Tobacco COP10 to Address New Products and Industry Interference
COP10 on WHO Framework Convention Tobacco Control. President Zandile Dhlamini (Eswatini) during the opening ceremony

“Tobacco [is] the biggest public health threat the world has ever faced. […] Together we have made great progress. We have saved lives,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated at the opening of the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) on the Framework Convention Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Panama on Monday. 

The biennial convention acts as a governing body to supervise FCTC implementation, and the 183 parties to the FCTC will meet first to discuss the next steps for tobacco control policies.

From 12-15 February, the third Meeting of the Parties (MOP3) will discuss progress on the special Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

Since the convention was adopted in 2005, there have been major improvements for tobacco regulation.

“Two decades ago, the idea of tobacco-free bars and restaurants was unthinkable, but now this has become the norm,” stated Jarbas Barbosa, director of the Pan American Health Organization.

The number of smokers worldwide is decreasing, both as a proportion of the adult population, from 33% in 2000 to only 22% presently, and in absolute numbers despite the population growth, said Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, the WHO FCTC’s Secretary, in her opening statement.

Marquizo outlined three key concerns for the meeting: FCTC’s  slow implementation, new nicotine and tobacco products gaining popularity and the industry’s continuous interference in countries’ tobacco control efforts.

Participants at the COP10 opening ceremony

One of the major concerns of participants is the growing popularity of emerging products, including heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes. 

 As the WHO has warned, the tobacco industry often markets these specifically to the young generation, using attractive flavours or cartoon characters as part of their design.

Industry lobbyists claim that e-cigarettes, or vapes, are a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes that help people to quit smoking. But the WHO contests this, arguing that they neither help people to quit smoking nor are harmless.

Tobacco industry produces “alternatives that are equally addictive” and provides misleading information about them, stressed Barbosa. Thus, regulating the emerging products is one of the main challenges for the meeting parties.

Meanwhile, big tobacco companies are up and running with their own campaign to discredit the convention, as the University of Bath research confirms.

In a leaked email published by The Guardian, Philip Morris International senior vice-president of external affairs Grégoire Verdeaux described the summit as “nothing short of a systematic, methodical, prohibitionist attack on smoke-free products”.

He also expressed his outrage at the fact that the industry was excluded from the talks.

But according to WHO, “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests”, while Marquizo describes them as an “industry that profits from suffering and death.”

Opening the convention, COP president Zandile Dhlamini commended “the commitment and passion we all have for […] developing solutions to continuously protect present and future generations from the devastating effects of tobacco”.

Image Credits: WHO/FCTC/Yuscar Duarte, WHO / FCTC / Yuscar Duarte.

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