WHO cautions: "Do not let fox guard chickens" By Bobby Ramakant
17 Oct 2014
This the first time ever when global tobacco treaty negotiations are taking place in Russian Federation. While sharing an internal tobacco industry document that is now in public domain, Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said: “One record shows that there was an internal discussion whether the [tobacco] industry should consider children as part of its market. I remember very well one reply which I would like to quote: ‘they have got lips, we want them’. They [tobacco industries] just want market share, they could not care less whether they are killing children or not.”
She commended Russian Federation for the comprehensive tobacco control law that has come into full force from 1st June 2014. “Many people told me years ago this will never happen in Russian Federation. Thank you for proving them wrong Veronika Skvortsova [Minister of Healthcare of Russian Federation]” said Dr Chan.
Dr Chan asserted that “tobacco control unquestionably is the biggest, surest and best opportunity to save some millions of lives.” She was addressing the opening plenary of the Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Litigations brought against governments in national courts have been common especially against approval of large pictorial warnings on tobacco products packages. “This has been the case with claims that are filed against Uruguay’s warning labels and branding measures. This is also true because of the very robust and courageous actions taken by Australia on plain packaging. Australia’s plain packaging is also an object of a dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The tobacco industry is using bilateral investment treaties to try to trip the governments from protecting the health of their citizens through strong tobacco control measures that are known to work. Yesterday at the International Tax and Investment Centre, whose board of directors include several tobacco companies, met with governments to discuss tobacco tax and price policies without fully disclosing their vested interests. Please do not be fooled by them” said Dr Chan appealing to governments to adapt strong guidelines on tobacco tax and price to protect children and young people in particular from initiating tobacco use.
The global tobacco treaty came into force in 2005. To date, 178 countries and the European Union are Party to the treaty. It contains the world’s most effective tobacco control and corporate accountability measures— estimated to save more than 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented.
Many countries in addition to the United States, like Canada, South Korea and even NGOs have initiated legal campaigns against Big Tobacco. In the US, the 1998 lawsuit between 46 State Attorneys General and the tobacco industry forced the release of millions of internal documents proving the industry lied about the health effects of its products for more than two decades and targeted kids with its marketing. John Stewart, Director of Challenge Big Tobacco campaign, Corporate Accountability International, (in official relations with WHO) said: “Tobacco industry representatives who were at this meeting in Moscow as “public” were asked to leave today owing to conflict of interest with public health. The policy stems from a broader treaty directive called Article 5.3, that prevents industry interference in the halls of government —a primary avenue of its interference.”
'Tobacco industry's no.1 enemy'
Dr Chan said: “I have never shied away from embracing WHO's position as tobacco industry's number one enemy. As implementation of the WHO FCTC reaches new heights, the tobacco industry fights back harder and through every possible channel, no matter how devious those channels and practices are.
“The next challenge is that tobacco industry is increasing its dominance over the market of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs). This should not come as a surprise. One company used this year’s World No Tobacco Day to call on the WHO and also call all of your governments to promote electronic cigarettes. We also hear a familiar argument that the industry can and should be part of this debate and find possible solutions. No way, as I have said before. Giving any tobacco company a place at the negotiation table is akin to appointing a committee of foxes to take care of your chickens. We have abundant evidence from multiple sources that implementation of the Framework Convention brings forth immediate and long term improvements for health.”
“As I said in the year 2011 when the UN General Assembly issued a landmark resolution on the non-communicable diseases (NCDs), let me quote: ‘full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control would deal the greatest simple preventive blow to all of these diseases.”
(The author is the Health Editor at Citizen News Service (CNS) and a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General’s Awardee 2008)