal tobacco ignore age limits and market to young people.

* 2 billion Swedish crowns are being withheld from the state since pirated tobacco is tax free.

* Criminal activities are financed through the enormous profits from illegal tobacco.

* Pirated [counterfeit] cigarettes may have higher rates of various substances than is allowed as expressed in the approved limit values.

They try to make it sound as if only the illegal businesses focus on the young. But that is not true. Remember when Austria Tabak some years ago arranged special smoke parties for young people in Sweden, where they had the opportunity to buy cheap cigarettes. As late as the mid-1990s there were still tobacco advertisements that clearly aimed at the youth. Today, product placement in movies obviously aims at a young audience. And, as is well known, all of a suddden people smoke a lot again in TV serials.

I ask Pascal Diethelm about this. Diethelm is a well-known health activist at OxyGenève in Switzerland, who was one of the two sued in the so-called Rylander affair a few years ago.

– The ad in the Swedish dailies is a smokescreen to distract the attention away from the real problem, Diethelm says, namely the fact that the main suppliers of illegal tobacco trade are the cigarette companies themselves. It could be that less than 1% of the traffic is related to the pirates, but the industry uses them to mask the fact that the rest comes from them – except for counterfeit cigarettes, which mostly come from China, and which represent an increasing, but still small, share of the illegal market.

– Intergovernmental negotiations are underway for the elaboration of a protocol on illicit tobacco trade, and the tobacco industry is trying everywhere to preempt that future protocol by concluding separate agreements (with loopholes) with each country at the local level – perhaps this is what they are trying to do in Sweden.

When it comes to the talk about higher rates of various harmful substances in illicit cigarettes, Pascal Diethelm says that this is a myth, which has two purposes – as a scare tactic and to pass the message that regular cigarettes are safer, which is known not to be true.

Pingad på Intressant.

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