What the tobacco debate can learn from David Attenborough

5 min read

We’re all doomed unless we act now. That was the stark and sobering message by the British naturalist Sir David Attenborough at Davos. He didn’t take any prisoners.

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Written by

Marian Salzman, Senior Vice President Global Communications

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“Unless we sort ourselves out in the next decade or so we are dooming our children and our grandchildren to an appalling future,” Sir David Attenborough told the audience. He added that we need to ‘move beyond guilt or blame’ and for governments, business and the public to come together to solve the problem.

He was talking about climate change, but while listening, I was struck by the similar implications facing the tobacco industry and how we respond to the challenge. Almost everything he said about what we need to do to combat climate change could equally be applied to attempts to end smoking around the world. The parallels are striking.

“If people can truly understand what is at stake,” he said, “I believe they will give permission for business and governments to get on with the practical solutions. We have to get together and solve this problem.” This is something that we have encouraging for many years.

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According to the WWF, also here at Davos, 60 percent of wildlife has been wiped out in less than 50 years, a fifth of the Amazon has disappeared and many scientists believe a sixth mass extinction is under way.

It’s always depressing and sad to read how we’re wrecking the planet and continuing to decimate wildlife and forests at an alarming rate. As a sometimes brash and forthright American I cannot understand why we can’t just fix this – and now.

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Just as with the climate debate, we too need to move beyond the blame game. As the WHO estimates, there will still be 1.1 billion smokers in the world in 2025. And we think that it is only by bringing together companies, policy makers and the public that we can dramatically reduce this number sooner.

We are embarking on our own transformation to a smoke-free future. Perhaps it’s time to recognize we are also part of the answer. If we all agree that people shouldn’t continue smoking, maybe better smoke-free alternatives are not such a bad idea for people who won’t give up? It’s a conversation we’d love to have with governments and the public.