WHO European Region: Four industries claim 2.7 million lives every year

Европейский регион ВОЗ: деятельность четырех отраслей промышленности ежегодно уносит 2,7 миллиона жизней

18 percent of European women use tobacco, which is more than in other regions of the world. WHO European Region: Four industries claim 2.7 million lives every year Health

New WHO report reveals how big industrial companies are contributing to the spread of chronic diseases, obstructing health policies and harming public health. 

The World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe has released its first report on the impact of specific industries on the health of people in Europe and Central Asia. 

Research sheds light on a wide range of tactics used by large industrial companies to obtain maximum profits. These actions exacerbate inequalities and increase rates of cancer, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, and create serious barriers to prevention efforts. 

Harmful products: big four

Four industrial products—tobacco, processed foods, fossil fuels and alcohol—are responsible for 19 million deaths a year worldwide, or 34 percent of total deaths. In the European Region alone, these industries are responsible in whole or in part for 2.7 million deaths per year. 

The report explains how the consolidation of these and other industrial sectors in the hands of a small number of powerful multinational corporations has allowed them to gain significant power over the political and legal context in which they operate and to prevent the adoption of regulations in the public interest that could affect their profits.

Industrial company tactics include exploiting vulnerable people through targeted marketing strategies

“The activities of four industries lead to the death of at least 7,000 people every day in our Region. Large businesses in these industries are blocking regulations that could protect the public from harmful products and marketing, and protect health policies from industry interference, said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. – Industry tactics include exploiting vulnerable people through targeted marketing strategies, misleading consumers, and spreading false claims about the benefits or environmental friendliness of their products. Such tactics jeopardize the public health gains made over the past century and prevent countries from meeting their health goals.” 

According to him, WHO/Europe will work with governments to improve tactics to protect people from the harmful influence of industry and reduce this impact. 

Tactics of industrial companies&nbsp ;

The report clearly shows how businesses in various sectors, including fossil fuels, tobacco, alcohol, food and meat, use almost identical methods for creating the structural, political and information conditions they need. Their main goals are making a profit, maximizing product sales and stimulating consumption.

The pharmaceutical and medical device industries, in their own ways, are also involved in shaping public policy to support their products and profits. To this end, large industrial companies spend significant resources opposing regulations designed to protect the public interest, formulating scientific evidence and public debate, and shifting the blame for the harm they cause onto people themselves and their life circumstances, thereby exacerbating burden of NCDs. 

Deception tactics

The report provides a number of case studies illustrating the scale and the depth of influence of corporations on public policy and the process of its formation – influence that affects all spheres of people’s lives. 

It describes how large industrial companies use overt and covert tactics to delay, prevent and block the adoption of regulations and policies to combat NCDs, such as anti-tobacco measures and mandatory labeling of food and alcohol products. 

In addition to describing tactics aimed at undermining health policy implementation, the report provides examples of harmful approaches used by industry in treating disease. Examples of such approaches include unfair pricing and limited availability of cancer drugs, as well as the promotion of non-evidence-based and uncontrolled screening tests. 

Common industrial tactics range from political lobbying and the dissemination of false and misleading information in the media to harmful financial practices and targeted marketing strategies aimed at children and youth. 

The failure to control the harmful practices of industry has resulted in the power and influence of commercial companies increasing while the wealth and power of society is decreasing, increasing the health harm caused by industry and especially the burden of NCDs that are responsible for account for 90 percent of deaths in the European Region. 

The report calls on the 53 Member States in the European Region to take action to address the serious threat of NCDs by combating commercial influence on all levels – individual, environmental, state-political and political-economic – and ensuring stricter regulation in a number of areas. 

Positive examples 

Some countries have achieved success in this area despite strong industrial resistance. In Estonia, a coalition of health partners, including dentists, nurses and doctors, helped push through legislation to tax sugar-sweetened drinks. 

In Kyrgyzstan, community councils formed by women played an important advocacy role in the implementation of tobacco control measures. At the same time, the mobilization of civil society organizations at the national and international level helped secure the passage of anti-tobacco legislation in Slovenia. 


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