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Factasia.org to lobby for smokers’ rights

| November 25, 2013

A new consumer advocacy group will take up the cause of smokers’ rights in Asia.

Factasia.org (www.factasia.org) is an independent, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization formed to

  • represent the rights of smokers at government level
  • protect the interests of adults who choose to smoke or consume tobacco
  • provide independent and unbiased data on the issues surrounding smoking in Asia.

Factasia.org does not work for the tobacco industry, although it aims to lobby on behalf of the millions of growers, distributors and retailers throughout the region whose livelihoods are under threat from bad legislation and excessive taxation. The organization will also champion the interests of the hospitality sector, which is struggling with the demands placed on it by smoking bans.

The founders of Factasia.org are both long-term residents in the region. Heneage (“H”) Mitchell has been in the tobacco industry for more than a dozen years, and was until recently managing editor of one of the industry’s leading trade publications. John Boley is a journalist with considerable marketing and PR experience and has experience in numerous consumer-related campaigns and issues.

Top priority for Factasia.org will be to publicize the negative effect of excessive taxation on tobacco products, which is a major factor in the growth of the market for illicit and counterfeit products throughout Asia.

Another priority is to draw attention to the way in which smokers’ rights are being curbed with proposed smoking bans in several countries that go far beyond what is reasonable for the protection of non-smokers and which constitute “persecution” of smokers, according to Mitchell.

“Smokers have rights and votes, and while we approve of reasonable regulation of smoking, we believe in many Asian countries this is turning into an infringement of civil liberty, given that smoking remains entirely a lawful activity,” says Mitchell.

“We do not promote smoking,” adds Boley, who is a nonsmoker. “But we call for reasoned and informed debate about controls of tobacco products and their use among adults. We are also campaigning for more effective prevention of underage smoking and we want to work with law enforcement agencies on better ways to stop the spread of illicit and counterfeit products, which are not only dangerous to users but bad economics for legislators.”

Factasia.org, which is registered in Hong Kong, believes lawmakers could use more facts and less emotion when drafting regulations concerning the use of tobacco products. Factasia.org will collect signatures via its website for use in campaigns and petitions on specific issues and to lobby politicians in countries from India to Japan.

“The more supporters we have, the more effective our lobbying can be,” says Mitchell. “I urge everyone who recognizes that smokers still have rights, including industry stakeholders, to visit our website at www.factasia.org and sign up today.”

Australia’s tobacco pack law a concern in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations

| November 25, 2013

Australia’s standardized tobacco-packaging rules are a sticking point in talks over a new free trade agreement with the U.S. and other Pacific nations, according to a story by Chris Pash for Business Insider.

An intellectual-property business delegation representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was in Australia last week, is said to view the removal, by law, of company brands as “strange.”

The representatives were said to understand the health benefits associated with standardized tobacco packaging but were of the opinion that a company’s brand was highly valuable and in some cases the majority of a business’s value.

This was an issue that needed to be solved in order to get closer to the U.S.-sponsored free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Last month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised the possibility of a deal within three months.

Mark Elliot, executive vice president of the Global Intellectual Property Center, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the delegation was keen to have a conversation with the Australian government.

“There are some areas of disagreement with the former government [the Labor government that brought in standardized packaging], and the new government is still working through those issues,” he said.

South Korea calculates the price of addiction

| November 25, 2013

If the price of cigarettes in South Korea were to be increased to almost four times the current level, even financially well-off smokers might be prompted to quit, according to a story in The Korea Times.

According to a survey of 800 smokers carried out by the Korea Health and Social Affairs organization, a price of WON8,943 per pack of cigarettes is the tipping point at which most smokers would start to think seriously about quitting. The current average price of a pack of cigarettes is about WON2,500.

That threshold varies according to smokers’ incomes, with those in the bottom 25 percent income bracket saying WON8,497 per pack would prompt a lifestyle change, and those in the top 25 percent saying WON9,660 per pack would be too much to pay.

The truth hurts Legacy Foundation

| November 25, 2013

The American Legacy Foundation has suffered a “diversion” of funds estimated at $3.4 million, according to a story in The Washington Post, which has turned the spotlight on some of the U.S.’s nonprofit organizations.

Legacy was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1999 out of the funds raised by the Master Settlement Agreement that resolved health claims brought against U.S. cigarette companies.

The foundation declared on a 2011 federal disclosure form that it had become aware of a diversion in excess of $250,000 committed by a former employee.

It disclosed that the diversion was due to fraud and now says it believes it fulfilled its disclosure requirement.

But the Post story said that records and interviews revealed that Legacy had suffered an estimated $3.4 million loss linked to purchases from a business described sometimes as a computer supply firm and at others as a barbershop, and to a former assistant vice president.

The Post said too that the disclosure report had not given details about how Legacy officials waited nearly three years after an initial warning before they called in investigators.

“We’re not innocent in this,” said Legacy Chief Executive Cheryl Healton, who, in fiscal 2012, received a “compensation package” worth $729,000. “We are horrified it happened on our watch. . . . The truth hurts—we screwed up.”

With $50 million in annual expenditures and $1 billion in assets, Legacy is perhaps best known for its edgy, anti-tobacco advertising campaign known as Truth.

The full story is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/inside-the-hidden-world-of-thefts-scams-and-phantom-purchases-at-the-nations-nonprofits/2013/10/26/825a82ca-0c26-11e3-9941-6711ed662e71_story.html.

BAT, Imperial and PMI stocks fall

| November 25, 2013

London-listed Imperial Tobacco shares fell by 63p, or 2.6 percent, to £23.67, and British American Tobacco shares dropped by 79p, or 2.4 percent, to £32.81 after PMI said it planned to enter the e-cigarette market in the second half of next year and would bring forward the launch of another reduced-risk alternative to traditional cigarettes that heats, rather than burns, tobacco.

BAT already offers e-cigarettes, and Imperial plans to launch two battery-powered products next year to tap into a market that generates about $2 billion in global sales.

But analysts at Citigroup said PMI’s plan to spend $100 million to accelerate the rollout of its next generation of products and its intention to increase its marketing investment in traditional cigarettes were likely to present the two British companies with “tougher competition.”

But PMI suffered too. Writing for Bloomberg News on Thursday, Cotten Timberlake said PMI had “extended its decline into a second day, falling the most in five months after a crimped profit outlook prompted Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to cut its rating on the shares to neutral.”

“The stock fell by 3 percent to $86.60 at the close in New York for the steepest drop since June 20.”

Tobacco consumption raises questions over sustainable development in China

| November 22, 2013

As well as raising health concerns in China, tobacco consumption has negative implications for the country’s sustainable development, according to a Global Times story quoting a Tsinghua University researcher.

Hu Angang, director of the university’s Research Center for Contemporary China, was speaking at a three-day seminar on tobacco control that ended yesterday in Beijing.

Hu said tobacco was the biggest killer in China; so it was not just a public health issue but something that impacted the sustainable development of the whole nation.

While the government worked on economic renewal, the transformation of the tobacco industry had to be addressed and the tobacco supply reduced, Hu added.

China signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and it became effective in January 2006.

But experts are said to be critical of current government efforts to curb smoking, describing them as lagging far behind FCTC standards.

However, in December last year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Health and six other government departments issued the China Tobacco Control Program (2012–2015) aimed at reducing tobacco plantings and tobacco production consumption.

The program was the first state-level tobacco-control initiative and it marked a new phase in the quest for comprehensive tobacco control.

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