Jordan has surpassed Indonesia to have the highest smoking rate in the world, a report by the Guardian has found.
More than eight in ten Jordanian men use nicotine products, or cigarettes, including “smokeless” or e-cigarettes, according to a 2019 Jordanian Ministry of Health study in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Of those who smoke daily, 90.8 per cent smoke manufactured cigarettes and “consume an average of 23 cigarettes a day”, the British newspaper reported.
Health experts claim the reason for the high rates is the influence cigarette manufacturers and tobacco companies have on regulations in Jordan. By comparison, smoking rates have plummeted in Europe and the US since the introduction of regulations which limit cigarette companies’ influence over policy.
“These companies continue to exercise as much political power as they can in wealthy countries, but they’re more successful in lower-income countries where they face less transparency, can operate more in the dark and overwhelm whatever civic societies exist”, associate professor of public health at the American University of Beirut, Rime Nakkash, told the Guardian.
The report claims tobacco companies have frequently taken part in government meetings discussing regulations and laws on cigarette standards.
These include cigarette packaging, such as health warnings, graphics and the design, as well as marketing regulations, such as whether the product can be labelled “less harmful than cigarettes or as an aid to quit smoking”.
Though, according to minutes seen by the Guardian, tobacco companies supported the adoption of regulations as stringent as European laws, Princess Dina Mired, who attended the meetings was quoted as saying the corporations “argued against every single standard”.
“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,” Mired said. “We failed miserably. They didn’t take a single recommendation from us.”
Meanwhile, deputy health manager at the Greater Amman municipality, Mervat Mheerat, told the Guardian she had been approached by a tobacco company offering money, as a donation, in exchange for her neutrality on cigarette standards.
The money, Mheerat said, was for an anti-smoking campaign in Amman. She told the British newspaper: “They approach each person in the style they like… so for me, they know I am passionate about promoting health and raising awareness of the dangers of smoking. So they came and said: ‘Let us find some money for your campaign’.”
According to the report, big tobacco companies spend thousands of US dollars on social welfare projects in Jordan every year. Philip Morris International (PMI) reportedly recently renovated nearly a dozen schools near the company’s factory and provided students with stationary supplies.
When contacted by the Guardian, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and PMI said “it was normal and lawful for their companies to be consulted as stakeholders when relevant regulatory issues were being debated” and defended their involvement in social welfare projects.
Meanwhile a Jordanian official said tobacco companies did not receive special treatment in influencing government policy and that awareness campaigns on the dangers of smoking were ongoing.