The scandal of Mediator, at the heart of a knot of conflicting interests, is exemplary of a disturbing drift of our health care system. It has already had two positive effects by leading to better monitor a long list of medications with uncertain side effects and better control of relations between experts responsible for placing medicinal products on the market, and pharmaceutical companies that produce them.
But what is bewildering is that nobody, absolutely nobody, wonders why we do not deal with the same severity on a totally useless product, now proven to harm, consumed daily by 1.3 billion people worldwide and resulting each year in five million deaths, more than AIDS and malaria combined. Consumption of this product causes huge health care costs and reduces everywhere business productivity, when employees are allowed to take breaks to poison themselves legally. And yet, its production and sale are allowed worldwide. And almost everywhere, its advertising is allowed.
This product is tobacco. 5.550 Billion cigarettes are smoked every year. One person dies from it every six seconds. It is one of the major causes in six of eight major forms of mortality. It killed 100 million people in the 20th century, that is twice than the second world war. At this rate, according to WHO, it will kill 1 billion in the 21st century.
Certainly, steps are taken to reduce its use, in public places, and to reduce its visibility in the media. But they are useless. Young people smoke more and more: In France, 25% of the population smokes, and cigarette sales rose 2.6% in 2009 compared to 2008. From 2005 to 2010, the proportion of daily smokers among 15-75 year-olds rose 26.9% to 28.7%, the increase is particularly strong among women 45 to 64, 16 to 22.5%.
But it is not prohibited. Why? Because it brings back a lot of money to governments. In France, it brought in (2009) 10 billion Euros of tax and 3 billion in VAT. They claim to reduce its use by higher prices. Hypocrisy: rising prices is only increasing company profits and revenues of governments, guilty of complicity in poisoning. Hypocrisy again: we dare talk about the precautionary principle when we do not apply it in this indisputable case.
Better or worse, we are talking about a global tax on tobacco: a tax of $ 0.05 on each pack in wealthy countries and $ 0.01 for poor countries, which would yield $ 7.7 billion they think will be used to treat AIDS. Irony: wound with one hand, heal with another.
We should not delay any more. Everything is now clear: we must ban the production, distribution and consumption of tobacco. It would call into question some jobs; Governments would lose some earnings, for a time black market would be encouraged; we would make some expenses to detoxify those which are. But we would gain so much in quality and life expectancy that the balance sheet, even economic, would obviously be positive everywhere.
It is today an obvious battle. And for my part, I look forward for the response of the candidates in the presidential elections to this simple question: are you going to ban the production, importation, sale and consumption of tobacco?