TWN Info Service on Health Issues (June 06/3)

12 June 2006

Big Tobacco Fights Anti Tobacco Treaty

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) the first global health treaty is under constant threat from the tobacco industry. The following report looks at some of the ways the industry is trying to undermine the Treaty and the challenges that anti tobacco campaigners face. It is reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6039, 2 June 2006.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

A political struggle to the death

Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, Geneva, 31 May

There's no way around it: tobacco products of any kind are deadly and must be controlled by means of strict regulations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), argued the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a promo for World No Tobacco Day, which is celebrated Wednesday.

Tobacco use causes approximately five million deaths each year - one out of every 10 adults - making it the number two cause of death worldwide.

WHO predicts that if current trends continue, tobacco will kill 10 million people annually by 2020, with 70% of those deaths occurring in developing countries.

And there is no safe way of consuming tobacco - smoked, chewed or inhaled through water pipes, it kills, warned Yumiko Mochizuki-Kobayashi, director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.

Consequently, regulation of products that contain any form of tobacco should be considered an urgent priority, she said.

Towards this aim, the international community created an instrument the FCTC - in which signatory nations commit to implementing standards for testing, regulation and disclosure of ingredients in tobacco and smoke, as well as misleading packaging.

The convention, adopted by WHO on May 21, 2003, went into effect on February 27, 2005. To date it has been signed by 168 states and ratified by 128.

The international community has placed its hopes on the treaty, through which it will strive to lower the numbers of people addicted to tobacco - currently 650 million. Of these, half will eventually die from diseases caused by their addiction, according to WHO estimates.

The 128 parties to the convention represent more than 75% of the world's population and have made the FCTC one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations, noted Kathryn Mulvey, executive director of Corporate Accountability International (CAI).

CAI, a non-governmental organisation based in Boston, wages campaigns that identify and challenge irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around the world. A network of private institutions work with CAI to help monitor and expose tobacco-industry interference, explained Mulvey.

Even in the face of overwhelming FCTC acceptance, the tobacco industry is "still fighting back and doing so aggressively," she said. The industry's main goal is "to get a seat at the policy-making table, when actually the treaty itself obligates parties to protect their policies from interferences," the activist told IPS.

The FCTC calls for the tobacco industry to be kept out of health policy, as it has disqualified itself, said Mulvey.

Mochizuki-Kobayashi underscored that cigarettes are the only legal product that kills more than half of its users when consumed according to manufacturer instructions.

She also reiterated that all tobacco products - including cigarettes lack adequate package information on ingredients and the toxins released.

These deficiencies must be addressed by appropriate regulations in each country, and more in-depth studies, said Mochizuki-Kobayashi.

However, in recalling an experience she had last month at the annual meeting of shareholders of Philip Morris (now Altria) - the world's leading tobacco company - Mulvey highlighted some major challenges to such efforts.

"The CEO of the corporation made it very clear that they are opposed to certain provisions of the Convention, such as the ad ban," she reported.

The head of Altria also demonstrated that the industry is seeking a role in tobacco control policy decision-making. This has Corporate Accountability International determined to keep up its ongoing commitment and campaigns to expose tobacco-industry interference around the world, said Mulvey.

Tobacco giants are also trying to dictate national government policy, even in countries that have ratified the Convention, she charged. "For example, in Guatemala, they sent a letter to the government saying what policies they would accept, basically almost drafting the legislation."

One month after Mexico ratified the Convention, the government reached a voluntary agreement with Altria and British American Tobacco, which "tied [the country's] hands in terms of banning advertisement and increasing taxes in exchange for payments into a health fund by the giants," said Mulvey.

"These are the kind of examples that we have to keep countering and exposing, because history shows that if the tobacco industry sets the terms of health policy, millions of lives are lost," she said.

International health authorities propose raising consumer and government awareness of the extremely damaging effects of any tobacco products, and are demanding strict regulation of all derivatives.

WHO experts warn that "mild" cigarettes have the same nicotine and tar levels as those labelled "regular." It also notes that so-called mild cigarettes do not carry a lower risk of tobacco-induced disease. "For that reason, this year's slogan for World No Tobacco Day is "Tobacco: Deadly in any form or disguise".