Monday, 22 August 2016

Stubbing out Tobacco in UK and Thailand

Khun Achara Deboonme makes several eloquent points on the preparations for the introduction of plain cigarette packs in Thailand in her The Nation article.
Such packs will also be launched in UK next year after Australia and Eire’s lead.

One of my biggest regrets in my advertising career was promoting Gitanes and Gauloises cigarettes. Design icons as well as cancer-sticks.
And there are some surprising points made at the WTO to Team Thailand by the Honduras delegation, on IP protection and research on design encouraging purchase and thus smoking.

In my advertising role, IP protection and Design are something of non-issues as a debate, as the whole basis of the design industry is finding the most attractive branding for any product including cigarettes. Numerous advertising effectiveness research studies exist and millions of dollars spent on research of specific designs and colours and fonts.

Specifically on plain packs, the Australian government also provided several research studies to UK on the plain packs introduction. That research is somewhat thin, as it was the first time such plain packs/IP restrictions had been introduced anywhere.

While the other Honduran point on IP in Khun Achara’s excellent Nation article was also rather silly in that any government can legislate against IP and overturn previous court rulings and even abolish products especially on health grounds eg asbestos.

The UK High Court IP divisions are going through something of a spasm of disarray with Lord Grabiner and Glick of One Essex Court from the BHS scandal and Judge Smith of the BA suitcase scandal designated mentally unfit and struck off.

The UK’s IP system, and High Court, is in need of substantial overhaul not just from those specific legal failures but producing a system far worse than the Chinese IP system.

While the University of Stirling continues the long tradition of excellent university educations and PhD research in Scotland, by producing a summary report of the health aspects of smoking each year:

Certainly such points, in my MP role to encourage better UK-Thai relations, should be part of a strategic dialogue and in UK and Thailand forums. And with Mahidol now heading the Asian universities league tables produced by The Times, its public health role along with TRF and TDRI could be accelerated. Mahidol’s Public Health role is all the more important with UN WHO health organisation citing ASEAN region as the most likely source of the next major pandemic.

So far in the UK WW1 commemorations and Spanish Flu that killed millions a timely warning of the dangers of pandemics such as Ebola or Birdflu or Myanmar measles epidemic and, even worse, the lack of new Antibiotics and vaccines being developed, highlighted by Lord Jim O'Neill of BRICS fame report last month, that would throw the world back to the medieval era pre-penicillin of dying from scratches and minor cuts.

Thailand’s role in WW1, standing knee-deep with Britain in the mud and blood of Flanders fields, is sadly neglected with calls for an Asian memorial in UK not just Sanam Luang in Bangkok. And completely unknown in UK schools. Links that may well be renewed with UN Peacekeeping and UN Police given the current carnage in Sudan and East Africa.

And as an aside the outrageous condition just this weekend of the Long Thanh memorial to Australian veterans in Vietnam would simply not be tolerated by the Commonwealth Graves Commission - although sadly there is no Operation Masterdom UK memorial as yet - and their sterling work through Myanmar and even in Thailand at Kanchanaburi near the River Kwai and its famous bridge and JEATH.

Concerns that Thailand has seen recently with the increase in Dengue fever and Melioidosis and lingering problem of TB. Such UK-Thai links with hospitals and research labs and science parks as at Discovery Park and Sittingbourne in Kent and TRF and NSTDA Science Park in Pathum Thani would literally be life-savers.

And in India the horror of 40,000 people each year dying from rabies bites and scratches for lack of the vaccines that already exist is a disgrace.

While in terms of broader healthcare it would be remiss of me not to mention in my advertising role the superb Common Ground initiative launched to help achieve the UNSDG30. Brands active in healthcare such as Lucky Iron Fish iron supplement in Cambodia and WPP Lifebuoy hand-washing CSR in schools, the latter one of several superb Unilever initiatives rolled out from the London and Rotterdam head offices.

Though, since the early 1960’s and the first health concerns around smoking, Big Tobacco industry delays to maintain smoking have gradually been overrun by the concerns around health including an advertising ban in UK 20 years ago. Such an advertising ban, around children’s television programmes, is now sadly delayed from last week’s UK Obesity report on the sugar tax and HFSS (foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar).

And Big Tobacco even last year delayed the plain packs with EU lobbying and FOI refusals on reports. An issue all the more concerning in UK, as cigarette smoking has stabilised around 20% and actually slightly increased amongst teenagers especially young girls.

Thailand has been far more successful with ultra-low smoking rates of c.3% among women.

