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The New Arab Staff

Big tobacco accused of 'influencing' Jordanian legislation

Eight out of 10 men in Jordan smoke or use nicotine products. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 June, 2020

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Jordanians are the most frequent smokers in the world: More than 8 out of 10 men in Jordan smoke or use nicotine products.

Civil society and campaigners in Jordan have accused tobacco companies of  meddling in national health regulations, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Jordanians are the most frequent smokers in the world, according to a 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) survey, which showed that more than 8 out of 10 men in Jordan smoke or use nicotine products.

Civil society groups and anti-smoking campaigners have said that big tobacco is "influencing" legislation in the kingdom, such as providing funds to local schools and "career development" sessions for young people.

The Guardian also claims that "government officials were lobbied by tobacco industry executives" and that Philip Morris International "featured on the social media feeds of the Jordanian prime minister, promoting its economic contribution to the country".

"Our interactions with government officials in Jordan - like elsewhere - comply with all applicable laws… In addition, we abide to our own international standards and practices which are stricter than many national laws. In any democratic society, the central objective of regulatory policy - ensuring that regulations are designed and implemented in the public interest - can only be achieved with full participation of those concerned," PMI said to the UK-based publication.

"The tobacco companies actually sat at the table right across from us… They argued against every single standard," said Princess Dina Mired, a member of Jordan's royal family and the president of the Union for International Cancer Control.

"There was a point when it became very clear that we were wasting our time. We all walked out as a protest. Nothing happened. [The meeting] continued. We failed miserably. They didn't take a single recommendation from us."

While the tobacco companies supported the adoption of regulations similar to that of the EU, according to meeting minutes seen by The Guardian, campaigners said they wanted more restrictive measures on smoking products.

Big tobacco also spends large sums on sponsorship and programmes aimed at young people, according to company filings reported by the UK daily.

The same survey by the WHO also indicates that almost half of Jordanian students under the age of 15 have used tobacco products.

Tobacco taxes account for 18 percent of the Jordanian government's total yearly revenue, which render it a major investor and employment source, in a country where jobless rates run high.

Business representatives from tobacco firms have also visited health officials, according to accounts of Mervat Mheerat, the deputy health manager at the Greater Amman municipality.

"I was shocked when the regional manager came to me, and knew what I was saying in the meetings," she said to The Guardian, saying they approached her with a donation of 1 million Jordanian dinars (£1.15 million) for her anti-smoking campaign when she became a part of the government committee responsible for regulating the display of tobacco products in supermarkets.

Jordanian government sources told The Guardian that the tobacco industry does not receive special treatment.

Additionally, UK government research found that Jordan loses £1.85 billion a year in "healthcare costs and loss of productivity", which ranks it the highest per capita figure in the world.

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