Thursday 21st April 2005


Witco chairman believes...

Smoking ban is wrong

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Francis Carlow, chairman of West Indian Tobacco Company Ltd and area director of Latin America for British American Tobacco.

Photo: Andre Alexander


While governments support legislation to ban smoking in public places there is no proof that it actually reduces the level of consumption, said chairman of West Indian Tobacco Company Ltd, Francis Carlow.

Even lack of advertising by some tobacco companies has not meant a dip in sales.

For example, Witco has stopped advertising and withdrawn from sport sponsorship but still managed to post profits for 2004 that exceeded the previous year’s.

The company recorded profits of $98 million for 2004 compared to $88 million in 2003 and $76 million in 2002.

Does the profit indicate an increase in smokers?

At Witco’s headquarters in Champs Fleurs, the Scottish chairman explained that the company is not aggressively marketing its product but maintained that overall demand in the international market has been stable for the last few years.

Carlow is also the regional marketing manager for British American Tobacco (BAT) which owns 50.1 per cent of Witco.

Based in Guatemala, Carlow was in Trinidad for the company’s annual general meeting held at the Crowne Plaza. It was his first meeting with shareholders.

Now area director of Latin America for the last 12 years, he assumed the chairmanship of Witco in August last year.

He said there were new markets emerging in the eastern European countries but did not like to project any future market demand.

He chatted amiably, smoked a Benson & Hedges cigarette (one of the 15 which is his daily quota) and explained about the black eye he sported.

“You’re not going to believe me,” he began, “the whole of Trinidad is not going to believe me.”

It happened when he was vacationing, he said with the confidence of someone who knows his story is unbelievably funny yet tells it anyway.

“I was in at the beach on a lounge chair and this coconut fell down and it rebounded and hit me,” he laughed, “No really, that is the story.”

Of course, he quickly added that no one who heard the story actually believed him.

He pointed out that Witco has adhered to the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control but has defined its position on public policy to ban smoking in public places.

“It should not only address socio-political concerns which we believe are currently driving the arguments relating to these issues,” he said.

At the AGM, managing director and deputy chairman Anthony Philips added, “We believe that it is possible to provide both sensible regulatory and practical solutions that address peoples’ concerns.”

Carlow refined his position.

“As an individual who believes in freedom, choice and democracy, I think it is extremely wrong for governments to get involved in that degree of control of peoples’ lives.

“Those kind of choices should be up to individuals—smokers and non-smokers,” he stressed.

He used the example of Ireland to explain how a ban on smoking in public, bars and restaurants has had a small impact on overall consumption but a big impact on social activity.

“In Ireland there has been a significant change to socialising at home as opposed to bars so it actually had a bigger impact on the alcohol industry where consumption of products at home tends to be cheaper products compared to the consumption of products when you go out,” he said.

He pointed out that supermarkets have noticed a drop in sale on higher priced and premium products.

“And obviously its impacted the bar and restaurant industry because what was popular in traditional bars no longer exists and the only bars that exist are the ones which are opened outside where people can actually sit and smoke,” he added.

This, he said, will change smoking trends with smokers smoking hard on a cigarette for a short period of time.

“You tend to smoke the cigarette hard and then you go back inside and that frankly I don’t think is a positive trend in terms of positive impact,” Carlow said.

“It would be better for people to enjoy their cigarette more slowly and in a more leisurely way than to go outside and puff very hard.”

He strongly believes that the measure to ban public smoking is extreme by any government.

While he acknowledged that people should be educated on the risks of smoking and within reason, smokers should be free to enjoy their product.

He said in the future the tobacco and alcohol industries may have to join with hotels, restaurants and bars to lobby to prevent the implications of these bans.

Bans have been passed in New York and Ireland and are being considered by the T&T Government.

“Many pieces of legislation can actually have a contradictory effect if you don’t think them through,” he said.

“For example, smoking can be restrictive to bars and nightclubs and those are by definition adult establishments. In a private party, you don’t know the age of the people. In social activity at home, there’s no control of age,” he elaborated.

“There is no conclusive evidence which significantly impacts consumption. Our interest in defending it is simply to protect the rights if our consumers to enjoy their product in a legitimate way in an environment which does not overly disturbed both smokers and non-smokers,” he said.


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