Tobacco and the Consumer Movement

Address by Anwar Fazal, Director of the International Organization of Consumers Unions, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific at the Union Internationale Contre Le Cancer (UICC)/ International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) Workshop on Smoking Control in Penang, Malaysia on 24 October 1985.

In 1939 a few years before I and most of us were born, and not far here, at the other ends of the Straits of Malacca, in Singapore, a Rotary Club organised a talk.  That talk was remarkable for two things: 

  • Firstly, the speaker was a lady (which was rare for the Rotary Clubs those days)
  • Secondly, the title of her speech was ‘Milk and Murder’.

That lady, Dr. Cicely Williams, one of the most outstanding doctors of this century, said this to a stunned audience: -

If you are legal purists, you may wish to change the title of this address to ‘Milk and Manslaughter,’ but if your lives were embittered as mine is, by seeing day after day, this massacre of the innocent by unsuitable feeding, then I believe you would feel as I do, that misguided propaganda in infant feeding should be punished as the most criminal forms of seduction, and that these deaths should be regarded as murder.”

Some 45 years later the world was to see an international code adopted by the WHO that aimed to protect and promote breastfeeding.  It has by and large stopped the most blatant forms of promotional marketing of breast milk substitutes.  The UNICEF estimates that such actions can help save the lives of one million babies – yes, one million babies.

Could what Dr. Williams said about artificial substitutes of breast milk be said about tobacco and could one also speak  about “Tobacco and Murder”?  The legal purist and those concerned with moral responsibilities will differ but one thing is clear Tobacco Kills and the only safe cigarette is an unlit one!


Those of us who are concerned about what harm tobacco is doing to us are often accused of four things:

1.       We are accused of being “anti-business”.

2.       We are accused of being representative of “narrow interests”.

3.       We are accused of being against the freedom of choice and civil liberties.

4.       We are accused of destroying joy and happiness.


Let me say a few things about these things. on behalf of IOCU.

Far from being anti-business we are for good business.  We are only “anti” the business of violence, we are against the business of manipulation and we are against the business of waste.  The tobacco industry represents ‘par excellence’ the business of violence, manipulation and waste.  It’s that kind of business we are against.

Let me say a little about each of these businesses.

  • Firstly, the business of violence  - if we just take the number of smoking related deaths we are talking of the scale of the crash of a jumbo jet every hour not to mention the pain and prolonged suffering.
  • Secondly, the business of manipulation – the tobacco industry through its advertising, its sponsorship is engaged in making prisoners of addiction and is corrupting important sections of our community through sponsorships and other means.  In many countries it is the transnational tobacco industry that is responsible for such unconscionable action.
  • Thirdly, the business of waste - money, time, natural resources, health care systems, talent are wasted.  We are talking not of thousands but of billions of dollars that are directly and indirectly wasted.

As for the charge that we are not representative or representative of narrow interests, let me say that IOCU with its 137 members in some 50 countries, is in consultative status with the UN and speaks for the consumer interest and is recognised as the legitimate and official spokesman for the consumer interest.  If there is anybody that represents narrow interests, it’s the tobacco industry.

As for the charge for being anti-freedom of choice and of being anti-civil liberties, let me say we are against the abuse of freedom and civil liberties especially the freedom to kill, mislead and pollute.  In a responsible free society there is no place for such abuse of freedom and the tobacco industry is deeply implicated in that kind of abuse.

As for the charge of killing joy and happiness, surely saving lives is a very positive thing.  Good health is a far better recipe for joy and happiness.  If there is anyone destroying joy and happiness it’s the tobacco industry with the sickness, ill health and waste it causes.  The consumer movement, we like to say, is a force for happiness.


Today, there is a new world-wide consumer revolution.  It is not a revolution of the right or of the left.  It is militant but not violent.  It spans the globe and gives new strength to ordinary people.  That movement consists of organizations like yours.  It consists of International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU).  It consists of several networks, e.g. International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Health Action International (HAI), Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Consumer Interpol and No More Bhopals Network.

This movement is finally making waves.  We saw this year on 9 April a UN Consumer Protection Charter.  We see industry changing its practices.  We see governments making Consumer Protection an integral part of their development programme.

This movement is now going vigourously to seek eliminate the kind of violence, manipulation and waste that the tobacco industry is implicated.  It is going to seek promote and protect the rights of consumers, particularly to safety, information, redress and to a clean environment.  This is going to do in various ways and in particular through a programme called AGHAST. [expand]

This Workshop is our first major global effort to systematically enlarge our skills and our power to deal with issues both at the national and global level, to come out with a clear statement of our goals and develop a practical programme of action – a programme, I believe, that could have two key elements:

  • Firstly, the declaration of the tobacco industry as a hazardous industry to be regulated strictly and phased out eventually.
  • Secondly, we are strong and getting stronger, and now most of all
  • Thirdly, we are right.

Because we are right we will win in the end.

Because we are not alone and we are getting stronger, we can win even sooner.

Thank you and every success to your campaigns.

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