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Those who have watched to movie Thank You For Smoking might remember its very entertaining way of telling the story of tobacco control activists fighting for more regulation, as well as tobacco lobbyists trying to save their industry.
In order to tell this story and keep viewers engaged for the entirety of the movie, the director used many exaggerations such as the kidnapping of a tobacco lobbyist and a policy proposal to retrospectively edit old movies that show actors smoking cigarettes by replacing them with lollipops instead instead.
For many years it sounded like an artistic exaggeration and not like something that could be seriously proposed by public policy experts or politicians. When the French Minister for Health Agnes Buzyn proposed in late 2017 to ban cigarettes in French movies, she demonstrated how far regulatory overreach has come and how close it is to a dystopian comedy movie.
The plans of public health activists of banning smoking and vaping in most public spaces, outlawing advertisement, ban branding, and excessively tax it, have been increasingly successful in the last two decades. This has lead not only to limited consumer choice, but also to the flourishing rise of black market activities, which benefit from the shadow economy.
But apparently regulating consumers’ private behavior is not the end of this regulatory overreach. By asking for censoring movies that show cigarettes or nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes the public health lobby goes a big step further and is eager to limit the freedom of arts and speech for the sake of health.
From October 1st on the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its 181 member states will meet for its 8th Conference of Parties in Geneva in order to discuss the future of tobacco control.
A preview of the conference’s agenda shows that the delegates will discuss potential bans of tobacco and nicotine products in media and movies in order to make smoking less attractive. WHO officials have apparently a bigger problem with Sean Connery sitting in his lounge chair smoking a cigarette than with John Rambo wielding his machine gun through the jungle and killing hundreds. The depiction of violence seems less of an issue than that of lifestyle choices.
The conference will be an interesting battle ground for the debate on whether electronic cigarettes and heat not burn devices should be embraced for their less harmful nature or should be combated as cigarettes. While the England’s National Health Service suggests smokers to switch to smokeless products such as e-cigs, the World Health Organization suggests to all its members to ban electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices.
The last time the Conference of Parties of the WHO came together in Delhi – under the protection of 5,000 Indian soldiers and most of the time under exclusion of the public or journalists – the conference suggested its members to ban all advertising and promotion of these up to 95% less harmful technologies and to tax them extensively.
This year’s FCTC Conference is hosted in the WHO’s home town Geneva and should be more accessible for journalists and public observers than the past conferences in Delhi and Moscow. Hopefully a good amount of public attention will be drawn to this conference and WHO treaty, which actively undermines consumers’ rights to switch to novel nicotine consumption methods, and now even attacks freedom of speech while actively promoting government censorship. Public scrutiny will be the best way of stopping such illiberal agreements.