Tobacco industry efforts to weaken global health treaty must be stopped.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

A legally binding treaty [1] to curb the devastating global tobacco epidemic has had amazing successes since its implementation six years ago, yet but more could be achieved if lobbying activity by the tobacco industry to undermine the treaty was curtailed, said ASH to mark World No Tobacco Day 2011. [2]

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in 2005. Today it has 172 Parties representing about 87 per cent of the world’s population, which makes it one of the most successful ever United Nations treaties. The FCTC sets out specific steps for governments addressing tobacco use, including to:

• 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
• Protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry
Yet the FCTC faces huge challenges, led by the tobacco industry. With populations and incomes rising in developing countries, the industry has shifted its attention there and is attacking any governments that oppose it. For example, in 2010 tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) challenged Uruguay’s proposed warning labels, and other tobacco control measures, claiming they violated the 1988 investment protection treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland (where PMI is based).

However, the developed world in not immune from industry attacks. One of the key treaty obligations is that Parties are required to protect their public health policies from the tobacco industry. The UK Government is committed to this obligation. But to get round the treaty the tobacco industry has funded groups such as the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents to front campaigns against government tobacco policies, without making clear to Parliament or to the Government that these organisations are backed by the tobacco industry.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said:

“Tobacco companies are responsible for spreading cancer and heart disease just as malaria is spread by mosquitoes. But they also engage others to do their dirty work for them. Businesses should wake up to the fact that they are being manipulated by the industry and see for themselves that they have nothing to fear from robust measures to protect children from tobacco industry marketing.”

[1] The FCTC’s successes include graphic warnings on tobacco packages. Today, 41 jurisdictions worldwide require such warnings, led by Uruguay – which requires warnings covering 80 per cent of packages – and Canada (75 per cent), the first country to implement graphic warnings. The Australian Government has proposed labels that would cover 82.5 per cent of cigarette packages.

Smoke-free laws have also blossomed since 2005. More than 60 countries have enacted strong or comprehensive smoke-free laws at the national or local level. This includes Mexico City, where in September 2009 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a 100 percent smoke-free law, giving the city the authority to go beyond the federal law to protect the fundamental right of health for all citizens.

[2] Every year on 31 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognises individuals and/or organisations for their accomplishments in tobacco control with World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) Awards. The awards recognise international achievements in the fight against the global tobacco epidemic and in the promotion of tobacco control initiatives and policies. ASH is a recipient of a 2011 award for its work to ensure the success of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) from the start of negotiations in 1999. It played a dynamic role as key actor in mobilising civil society engagement in the Treaty process, which was vital to the subsequent success of the WHO FCTC.