Even the slightly-safer ecigarettes/vaping and UK’s free smoking cessation products such as patches on the NHS haven’t further reduced smoking.
If UK is to follow Finland’s lead on being a SmokeFree nation by 2020 then much more needs to be done. To some extent in marketing terms, the existing Thai horror cigarette packs already make as much of a difference as plain packs. But more too needs to be done in Thailand to reduce smoking.

~~Thailand-UK and smoking health~~

But in my MP role, shouldn’t UK and Thailand be more active on sharing smoking and broader health activity?

For example, the UK’s ban on cigarette displays in stores could be rolled out in Thailand, with bans on packs of less than 20 cigarettes and single cigarettes.

And both nations need to do more in introducing store permits for cigarette sales to reduce outlets and sales.

While here in Kent there is the absolutely ridiculous situation of KCC the county government investing $30M in tobacco shares for its staff pensions. If that wasn’t outrageous enough, KCC also has responsibility for Public Health with the NHS – so we have the absurd situation of investing in tobacco, while attempting to reduce smoking and increase health.

Several other councils doing the same which could easily be halted with investments in say solar power or healthy eating.

And the KCC Tobacco investments are all the more foolish given the Thames Gateway 2050 developments and Ebbsfleet Garden and Health City, and particular emphasis on Riverfront Sports from the Team GB 2016 superb Olympics legacy and Tokyo 2020 preparation.

As an aside the UK push for a 50 metre Olympic Swimming pool in every one of the 33 counties led by the dynamic Sports and Tourism Minister Kent’s Tracey Crouch must be also be relevant for tropical Thailand and future Olympics and sports work?

Also slightly less bizarre situations such as public funding for prison suppliers such as Aramark carrying a wide range of cigarettes rather than just one brand could be implemented with no smoking cells and even Prison Television as a part of the Open University and Teachers Television and Police Television channels.

Beyond such remedial reforms there could be improvements in ending the presumption of outdoor tables at restaurants and cafes and beer gardens being reserved for smokers and designating smoking zones in town centres and parks and beaches. Phuket may struggle with the ASEAN version of blue flag beaches but surely Chanthaburi as one of the TAT Stars should be pushing ahead? And heavier fines for illegal cigarettes stocked by stores and smuggling is relevant for Thailand and UK.

And it’s but a small leap over the final hurdle of store permits before cigarettes become prescription-only from pharmacies such as Watson or Boots, as with any illegal and dangerous drug.

And if UK and Thailand work more closely with Mahidol or TRDI or TRF programmes then such work could be extended to health scholarships and hospital exchanges. It’s absurd that Moorfields the world-class London hospital for eye surgery and cataracts should be established in Dubai but not DaNang - and certainly in Bangkok.

DaNang is already providing the basis for UK’s largest research and tech park public and private sector investments in ASEAN, and health exchanges for nurses with CCU Canterbury Christchurch University here in Kent. Certainly the monstrous legacy left by Agent Orange is long overdue UK support, and Thai programmes such as Operation Smile and its work on cleft palates as well as the dynamic Thai Red Cross, and even UK’s MAG landmines activity, are ideal templates for such health work.

Despite a $200BN annual budget, and one of the largest numbers of employees in the world, there is a massive failure in the NHS being unable as yet to provide cohesive formal programmes to link its hospitals with those of other nations.

And if cataract research and surgery is the most common surgery in UK, more needs to be done to revitalise UK research which is flattening compared to most EU nations’ medical innovation. As well as DNA, blood and organ manufacturing and the Left is Life programme I’ve launched, and excellent UK blood donation and anti-smoking campaigns such as Missing Letter could be increased.

Even the DNA-Digital Bathroom Mirror retina scan and health indicators would be meat and drink to dynamic firms such as Panasonic and Philips – both firms creating jobs in ASEAN as well as UK and Benelux.

Thailand and ASEAN has little of a tobacco industry that will be reduced by reductions in smoking – but certainly Thailand’s final months as G77 Chair, and UK support, could be fruitful in helping nations such as Cuba and Malawi rework their crops and land to more useful and sustainable activity.

I know from my Surin Restaurant work ( try the sea bass!) how the Thai Ministry of Agriculture has always been very active in Climate Change and SME work and the Forestry Commission. The UK farming and climate Change departments (the latter now rightly abolished) are too often mired in bureaucracy and inaction on farm subsidies etc, and a situation only likely to worsen if Brexit goes ahead or EU reforms aren’t implemented.

While dynamic Thai-UK firms such as Boots and Tesco Lotus, working with say Kasetsart and the Ministry of Agriculture, could be active in healthy eating initiatives, food waste reduction, vitamins and Superfood research.

Certainly these would be healthy areas for Thailand and UK as smoking draws its last breaths.

Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and UK MP candidate for better UK-Thai activity. He's given up smoking. @timg33

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