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Despite progress, Big Tobacco still biggest threat to the treaty

 

Thank you, Chris, for inviting us to speak to the chapter we co-authored for the report on implementation of Article 5.3 – truly the backbone of the treaty – an Article prohibiting industry interference in the treaty’s lifesaving measures.

For decades, tobacco giants have used their political and economic power to prevent effective tobacco control policies. That all changed when the global tobacco treaty went into force, now ratified by almost 175 countries, the treaty will save 200 million lives by 2050 when fully implemented.

Yet despite progress, industry interference in the treaty remains the single greatest threat to its s lifesaving measures. That is why the global community made sure the treaty included a critical provision – Article 5.3 – stating the tobacco industry has an irreconcilable conflict of interest with public health. The article is the backbone of the treaty – all of the lifesaving health provisions contained within the treaty that are being discussed today cannot succeed if industry interference is not rooted out.

The guidelines to the treaty’s Article 5.3 are the most powerful tool that governments and civil society has to challenge the industry. It encourages governments to establish measures that limit tobacco industry interactions with government activities, and to put in place public disclosure measures.

This report finds that, despite progress, governments are reticent to fully implement Article 5.3 and its guidelines into national law, and the results are devastating for public health. The good news is that civil society is invoking Article 5.3 in order to push back. Here are some examples:

  • Chile is clear example of industry interference. In May 2011, the Chilean government presented a bill to Congress to reform the current tobacco law, including an expansion of 100% smoke-free zones to bars, restaurants, casinos, and clubs where people are currently permitted to smoke. On the 18th of January, 2012, the House of Representatives approved the reform bill, but rejected the smoking ban in bars, pubs, restaurants, and casinos. The vote no only rejected smoke-free zones in restaurants and bars, but also annulled its current restrictions, leaving the country without any regulation in this sector. As this decision was incited by intense tobacco industry lobbying, the Health Minister denounced this interference and announced his complete commitment to compel the Senate to modify the content of the bill, guaranteeing 100% smoke free zones when the bill is implemented in 2012.
  • The industry also attempts to weaken tobacco control policies by entering into partnerships and agreements with governments. Philip Morris International has signed such agreements with Colombia and the European Union. Such agreements essentially allow the tobacco industry to police itself and ensure its expansion in targeted markets. Despite this action, which goes against the Colombia’s autonomy recognized by the FCTC, Colombia continues to advance in the implementation of other tobacco control measures like 100% smoke free zones and a comprehensive advertising ban. In all of these, insisting on the application of Article 5.3 in order to clear Big Tobacco out of the hallways of our government.
  • The Philippine Star, the largest magazine in the country, published a front page article about Philip Morris FTC’s President Chris Nelson about its so-called corporate social responsibility schemes and its “commitment to the Philippines.” Article 5.3 prohibits countries from accepting corporate social responsibility schemes, and the report contains a hard-hitting question from the WHO about these programs: “How can tobacco companies reconcile their main aim, to gain a maximum profit by producing and selling a deadly product, with the goals of CSR: business norms, based on ethical values and respect for employees, consumers, communities and the environment?” The story amounted to a PR piece about Philip Morris, a transparent attempt to gloss over its tarnished image, even as it wages aggressive campaigns against life-saving measures in that countries like higher taxation. Civil society acted quickly, citing our “Philip Morris International Alternative Annual Report,” which highlights PMI’s aggressive attempts to derail treaty progress, while invoking article 5.3 by calling on the editorial board of the Star to rescind the article and pointing out that PMFTC’s “growth” and positive PR means more deadly addiction.

To sum up: All of the life-saving measures of the treaty cannot and will not succeed until industry interference is rooted out. Full implementation of Article 5.3, that is laws that keep Big Tobacco out of the room when public health policy decisions are being made, is a crucial first step one to realizing this treaty’s full life-saving potential.

It’s no accident that this year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day in May will be industry interference, and we, along with dozens of NGOs and governments around the globe, will be working to clear Big Tobacco out of the way of treaty progress, the realization of a vision where people make health policy not executives, where children are no longer bombarded with tobacco marketing, where rates of disease are a fraction of what they are today.

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