Philippe Boucher's Rendez Vous: Anna White


Rendez-vous with . . . Anna White

Coordinator of the Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control program
Essential Action
Washington DC, USA
awhite@essential.org

By Philippe Boucher
RENDEZ-VOUS 80 November 8, 2000

PB: Thank you Anna for accepting our rendez-vous.
May I ask you to introduce yourself?


Anna White: My introduction to Big Tobacco's global expansion began in the summer of 1993, when I landed in San Salvador, El Salvador and immediately came face-to-face with a gigantic Marlboro Man billboard.

During a seven month study-abroad in Senegal two and a half years later, I was appalled at the omnipresence of cigarette advertising, and in particular, the ways in which tobacco corporations sought to link smoking with the mythic "American dream."

Red, white, and blue color schemes, American flags, skylines of famous American cities, English, and white people, you name it, they used it.

The cigarette promotions were so disturbing to me that I decided to apply for a Fulbright grant to return to Senegal and study cigarette marketing and promotion and the anti-tobacco movement.

Upon my return to Senegal I was pleased to discover an amazingly diverse set of anti-tobacco advocates including non-profit organizations, doctors, religious leaders, school teachers, students, and ex-tobacco employees.

The town of Touba and the neighborhood of Cambarenne in Dakar, the religious centers of the Mouride and Layenne brotherhoods, both prohibit the sale, marketing and smoking of tobacco on their premises. I was also surprised to learn that Senegal had once been a leader in tobacco control, passing strong anti-tobacco laws in 1981 that banned virtually all forms of tobacco advertising.

Almost all the laws had been repealed or never enforced, however, due to strong industry pressure. It was particularly humbling to witness the incredible financial constraints under which Senegalese anti-tobacco organizations worked.

From what I could discern, the only money available in the whole country was the $1000 the WHO donated annually to the government for World No Tobacco Day, very little of which trickled down to NGOs. This amounted to less than one hundredth of a U.S. cent per capita for tobacco control scandalous, given the sky rocketing number of lung cancer patients doctors reported and the ever more aggressive tobacco advertising.

While in Senegal, I worked closely with anti-tobacco organizations and helped establish the first Senegalese Anti-Tobacco Federation. I also met with the U.S. Ambassador to discuss how he might follow through on the February 1998 State Department directive which encouraged U.S. embassies to "assist and promote tobacco control efforts" in their host country. He agreed to issue a public statement on WNTD and had the U.S. Embassy donate a computer to the new anti-tobacco federation. And I documented how Philip Morris removed all its advertising during President Clinton's visit to Senegal in March-April 1998, to avoid the critical eye of the 250 journalists in his entourage.

Upon my return to the U.S., I was surprised to find that there were no jobs in international tobacco control and only a handful of advocates with any real interest in what Big Tobacco was doing beyond the borders of the U.S.

After working in another area for two years, I finally found my way back into international tobacco control, when I accepted a position at Essential Action, coordinating its Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control program -- which we officially launched at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in August.

It's a great job for me, drawing on my degrees in Anthropology and International Relations, tobacco control experience in Senegal, love of people and other cultures, and wide variety of interests and passions.

Q1. Essential Action is working to develop north-south tobacco control partnerships. Is it some sort of buddy system like what has been initiated by the San Francisco Tobaccofree project and IATH (see question 4 in rendez-vous 34, with Mele Smith)? Can you tell us about it?

AW: Essential Action's Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control program was launched this past summer to help support and strengthen international tobacco control activities at the grass roots level. We pair groups in the United States and Canada with groups in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union and assist them in initiating meaningful shared activities.

It is our goal that over time partner groups will develop close relationships and feel comfortable sharing advice and information, and joining together in effective campaigns.

The Global Partnerships program is in many ways an expansion of the buddy system that the San Francisco Tobacco-Free Project and IATH developed.

In fact, Mele Smith and Susana Hennesy of SFTFP and David Simpson of IATH were very involved in the discussions leading up to the establishment of the program.

David is an Advisory Board member of the program, and Mele, Susana, and I often share materials.

The primary difference is in scale. SFTFP focuses on partnering California groups, while we are matching groups from all over the U.S. and Canada.

