Global tobacco treaty concluded in Seoul

Government delegates from across the world, meeting in Seoul, Korea, have adopted the illicit trade protocol of the global tobacco treaty, the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty, but not without a fight from Big Tobacco.

In the lead-up to the Seoul negotiations, the World Health Organization, which administers the treaty, deemed the tobacco industry’s interference in the negotiations and the implementation of the treaty as the single greatest threat to its success. But, despite continued pressure from the industry, the illicit tobacco trade protocol was adopted on the first day of the negotiations.

Despite the industry’s tactics, governments made concrete progress. On the second day of the meetings, the ratifying countries kicked Big Tobacco and its front group representatives out of committee meetings after members of civil society, including Corporate Accountability International, exposed the lobbyists who infiltrated the meetings under the guise of "public badges.” Articles in the treaty expressly prohibit tobacco industry interference in public health policy, and thus, their presence in the meetings.

“Big Tobacco blatantly obstructed progress during negotiations by co-opting governments and manoeuvring official seats on delegations. Its disregard for the treaty was on full display from the halls of the conference center to front group press conferences," John Stewart, Challenge Big Tobacco Campaign Director, told Citizen News Service. “We applaud countries for standing up to Big Tobacco and showing them the door.”

Tobacco industry presence was noted on several delegations at this year’s meetings including the Vietnam delegation, which included two executives from the Vietnam Tobacco Association.

In another example, despite attempts by the National Tobacco Authority, a government agency in the Philippines that promotes tobacco industry interests, to remain on the delegation, civil society pressured the government of the Philippines to exclude NTA members from its official delegation in Seoul.

“We commend the government of the Philippines for doing the right thing in this case, said Irene Reyes public health lawyer at Health Justice in the Philippines. “And this is a win for the treaty, which denies official status to any organization that has a direct affiliation with the tobacco industry.”

Countries stood firm against Big Tobacco's obstructionist tactics and adopted measures that when fully implemented is expected to save 200 million lives by 2050, including:

  • Most notably, the first protocol to the treaty which sets out measures to rein in illicit trade in tobacco products. Illicit trade undermines tobacco control and costs governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, law enforcement and health care expenditures. It will also continue to impede the tobacco industry’s ability to engage in the illicit trade of its own products, which opens up new markets for its deadly brands and allows it to evade taxes.

  • Countries took first steps to hold the tobacco industry liable for its abuses, exposing decades of deception and opening up the potential to generate much-needed revenue to treat tobacco-related disease. These steps could fundamentally change the way the tobacco industry operates globally.

  • Countries adopted a set of guiding principles and recommendations that provide a solid basis for better tobacco tax policies around the world.

  • Guidelines were adopted on disclosure of the toxic ingredients of its products.

  • Parties reiterated their determination to prioritize public health over trade and resolved to strengthen action to protect public health policies from Big Tobacco.