Rendez-vous with . . . Ross Hammond
By Philippe Boucher
RENDEZ-VOUS 79 November 1, 2000
PB: Thank you Ross for accepting our rendez-vous. May I ask you to introduce yourself?
Ross Hammond : My name is Ross Hammond, and I am an independent consultant based in San Francisco. I have a Masters in Applied Economics from American University. For the past year I have been doing a lot of work with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and also worked on the 11th World Conference, writing fact sheets and helping to organize some of the plenaries. I have been in tobacco control for a little over 3 years. My sole focus is on the international dimensions of the tobacco epidemic. Or, to put it another way, I only focus on those aspects of tobacco in the United States which impact upon the rest of the world as there are plenty of people in the United States working on domestic issues.
Before coming to tobacco control, I worked on a number of different international issues, from the reform of the international financial institutions, to the refugees crisis in the Horn of Africa, to the role of NGOs in international advocacy. Over the past 15 years I have worked in East Africa, Washington-DC and at UN Headquarters in New York.
Q1. First question : Looking at the reports about the recent hearings in Geneva about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control I had the impression the tobacco multinationals had slightly different positions about international regulation. Are there real differences or is it basically the same PR smokescreen strategy?
RH : Philip Morris and BAT are playing good cop/bad cop, with Philip Morris being the "good" cop, i.e. less outwardly belligerent, seemingly willing to talk about "sensible regulation" etc. But I don't think there is any real difference in their stances. Remember, Philip Morris sells much more than cigarettes, so I think PM's effort to appear "reasonable" is part of their larger effort to project to the United States and the rest of the world the image of a "responsible" company that cares. Obviously, all of the big international tobacco companies (including Japan Tobacco) are becoming much more media savvy and are trying to paint the public health community as "rejectionist" and against "dialogue".
Although the companies say they support "reasonable regulation" and efforts to prevent youth smoking, they continue to fight the measures (tax increases, ad bans, etc.) which have been proven to decrease consumption. But I think we're kidding ourselves if we rely solely on the tactics of the past to guide us into the future. The tobacco industry continually adapts and so must we.
Q2. Looking at the governments there are wide differences in the way they deal with tobacco. What governments do you consider the most progressive and do you think they can have an influence on the others?
RH : There are any number of countries which have taken on the tobacco industry and implemented quite comprehensive tobacco control programs -- Thailand, Canada, South Africa to name just a few.
Whether these countries will choose to use their influence to move other countries along is still an open question. The current negotiations on the Framework Convention would certainly seem like an important forum to show leadership. One of the things during the first round of negotiations that I think was frustrating for countries that are leaders in tobacco control was that they spent a lot of time in regional caucuses rather than meeting with like-minded countries. For example, Thailand has much more in common with Canada than it does with Burma when it comes to tobacco control. My hope is that these and other countries band together to form a strong bloc for an effective framework convention rather than waiting for the individual regions to come along.
If not I'm afraid there will be no strong, countervailing force against those countries that want a weak, toothless convention.
Q3. One domino effect I can think of at the international level is the prohibition of smoking in commercial airlines but it is about the only one (for the moment). What about the new Canadian health warnings: Do you think they could become the norm internationally?
RH : There was some discussion about the Canadian warnings during the FCTC negotiations.
Would I like to see Canadian-style warnings become the international norm? Absolutely.
Do I think it's likely? Not really.
Q4. The US based tobacco companies want the public to believe that since the settlement they have changed their ways of doing business.
Did you notice any change at the international level? That would concern essentially Philip Morris since BAT is more UK based and Reynolds sold its international business to Japan Tobacco?
RH: The only thing I can see that has changed about Philip Morris is their rhetoric.
They are spending millions of dollars to publicize their supposed good deeds -- such as giving to anti-hunger programs, domestic-violence shelters, etc.
They are also quite aggressively approaching ministries of health and education in developing countries and offering to help fund and design youth "anti-smoking" programs which, as we just showed in the recent report "Danger: PR in the Playground", is simply an attempt to forestall effective regulation by giving the appearance of actually doing something. They also don't seem to be quite as blatant in their promotional activities as BAT or JT, but hey, when you have the Marlboro brand, you have a decided advantage over your competitors!
The full report (published October 10) can be found at: http://www.ash.org.uk/html/advspo/pdfs/playground%20report.pdf
the cover is at: http://www.ash.org.uk/html/advspo/pdfs/playground%20cover.pdf
a full html version is at: http://www.ash.org.uk/html/advspo/html/playground.html
Q5. What type of initiatives do you think US tobacco control advocates can take to make a positive contribution internationally?
RH : Wow. Got a few days? Hmm, where to start. I think folks could begin by educating themselves, their colleagues and their elected representatives on the issues.
There are a lot of good information sources out there, Including WHO (http://www.who.int/toh/) and (shameless plug coming up) the global section of the Tobacco Free Kids website (www.tobaccofreekids.org/campaign/global/) which is packed with links to all sorts of fact sheets and reports.
Some of the international work that local community groups in San Francisco are doing could be a model for other communities in the United States and there is also a great initiative being led by Essential Action which allows U.S. tobacco control groups to link up with groups abroad (firstname.lastname@example.org). As we get deeper into the negotiations on the FCTC, it will be vital that U.S. advocates make their voices heard so that the U.S. delegation to the negotiations knows that this is something that people in the United States truly care about. If people want still more ideas, they can write me directly!
Q6. Is there anything else you would like to add ?
RH : Not to be too critical, but I think we in the United States tend to get too wrapped up in our own domestic affairs and forget that, in terms of tobacco, the U.S. has less than 5% of the world's smokers.
I don't think guilt is a terribly good motivator, but we are home to the world's largest tobacco multinational and have over the years used our weight in the GATT to force open other countries markets to our tobacco companies. So I do think that we have a special responsibility to get involved in global tobacco control. If even a small portion of the all of the money spent on tobacco control in the United States went abroad it could make a huge difference to the excellent activists and organizations around the world that are fighting the tobacco industry.
PB : Thank you Ross for taking the time to be with us today.
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