Tobacco Convention Chief Hails Advances But Offers Warnings And Flags Concerns Tobacco Industry Continues “Furious Efforts” To Undermine Treaty

The chief of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, told delegates from its 181 member states attending a Conference of the Parties meeting in Geneva (1-6 October) many governments have advanced tobacco control actions, but also noted some are lagging behind and warned that with astronomical budgets, the tobacco industry “continues their furious efforts” to undermine the implementation of the treaty.

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat Head Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva

“New front groups and entities have been created overnight in the four corners of the world and pretend to propose alternative livelihoods to tobacco growing, eradicate child labour, promote respect for human rights, control illicit trade and protect smokers from non-smokers from the harmful effect of second-hand smoke,” declared Dr Costa e Silva.

“New emerging products are flooding our streets and our shops, and their aggressive marketing techniques have taken many governments by surprise, cleverly using loopholes in existing legislations,” she added. Parties “should expedite implementation of article 5.3 guidelines (on protection of public health policies from commercial or vested interests of the tobacco industry) and ensure that “it’s applicable to all commercial and vested interests of the industry, including addressing unproven claims of harm reduction,” she argued.

The FCTC, which came into force in 2005, was crafted by countries in response to the global spread of the tobacco epidemic. As a result of the accord, countries have passed comprehensive tobacco control laws, including increased taxes on tobacco, the establishment of smoke-free spaces to protect against passive – smoking, and requirements for large graphic health warnings and plain packaging of tobacco products.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told delegates, “More than 13 years since it came into force, it remains one of the world’s most powerful tools for health. Together we have made great progress. We have saved lives.”

But Dr Tedros also underscored “we must continue to be on our guard against the tobacco industry and its tactics,” and also highlighted the launch last week at the United Nations General Assembly of the Tobacco Free Finance Pledge, calling on all countries to divest tobacco investments from their sovereign wealth funds.

Dr Costa e Silva told reporters, “There is an irreconcilable conflict of interests between the tobacco industry and public health. The COP [Conference of Parties] is always very careful not to allow interference of the tobacco industry and not allow tobacco industry presence because the tobacco industry is not a partner on the table and they will never move to the same objectives on public health.”

The FCTC chief also pointed out that ahead of the meeting the tobacco industry had visited many delegations in Geneva.

Concerning conflicts of interest, the FCTC head said in earlier meetings, Interpol applied twice for observer status (COP5 2012 and COP6 2014) but was twice denied because of conflict of interest as it had received funds from the tobacco industry (a donation for 2012-2015 of 15 million euros from Phillip Morris International related to a tracking and tracing system developed by the tobacco industry).

Senior western delegates to the FCTC, speaking on background, critically noted it was as one put it “scandalous” that the International Labour Organization was still receiving funds linked to the tobacco industry for programs to combat child labour in tobacco-producing nations. Most UN agencies have severed all ties to the tobacco industry and have adopted policies not accept funds from the tobacco industry.

A proposal for the ILO to secure alternative funding for the program is expected to be discussed at the next ILO governing Board meeting.

Dr Costa e Silva, who has had discussions with the ILO on the matter, said, Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, “is very much interested in solving this problem accordingly.”

An ILO official told Health Policy Watch that to date, “the amount of funding received from the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) US$5,332,835. This includes an agreement covering 2015-2018, under which the annual spend is approximately US$840,000. To date, the amount of funding received from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is US$10,114,200. The average annual spend from 2015-2018 is approximately USD$1.2 million.”

Asked if the ILO has taken steps to terminate funding from the tobacco industry, the official said, “The ILO has requested guidance from its tripartite Governing Body on whether or not it should continue to receive funds from the tobacco industry and if so, under what circumstances. However the Governing Body has not yet concluded its discussion of the matter. The issue was discussed at the GB’s 329th (March 2017), 331st (November 2017) and 332nd (March 2018) sessions.”

“The discussion has centred on ILO’s public-private partnerships (PPPs) with JTI and ECLT and the implications for the ILO’s engagement with the industry of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and a Model Policy for Agencies of the United Nations System on Preventing Tobacco Industry Interference 1 (Model Policy) of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Non-Communicable Diseases (UNIATF) of which ILO is a member.”

Discussion on an integrated strategy and alternative funding, the ILO official said, is slated to be examined again tentatively on 31 October, 2018.

Global Progress Report

On the tobacco control front, the latest FCTC 2018 Global Progress Report, released during the opening of the conference, said that more than 90% of the parties indicated they had implemented tax and/or price policies and the same percentage declared having banned smoking in public places.

The report also found that health warnings are now required in almost 90% of Parties, with a growing number of Parties implementing or planning to implement plain standardized packaging.

With regards to plain packaging, Dr Costa e Silva said plain packaging has become “an important endgame tool with a true domino effect despite the efforts of the tobacco industry to block new laws…. It was reassuring to learn that WTO panel made no findings that tobacco plain packaging measures are inconsistent with the TRIPS agreement, the TBT [Technical Barriers to Trade] Agreement and GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] in the case put forward against Australia by a number of WTO member states.”

In addition, the report says nearly two-thirds of Parties reported they had taken measures to prevent tobacco industry interference with tobacco control policies.

Concerning minors, the report said that even though 85% of the Parties have prohibited sales and a growing number of the Parties had increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, there is still room for improvement, especially in banning self-service shelves and vending machines.


Image Credits: John Zarocostas.

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