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11 October 2016 | Feature Article

Burning the Bridges of Lies Tobacco and Fossil Fuel Industry Built

In the city street, it was hard to know whether the smoke emanates from the car exhaust or a man smoking nearby
In the city street, it was hard to know whether the smoke emanates from the car exhaust or a man smoking nearby

He smoked cigarettes and coughed a lot, leaning against the walls of a street in a cold morning. As I became more concerned, as of my journalistic works, I cracked open my car door immediately inhaling an unfair share of his cigarette smoke blended with the permanent carbon taste of the roads. There and then, I knew we were all not safe from deadly harm caused by the Tobacco and fossil fuel industries.

At first, the smoker looked at me with a grin in his face as though I was coming add him the “sticks”, unfortunately, all I wanted was take photos on the public.

It is of course not odd to spot smokers like him despite all the calls to end smoking, but the addiction to Tobacco seems far much powerful than the legal tools and regulations World Health Organisation (WHO) uses to inform the public against the dangers of smoking.

As the saying goes “actions speak louder than words, In 2006, the US court dragged the tobacco industry to court and found them guilty of a decades-long racketeering enterprise in which it conspired to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking.

Specifically, the Department of Justice alleged that the cigarette industry purposely and fraudulently mislead the public about the risks and dangers of cigarette smoking. The government alleged that "the Defendants have engaged in and executed – and continue to engage in and execute – a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public, including consumers of cigarettes, in violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act”.

The Big Tobacco knew. They knew that their industry was seriously damaging people’s health, for years they had known of the relationship between tobacco and lung cancer, along with many other diseases. Instead of acting upon it, they started a huge strategy of confusion and denial, trying to mislead population and spending lots of money on advertising “healthier” smoking options.

In that same year 2006 they were declared guilty and had to pay $10 billion in fines. Since then, life of the Tobacco Industry has become a little difficult: laws and regulations were put in place, they have been set aside of the negotiation tables, and strong regulations grow against their industry day by day. Shamelessly, they continue taking people’s health, now rapidly expanding their business in the global South.

Speaking for ThinkProgress, Sharon Y. Eubanks – the leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted the landmark lawsuit against big tobacco – says the Department of Justice should investigate Exxon and possibly other fossil fuel industry players for a similar claim, only much worse. The conspiracy isn’t only against smokers’ health, it’s against all life on Earth.

Like Tobacco, the Big Oil also knew. Companies like Exxon, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy have known about climate change and their role in creating it for many decades. Again, instead of solving the problem, these big polluters embarked on a series of campaigns designed to deceive the public about the reality of climate change and to block any actions that might curb global warming emissions.

Actually, Big Oil and Big Tobacco shared the same “playbook” to misinform the public, often through the very same paid academics, “think tanks,” and PR firms. Ten years ago, a federal court ruled against those tactics. Maybe it is time to rule against those exact same ones that the Oil Industry used.

Last year, the New York attorney general began an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business, and has demanded to the company extensive financial records, emails and other documents.

Furthermore, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines sent this July to 47 “carbon majors” including Shell, BP, Chevron, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people’s fundamental rights to “life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self-determination”.

The move is the first step in what is expected to be an official investigation of the companies. The complaint argues that the companies should be held accountable for the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines and demands that they explain how human rights violations resulting from climate change will be “eliminated, remedied and prevented”.

The Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a powerful tool to hold companies liable for the damage they have produced.

Article 19 gives Parties the power to use the law to hold the tobacco industry legally and financially accountable for its abuses, putting the societal burdens of the tobacco on the industry. Nowadays this article is infra-utilized, due to the fact that low and middle-income countries lack the resources and legal expertise to take on the industry in the courts and defend against its litigation attacks.

But a broad implementation of Article 19 would help countries recoup the exorbitant costs of the tobacco industry’s deadly abuses and severely limit Big Tobacco’s power around the world. But this is possible if we first deal with the lies these two deadly industries have built about their unhealthy products that causes trouble on human health as well as the health of our planet.

Authored by Boaz Opio

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Boaz Opio and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Author: Boaz Opio
Stories: 30 Publication(s)
Column: BoazOpio