To date, over 270 groups from more than 80 countries and 30 states have signed up to participate. Not only are the participants numerous, they are diverse -- including tobacco control organizations, hospitals, medical associations, schools, local government agencies, churches, consumer groups, lung, cancer, and heart groups and so on. Many partners were able to meet face-to-face at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Chicago and have already begun to work on exciting joint projects.

The joint projects are similarly varied.

Essential Action does not dictate what partnerships work on together --rather we offer suggestions and let partnerships develop their own agenda.

Lynda Bergsma of the University of Arizona, Rural Health Office and C. R. Soman of Health Action by People (India), for example, are working together to expose the tobacco industry's influence in Hollywood and Bollywood. Patricia Hale of the Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon and Liliana Tsoneva-Pentcheva of the Bulgarian Association "Women Against Tobacco" plan to develop a resource library on women and tobacco issues and to organize solidarity events for World No Tobacco Day 2001. Velestia Revels of the Wayne County Department of Public Health of Michigan has shared examples of smoke-free ordinances with her partner, Dr. Janice Alexander, of the Ministry of Health, Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The possibilities are truly limited only by one's creativity and imagination!

Q2. During the 11th world conference I met with Mahamane Cisse, from Bamako in Mali (rendez-vous 76). He had discussed the possibility of a support relationship with French tobacco control organizations. Since you lived in Senegal you know many people don't speak English and not so many Americans are fluent in foreign languages. How is Essential Action going to deal with language barriers? Are you going to partner with organizations in industrialized countries outside the US?

AW: Since there are so many countries involved, there are, likewise, many languages spoken by participants.

I would guess at least 60, ranging from Ibo to Thai to Arabic. Obviously it would be difficult to find groups in the US and Canada that are fluent in all these languages, so we just do our best.

Luckily many of the groups from outside the US and Canada have a key contact person who is fluent in English. Others have someone who is able to translate.

The most common second language of American groups is Spanish.

We have a lot of Francophone African groups, however, that need a French-speaking partner so the language needs and skills don't always match up.

Incidentally, we paired Mahamane Cisse of SOS Tabagisme (Mali) with Heidi Rathjen and Louis Gauvin of the Coalition Quebecoise pour le Controle du Tabac.

They had already met at a conference earlier in the year and begun working together to organize the first international Francophone tobacco control conference in Montreal.

They will also concentrate on training groups to lead coalitions in Mali, information sharing on tobacco industry behavior in the North and South, and technology transfers.

So far, language hasn't been too much of a barrier. We've been able to find appropriate partners in most cases. For example, we paired Korean ASH - Daegu branch with Asian Pacific Community Counseling in California (their primary contact speaks Korean).

We paired the Ministry of Health - Colombia with the Spanish-speaking Nuestra Comunidad Sana of Oregon. Sometimes we just get lucky. After pairing Taking ACTION (Active Control of Tobacco in Our Neighborhood) of Meridian High School in Idaho with Liceul Teoretic Glodeni in Moldova, we learned that there is a teacher of Moldovan origin at Meridian who is fluent in Romanian!

We have focused our recruiting efforts in industrialized countries on the U.S. and Canada, but are not opposed to groups from Europe and Australia signing up if they are interested. Groups from Belgium and Australia signed up, for instance, at the 11th World Conference in Chicago.

Q3. I also met in Chicago Dr Ima-Obong A. Ekanem, who is president of the Nigerian Cancer Society. She seemed very dynamic but had very limited financial resources. Do you think Essential Action could help her find partners who could work with her?

AW: Actually, we already have. We matched Dr. Ima-Obong Ekanem with Ted Collins (Private Social Work Practice /Red Ribbon Coalition) of Concordia, Kansas following the 11th WCTOH.

I should note that Essential Action's Global Partnership program neither expects nor encourages American and Canadian groups to fund their partners.

Many American and Canadian groups are working on shoestring budgets themselves or are not allowed to budget money for overseas activities.

Furthermore, our vision for the partnerships is a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. Money is often quick to destroy otherwise balanced relationships by making one organization "dependent" on the other.

There are many effective low-budget activities partners can work on together, and we will be promoting them.

That said, we realize that there is virtually no funding whatsoever for international tobacco control, and even the most basic organizational needs, like sending an international fax, can cost more than the average person's salary in a "developing" country. We cannot expect international tobacco control advocates to support their activities out of their own pocket (as many are currently doing) forever.

