Monthly Archives: November 2012

Global Tobacco Control

I co-authored a book called Global Tobacco Control: Power, Policy, Governance and Transfer (Palgrave, 2012) with Donley Studlar and Hadii Mamudu. It raises two key questions: Why is there often such a wide gap between the size of the tobacco policy problem and the government response? Why, if the tobacco problem is the same across the globe, does policy vary so markedly across political systems?

It is hardback only, which means that it costs £57.50 to buy a physical copy. Or, it is a snip at £38 if you only want to own the words). Still, the chances are that you won’t own a copy and only libraries will stock it (perhaps reinforcing a not very good academic mantra: books are to be written, not read). Instead, you can read the introduction for free here or have it read to you in an annoying monotone here. This blog provides a summary of the whole argument.

The starting point for the study is to identify the size of the problem. For example, smoking represents the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the world. There are 1.35 billion smokers in the world, smoking is still rising in many countries, and it contributes to one in ten deaths worldwide (over six million per year and rising). The book discusses various ways in which we can express these figures, including breaking them down according to gender and comparing so called ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries (and discussing the ‘Tobacco Epidemic Model’ in that context – to follow up this point, see Thun et al’s revision) . The latter distinction is highly problematic (some prefer, for example, high-income countries, HICs, and low- and medium-income countries, LMICs) but also quite useful for our purposes (the United Nations Statistics Division lists developed countries as the US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and certain (generally Western, not ‘transitional’ Central and Eastern) European countries). Indeed, the well-discussed ‘tobacco epidemic model’ serves partly to describe the smoking equivalent of a ticking time bomb in many ‘developing’ countries.

Our aim is not to complain that governments are not doing enough to address this problem, or to claim that many government actors are in cahoots with tobacco companies to minimise tobacco regulation – largely because the public health literature (and sites such as the Legal Tobacco Documents Library) does a good job of that already. Further, we do not want to get sued and this paragraph is making me nervous enough already (I kid you not – I don’t even want to give the potentially-slanderous impression that tobacco companies are excessively litigious).

Instead, the study seeks to explain why different governments have responded to this problem so differently. Some countries – like Australia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK and almost the US (it has more limited controls but, generally, played a huge part in the international tobacco control effort) – now have ‘comprehensive’ tobacco control, which means that they combine a large number of mutually-reinforcing policy instruments designed to reduce smoking in the population (see the WHO ‘MPOWER’ report which identifies six key tobacco control measures: 1) ‘monitor tobacco use and prevention policies’; 2) ‘protect people from tobacco smoke’; 3) ‘offer help to quit tobacco’; 4) ‘warn about the dangers of tobacco’; 5) ‘enforce bans on tobacco adverting, promotion and sponsorship’, and 6) ‘raise taxes on tobacco’). Others do relatively little to address the problem. For example, Germany and Japan are often described as ‘laggard’ developing countries while most developing countries (with exceptions such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and Uruguay) have relatively limited tobacco controls.

We also want to know why tobacco control in many countries is now so comprehensive when it was minimal until the 1980s. Many countries which now have comprehensive tobacco control regimes did very little to regulate tobacco until the 1980s. In other words, the gap between the initial identification of smoking (and then passive smoking) related ill health and the initiation of a major policy response was, in most cases, 20-30 years, followed by gradual policy change often over a similar period. The book identifies a history of minimal tobacco control, linked to the power of the tobacco industry (careful now), then charts the extent to which governments, aided by public health advocates, have regulated tobacco domestically and internationally in the modern era.

We explain ‘comprehensive’ change in ‘leading developed’ countries with reference to five key factors:

1. Institutional Change. Government departments, and other organisations focused on health policy, have taken the main responsibility for tobacco control, largely replacing departments focused on finance, agriculture, trade, industry and employment.

2. The Problem Is ‘Framed’ Differently. Tobacco was once viewed primarily as a product with economic value, and tobacco growing and manufacturing was often subsidised or encouraged. Now, it is largely viewed as a public health problem; an epidemic to be eradicated aggressively (or, at least, a problem to be minimised).

3. The Balance Of Power Has Shifted Between Participants. The tobacco industry was an ally of government for decades before and after WWII. When policy was coordinated by finance and other departments, tobacco companies were the most consulted. Now, public health or anti-tobacco groups are more likely to be consulted and tobacco companies are often deliberately excluded.

4. The Socioeconomic Context Has Changed Markedly. The economic benefit of tobacco production and consumption has fallen (for example, tax revenue is less important to finance departments once protective of the industry) and the number of smokers and opposition to tobacco control has declined.

5. The Role Of Beliefs And Knowledge. The production and dissemination of the scientific evidence linking smoking (and now passive smoking) to ill health has been accepted within most government circles. The most effective policies to reduce smoking are increasingly adopted and transferred across countries.

Change in these factors has been mutually reinforcing. For example, increased acceptance of the scientific evidence has helped shift the way that governments understand the tobacco problem. The framing of tobacco as a health problem allows health departments to take the policy lead. Tobacco control and smoking prevalence go hand in hand: a decrease in smoking rates reduces the barriers to tobacco control; more tobacco control means fewer smokers.

We explain the lack of policy change in other countries with reference to the same factors:

1. Health departments are often key players, but their voices are often drowned out by other departments, such as agriculture, finance and trade.

