Upcoming Tobacco COP to Focus on New Products and Industry Tactics
Dr Adriana Blanco Macqueso, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control

New tobacco and nicotine products and the tobacco industry’s extensive lobbying of governments are likely to be in the spotlight when country representatives meet next week to discuss the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). 

The 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) starts in Panama on Monday (5 February) after being postponed from last November because of unrest in the host country.

“Tobacco is, and continues to be, a threat. It is a threat to human life. It is a threat to human health, but also a threat to the health of the planet,” stressed Sabina Timco Lacazzi, WHO’s Legal Officer working on FCTC implementation.

WHO FCTC, signed by 182 parties, entered into force in 2005, and the biennial COP and Meeting of the Parties (MOP) acted as governing bodies working on implementing the treaty.

The Convention is the first international treaty to take into account not only human health but also the impact on animals and the planet, as Lacazzi proudly stated. “It’s really important that parties and the public in general remember this very important reason why we work […] to take stock of tobacco control measures and to continue to push for progress in this regard.”

Tobacco’s health cost

Over a fifth of the world’s population uses tobacco, with four out of five smokers living in low- and middle-income countries, according to the WHO.

Smoking is the cause of over eight million deaths annually, 1.3 million of which are a result of mere exposure to tobacco smoke from other smokers.

Even though the number of tobacco product users is declining, it still amounts to a substantial burden of cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease, says the CDC.

Deadly health effects of cigarettes and similar products are widely known and yet, the tobacco industry is often successful in its lobbying for fewer regulations or discouraging information campaigns.

New products, investment fund to be discussed

The upcoming meetings is also likely to focus on the regulation of emerging nicotine and tobacco products as well as details of a new investment fund covering implementation of the treaty, stated Dr Adriana Blanco Macqueso, head of the WHO tobacco regulation treaty secretariat in a press conference.

But Macqueso could not say what direction the will parties take on heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes. 

“With 162 parties, we may have 162 different positions on this,” she said, but stressed that countries agree that the new commodities “should be regulated,” as traditional ones are.

Lobbying tactics

According to the WHO, “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests”.

Despite that fact, many governments fail to resist the persisting lobbying pressure. The industry’s tactics involve many practices, including intimidation, claiming a public health role, influencing scientific research or even undermining existing laws.

A selection of lobbying tactics used by the tobacco industry, as presented by Sabina Timco Lacazzi, WHO Legal Officer working on implementing the tobacco regulation treaty

In Cameroon, for instance, the health authorities had a secret working session with the tobacco industry, according to Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) Ghana, a health-focused NGO.

Even COP meetings have struggled to eliminate the intrusive tobacco industry’s presence. During the last meeting in India, for example, one of the country delegates “actually spoke at the floor, saying tobacco is not addictive,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa based in Nigeria. 

Measuring industry influence

In response to a variety of lobbying practices, the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control has developed the Tobacco Industry Interference Index which classifies countries based on how independent they are from tobacco companies’ influence.

Tobacco Industry Interference Index scores for a selection of African countries, as presented by Labram Musah from Vision for Alternative Development

Botswana and Ethiopia emerged with the lowest scores (least influence), while Zambia, Tanzania and Cameroon were the most heavily influenced.

Countering industry pressure at COP

Similar to the climate summit in Dubai, where the presence of fossil fuel companies undermined some ambitions for a phase-out, the tobacco regulation COP might face industry pressure, highlighted Oluwafemi.

But the FCTC “represents one of the most effective public debt instruments in the world”, he added.

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