WHO Delegates Kick Tobacco Reps out of Moscow Parley

Tobacco industry allies tried their best to shortstop global tobacco treaty negotiations that began in Moscow earlier this week but they failed when their front group was kicked out of the meeting.

“In a brazen move, the tobacco industry brought its agenda and its voice here to the heart of tobacco control,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization at the opening of the Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The board of directors of several tobacco companies convened parties and observers to discuss tobacco tax and price policies without fully disclosing their vested interests, Chan said.

Adoption of strong taxation guidelines is a major leap forward in terms of public health and social justice. Governments that have ratified the treaty adopted the taxation guidelines despite immense industry manipulation and interference.

The day before the meetings even began, the International Tax and Investment Center—an industry funded front group-- organized an event to lobby finance ministers to oppose the life-saving taxation measures.

Industry Interference

Delegates commenced the meeting by rejecting the international police organization Interpol’s application to observe the treaty because of its financial ties to the tobacco industry and ejected tobacco industry representatives from the proceedings. These actions paved the way for the swift adoption of guidelines on taxation by the committee. Once approved by the full body later this week, these guidelines would provide a roadmap for the implementation of live-saving tax policy around the globe.

“This is a huge victory for public health,” said John Stewart, Challenge Big Tobacco campaign director at Corporate Accountability International. “With the tobacco industry out of the room, Parties were able to advance game-changing policy that will curb consumption and save lives.”

In previous treaty meetings, tobacco industry infiltration has been a serious problem. Big Tobacco’s representatives are notorious for disseminating misinformation and intimidating delegates. At one point during a negotiating round of the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade of Tobacco, Corporate Accountability International determined that more than 80 percent of the people in the public gallery were connected to the tobacco industry.

In a 2012 WHO report on the progress of the treaty’s implementation, a majority of governments reported industry interference as a primary obstacle to success. In response to industry aggression, an increasing number of countries are implementing a firewall strategy, known as Article 5.3, to protect health policy-making from Big Tobacco bullying. Delegates are expected to adopt policies to accelerate the implementation of this directive.

The global tobacco treaty (WHO FCTC) came into force in 2005. To date, 178 countries and the European Union have ratified the treaty, making it the one of the most widely embraced and rapidly adopted in history. It contains the world’s most effective tobacco control and corporate accountability measures— estimated to save 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented.

So far, as of 2014, seven countries have signed but not yet ratified the protocol. Another 10 have not signed including Indonesia, whose government derives significant income from tobacco revenues and some of whose biggest and most politically powerful companies are tobacco manufacturers.

Also.in India, according to news reports, "52 percent to 70 percent of all beedis z(cheap, leaf-wrapped cigarettes) consumed have no taxes paid either due to non-compliance" or because the manufacturers supposedly produce less than 2 million beedis per year. That is the reason why beedi production is being outsourced to households.

"We call upon the government to raise taxes on all tobacco products, without exception" appealed Rahul Dwivedi, campaign Director of Vote For Health in India. "We appeal to the government to increase taxes on all tobacco products irrespective of weight of pan masala or length of cigarettes. Historically taxes on beedi, or smaller length of cigarettes or smaller volumes of pan masala etc has been lower which is bad for public health. Excise duty should be increased three times on all forms of tobacco products. Also raw tobacco must be taxed" further added Rahul who was speaking to Citizen News Service (CNS).

Bobby Ramakant is editor of Citizen News Service