2. Tobacco policy arises on the policy agenda rarely and, when it does, the public health frame competes with attempts to frame tobacco as an economic good.

3. Tobacco companies are powerful and the capacity of anti-tobacco groups is often low.

4. Tobacco growing and manufacturing is an important source of jobs, exports and revenue and smoking prevalence is rising.

5. The medical-scientific knowledge has had less of an effect on the policy agenda. Domestic anti-tobacco groups have the motivation but not the resources to ensure the acceptance of tobacco control ideas within their political systems.

In this context, the book identifies the role of international action to close the gap between ‘leading’ and ‘laggard’ countries – a gap which is often linked specifically (but not exclusively) to the fortunes of developed/ developing countries. In particular, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control has 175 ‘Parties’ (174 countries plus the European Union). The FCTC represents a significant short-term success, because it commits a huge number of countries to comprehensive tobacco control. However, we describe it largely as a tool for agenda-setting rather than a guarantee of long term policy implementation.

Our current work, based on the book and subsequent articles, highlights one of life’s ironies: the countries best placed to deliver on their treaty commitments are the ones which don’t need a treaty so much. They are already well on the road towards comprehensive tobacco control. In contrast, the countries that do need the treaty are the least likely to deliver its aims. This argument is backed up by statistics that we are currently gathering (ooh, the excitement of anticipation) and expert surveys like the one produced by Warner and Tam. We make this argument on the basis of the 5 factors outlined above, which help us identify an unfavourable environment in which to implement the FCTC.

Consider, for example, the experience of China as the world’s largest tobacco using and producing population (one third of the world’s smokers and 38% of tobacco production) (see a paper by Jin). It maintains a state monopoly over tobacco production which provides 8-11% of government revenue. Tobacco control is low on the domestic policy agenda and the health image competes with an unusually strong economic image based on the importance of its tobacco industry and economic growth to the legitimacy of the Chinese government. Tobacco policy (and the implementation of the FCTC) is led by an economic development agency which consults regularly with the tobacco industry, and the health ministry is ‘sidelined’. Public health groups are neither well resourced nor engaged. Public *and physician* knowledge of tobacco harm is low and smoking rates are very high among the police force held responsible for the implementation of bans on smoking in public places. If we combine these factors, we can reasonably expect much slower progress towards comprehensive tobacco control than in (say) the UK even though both have signed up to the same agreement.

Overall, we should not take comprehensive tobacco control for granted. If we live in countries like the UK we are starting to take it for granted, and may even come to accept new measures such as bans on smoking among foster parents and/ or in cars. If we travel elsewhere and smell smoke indoors, we should be quickly reminded that tobacco control varies markedly across the globe, and is likely to vary for decades to come.


Filed under public policy, tobacco, tobacco policy, Uncategorized

Framing Wind Farms

As I was walking along the fields next to my house, I wished that I had a nice smart phone with a decent camera, because I wanted to show you that the view was spoiled, not by the wind farm in the distance, but by the electricity pylons and the phone mast. This, of course, is a political statement masquerading as a throwaway comment before being exposed as a political statement. It reminded me that I had been meaning to write a blog about wind farms after reading a small thing in Private Eye about how images of wind turbines are manipulated to make farms look more or less appealing. It is an interesting case, for students of politics and public policy, where the wind farm debate is almost-literally ‘framed’ (plug: there is a nice little discussion of framing in Understanding Public Policy). Policy images are linked in an unusually literal way to the images of wind farms. In other words, we are used to a framing debate along these lines:

• Economic arguments – renewable energy is heavily subsidised VERSUS other forms of energy, such as nuclear, have hidden subsidies

• Environmental arguments – renewable is the environmentally friendly option VERSUS wind farms are very far away and the pylon infrastructure is damaging

• Public opinion arguments – wind farms are unpopular VERSUS wind farms are popular (except amongst NIMBYs)

Wind farms kill birds, give you cancer, mess with your head, and so on. The unusual added element is the potential to frame the issue with photos, which is why I wish I had the camera. These images will have to do (my advice is to right click, new tab for the full effect):

Here is the famous Daily Mail doomsday image picked up by Private Eye –

Here is another from the Dail Mail about wind farms spoiling the view from your conservatory (although good luck getting planning permission to build one, eh? Back off Brussels)

This one shows you how nice fields look without them

This one has an eery Children of the Corn look

This one is eery more for the site on which it is housed

This one says, hey let’s have a chat about wind farms next to nice old buildings guys

This one is not scary, but perhaps it would have been framed more positively if taken further away  , like this one

This one says that wind energy is better than nuclear meltdowns, the turbines look cool and space age, and they are off in the ocean somewhere anyway

So does this

This one tells you that China and wind farms are cool

This one tells you that manly men are in charge of offshore wind energy safety

This one shows you that wind farms might look better than ‘water-vapour belching cooling towers’ unless you have been looking at the latter for a generation and are used to them

This one says, look how happy this woman is and her hard hat shows she means business, and it’s good clean business too

This one tells you that you can walk past them without having your limbs lopped off

This site has a mini debate, with someone providing a photo and saying ‘they’re truly beautiful’ and someone else countering with ‘Are you shitting me?’,747326,756113

This one does not play by the rules because the story tells you to reject wind energy, but how can it be so bad if this little girl with the balloon is so happy

This is a windmill

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Filed under agenda setting, public policy