Tag Archives: Jeff the Diseased Lung

A look back at the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking tobacco control treaty


A very interesting article from Foreign Affairs on something I knew very little about, honestly — the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, a treaty signed by most of the nations on Earth.

The FCTC was the first-ever WHO worldwide treaty. The agency had gone 50 years without using its treaty-making power and when it did, it chose to direct its power at the growth of tobacco products in international markets.

This is important because of greater awareness in the West, much higher tobacco taxes and more regulations banning smoking in workplaces, the smoking rate has dropped through most Western countries. However, the tobacco industry has adapted by turning its energies toward emerging markets in India, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

The FCTC came on the heels on the release of the so-called “cigarette papers,” millions of millions of internal memos and studies from the tobacco industry dating back to the 1950s which became public knowledge through the discovery process in various lawsuits against Big Tobacco. The treaty provides assistance to smaller, developing countries to battle the worldwide Big Tobacco industry in putting together tobacco control programs. The treaty, which took three years to negotiate and was first ratified by 40 countries in 2005. It has since been ratified by 180 countries representing over 90 percent of the people on Earth.

The FCTC gives smaller, poorer countries information and resources from richer countries as those nations face uphill battles with Big Tobacco in trying to implement laws regarding tobacco packaging, marketing and use in public areas. These battles have been talked by a lot by John Oliver and others with his “Jeff the Diseased Lung” campaign. Big Tobacco, oftentimes with assistance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as its hammer, has fought tiny countries such as Togo and Uruguay (and not so tiny Australia) whenever those countries try to pass laws controlling tobacco marketing and packaging.

Some of the basic things the FCTC helps smaller nations with include some of the same things that have worked in the West to reduce tobacco use:

•    Adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption;
•    Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
•    Create smoke-free work and public spaces;
•    Put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages;
•    Combat illicit trade in tobacco products.

John Oliver’s Jeff the Diseased Lung takes off

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John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight” did a follow-up story on his show’s creation of “Jeff the Diseased Lung.”

Jeff the Diseased Lung is a trademark designed by Oliver and his show for the tobacco industry which is fighting efforts in smaller countries around the world to limit tobacco industry advertising and branding. Oliver’s show took out billboards in Uruguay and sent out t-shirts to Togo starring Jeff the Diseased lung.

Since, then, Jeff and the Twitter hastag #jeffwecan have taken off far beyond what Oliver expected. Also, there are a number of YouTube videos made by Jeff the Diseased Lung fans. Here’s one, here’s two, here’s a third. The first two are great, but that third one was … WTH?

Someone even made their own Jeff the Diseased Lung costume in Mexico City.

Oliver’s epic rant against the tobacco industry, more than 18 minutes long, savaged Big Tobacco over its efforts to harass and intimidate smaller countries that are trying to control tobacco advertising. Australia is one country that now requires simple plain packaging on tobacco products, along with graphic warnings.

As Oliver points out in last week’s piece, Ireland is another country that has joined Australia in requiring plain packaging. Hey, I wrote about that weeks ago, I beat John to the punch. He finds an incredible argument in Philip Morris’ lawsuit against Ireland: Philip Morris argued that, “a dance is only meaningful when it is danced, as a trademark is only meaningful when used.”

As Oliver retorts: “You know you have a pretty weak legal argument when it sounds like a rejected @#$%ing Jewel lyric.”