The WHO estimates that 10 million people will die annually of tobacco-related disease by 2030 70% in the developing world. In my opinion, it is astounding that more foundations aren't jumping on board to finance programs to curb this global epidemic of preventable disease. We in industrialized countries have a special obligation, for it is corporations based in our countries that are the vectors of the disease. It is also in our own self interest to support international tobacco control, for we will never really cripple the tobacco industry until we make a serious dent in their pocketbooks. Contrary to what a lot of Americans may believe, Philip Morris has never been wealthier -- and it's overseas operations are a big part of that.

Q4. I have read one short article about a recent tobacco control conference in Africa but it really did not say much. How could the information flow From Africa and other countries be improved? Do you see a role for internet based projects?

AW: You've hit upon one of the key benefits of Essential Action's Global Partnerships program.We have 33 groups signed up from Africa. Most have email access, however internet connections are often slow and expensive. It is can also be costly to print information out and impossible to read through the tons of emails that come through on listservs, particularly if one has an internet-based account. An American or Canadian partner can filter through all the information that comes over the web and fax or send the most relevant pieces to their African partner. Similarly, they can share information about the amazing things their African partner is doing with the international tobacco control community, through listservs and other media outlets.

One of the internet activities we've proposed for partnerships is a joint search and interpretation of industry documents relevant to one partner's country. Since I have a personal interest in Senegal, I typed "Senegal" and "West Africa" into the the Philip Morris document site earlier this summer and found an internal memo from almost twenty years ago urging the company to lobby strongly against Senegal's proposed anti-tobacco laws, not only because of its ramifications in Senegal, but its potential spillover effect in other West African countries. Another document detailed a marketing plan for Chesterfield cigarettes, Stating very clearly that focus groups with youth indicated that "AMERICA" should be the overarching theme of all promotions. My Senegalese colleagues would have had difficulty searching for these documents, due to both technical and language barriers. I have given copies to them, and they plan to expose them in the Senegalese press.

Q5. Where is the money going to come from? I read you received some support from the Rockefeller Foundation... who else? Could some money be raised locally via tobacco taxes?

AW: Yes, Essential Action's Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control program is supported by a Rockefeller Foundation grant. We are very grateful for their commitment to international tobacco control and hope other foundations will follow their lead.

As for raising money locally via tobacco taxes, this is a good idea for groups in other countries if they are able to implement a tax and make sure the revenue goes to tobacco control (something that has been somewhat of a battle here in the states!)

Q6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

AW: If any of the people reading this rendez-vous are interested in learning more about our Global Partnerships program and/or signing up to participate, please don't hesitate to send me an email at awhite@essential.org.

We still need about 50 American and Canadian groups to sign up to meet high demand from abroad. We have a particular need for local government agencies, hospitals/medical agencies, and research institutions.

Even if you cannot commit to a partnership, perhaps there is another way you could assist or link up with our international tobacco control efforts.

One woman, for instance, just volunteered to help groups write text for their websites. And a group in Arizona sponsored a contest to generate and promote creative tobacco control activity ideas. We recently collaborated with INFACT for the International Week of Resistance to Tobacco Transnationals -- nearly seventy of our groups have scheduled public viewings of INFACT's new documentary "Making a Killing: Philip Morris, Kraft, and Global Tobacco Addiction."

Also, if you are interested in keeping up with international tobacco news, check out Essential Action's intl-tobacco listserv at http://lists.essential.org/mailman/listinfo/intl-tobacco/. You can also access Essential Action's report "Addicted to Profit: Big Tobacco's Expanding Global Reach" at http://www.essentialaction.org/addicted .

I'd like to add that one of barriers the international tobacco control community faces is that tobacco, despite being the only product that kills the consumer when used as instructed, is still viewed as a neutral "commodity" by international trade treaties and organizations, i.e. a cigarette is no different than an apple. Given the overwhelming evidence against tobacco, such a lack of distinction is unacceptable. This is one of many areas where International solidarity might work to establish a principle of putting public health above other interests. Transnational tobacco corporations know no national borders, and neither must we if we intend to successfully combat them.

PB: Thank you Anna for taking the time to be with us today.

Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
This document's URL is: http://www.tobacco.org/News/rendezvous/white.html

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