As treaty meetings open, Big Tobacco’s bullying looms
"Success hinges on treaty financing, limiting industry interference"
PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY: A weeklong treaty meetings commenced on 15 November 2010 as an industry prohibited from participating attempts to influence its outcomes from the outside looking in. Philip Morris International (PMI) is launching a legal attack against Uruguay for implementing the global tobacco treaty (formally known as the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) by requiring graphic warning labels on its cigarettes.
While PMI’s move is intended to make an example of the host country of the 170 plus ratifying Parties, such action is not unique to Uruguay according to a report by Corporate Accountability International. The U.S.-based corporate watchdog has documented similar legal challenges from the United Kingdom to Norway. The organization also details how Big Tobacco undermines treaty implementation by seating executives in key governmental positions, flaunting prohibitions on youth marketing, and offering sizable gifts to bureaucrats.
“The primary challenge the treaty faces is not a lack of political or public will, but a defiant, invasive, and ultimately deadly industry,” said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International. “Ending tobacco industry interference is paramount to the success of these meetings and the treaty at large.”
In evaluating interference as the primary obstacle to the treaty’s ability to save a projected 200 million lives by 2050 at the last treaty meeting in Durban, South Africa in 2008, Corporate Accountability International and its allies supported Parties in crafting strong guidelines to help countries overcome Big Tobacco’s bullying. The guidelines put teeth in a core provision of the treaty that dictates, “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law."
As the Corporate Accountability International report demonstrates, these new guidelines have been highly effective in limiting interference and conflicts of interest. Countries have done everything from divesting in tobacco corporations to rejecting official partnerships with tobacco giants around so-called “corporate social responsibility” initiatives.
But industry continues to exploit and look for openings to undo the progress of the last two years.
“It’s essential this week that no matter what is being advanced – whether it’s more comprehensive ingredient disclosure or demand reduction programs – that Parties make sure safeguards against industry interference are part of the text,” said Samuel Ochieng, spokesperson for the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and Consumer Information Network Kenya. “We cannot allow Big Tobacco any opening to thwart our progress toward saving lives.”
This week Parties are hoping to adopt implementation guidelines for articles to increase the effectiveness of public awareness and education efforts (Article 12), to develop comprehensive cessation and treatment programs (Article 14) and to increase the regulation and disclosure of tobacco products’ ingredients (Articles 9 and 10). These guidelines clarify the mandated provisions of the treaty and provide further direction to Parties on how to implement these specific tobacco control measures.
Corporate Accountability International and allied organizations are also urging Parties to initiate a work group around treaty financing. Currently, Parties to the treaty provide a “voluntary assessed contribution” that is based on a sliding scale. These funds, however, provide insufficient support to developing economies attempting to implement the treaty. In most cases, the countries in greatest need of financial support are the same countries targeted by the tobacco industry as expansion markets.
“The global tobacco treaty can only be a potent instrument for protecting public health and counterweight against the industry’s abuses if it is adequately funded,” said Bobby Ramakant of India’s Asha Parivar and NATT. “It’s time for Parties to begin exploring options that require an abusive industry to pay for the harm it has caused."
Treaty meetings conclude Saturday, November 20. Corporate Accountability International’s ally, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, will be releasing further findings on industry interference on Tuesday, 16 November in Uruguay. (CNS)