The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

The NCD Summit: a window of opportunity

It was a privilege and honour for me to represent FCA’s continuing labour and innovative strategies in effective implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) at the Informal Interactive Civil Society Hearing on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the United Nations General Assembly last week.

I want to share with you selected highlights of the day and discuss potential next steps for FCA action in the now short run-up to the September High-level Meeting on NCDs (often called the NCD Summit).

Around 90 Member States reportedly attended the one-day Hearing at various times on 16 June. FCA was represented on one of the three Roundtable panels as well as through speakers from the floor. FCA speakers made specific, outcome-oriented interventions on FCA’s priorities and expectations from the Summit.

Highlights and implications for the FCTC

•    Tobacco control messages were strong and clear at the hearing. Several speakers, including Government delegates, identified FCTC implementation and demand reduction measures, such as tobacco taxation, as key tools for reducing the tobacco and NCD burdens.
•    There was constructive discussion about potential linkages and complementality of communicable and non-communicable diseases, indicating avenues for tobacco control to forge partnerships with organisations working in these sectors.
•    The need to address tobacco control and NCDs, particularly in any future development goals, was emphasised by many speakers. It is opportunistic and imperative that we begin to identify/ develop models for this in national plans and help make the case for its international consideration in time for the review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), just two years away, in 2013.
•    There was the expected “money talk”, as to from where the resources for NCD control would come. Interestingly, a handful of speakers from outside FCA identified increasing tobacco taxes as indicative of both a country’s resolve to reduce tobacco consumption among its population as well as to generate revenue for NCD control. Notably, there was little discussion at the hearing about integration of NCDs and tobacco control in development assistance programmes, something that FCA encourages resourced countries and developmental agencies to do.
•    NCDs were repeatedly projected as a social justice and human rights issue, as exemplified by tobacco use. Again, an area for exploring mutually reinforcing partnerships and planning, if not already existing in our countries.
•    While private sector players such as health care, food, beverage and alcohol industries had direct access and inputs into the process, tobacco companies were not spotted or heard at the hearing. However, it would be naïve to underestimate their indirect influence on the process. Tobacco control speakers at the hearing did raise adequate caution in this regard.

The full coverage of the Hearings is still available on the UN Webcast site.

What happens between now and the NCD Summit?

A brief report on the Hearing has been submitted to the President of the General Assembly. It is expected that this will be part of the documentation the UN Member States receive in their preparation for the Summit.

Most importantly, the designated Co-facilitators of the Summit, the Ambassadors to the UN of Jamaica and Luxemburg, are expected to release the first draft of the Outcomes Document (often referred to as the Zero Draft) to the Member States this week! This is clearly something to watch out for, as also for all of us to access and inform with specific language inputs FCA has developed with regard to the FCTC.

Our understanding is that any remaining deliberations and negotiations on the Zero draft will occur next month, in July, way ahead of the September Summit. Therefore July will be the almost final opportunity for us to propose language and influence the draft in any serious manner.

What do we need to between now and the Summit to leverage this opportunity fully?

1.    Have you been able to discuss key FCA language for the Summit with Governments whom you are in a position to influence? We anticipate phone calls and emails between Country capitals and the Permanent Missions to the UN to be discussing the draft document for the Summit.

It would be opportunistic for us to brief relevant Government Ministries ahead of it with FCA’s language proposals and expectations from the Summit. Among others, we are specifically calling for language on accelerated implementation of the FCTC, and significant increases in tobacco taxes nationally. A host of resource materials including proposed language for the Outcomes Document and a revised briefing paper for the Summit is now available in all the official UN languages on FCA’s campaign page.

2. Are you involved in national level planning, consultations and preparations both for the Summit as well as in on-going tobacco and NCD control and development programmes? If not, this would be a good time to either directly participate in national-level committees or working groups working towards these ends or provide inputs indirectly and influence positions and policies thereof.

3. Have you had the opportunity to build bridges with Government Ministries beyond Health and civil society groups working on NCDs and relevant development issues? That should help present a collective force in representations to the Government as well as garner support for each other “asks”. FCA works with the NCD Alliance, which has brought together organisations working on NCDs globally. The NCD Alliance’s Ten Asks from the UN Summit on NCDs, which includes accelerated FCTC implementation can be found at http://www.ncdalliance.org/100days.And The Alliance has also now have made available preferred text for the Outcomes Document, to use alongside our FCA text.

4. Do you know if your Head of State is attending the High Level Meeting in September? This is very important, as it ensures commitment to the expected Summit outcomes and their follow-up at the highest political level. Voices of victims should move some of the hard-to-move leaders. We should also get the offices of Heads of States to announce their attendance in advance, as it could have a snowballing effect on other leaders.

5. Do you know if your Government is talking to any other Governments? It will be helpful to a) find out with whom our Governments are discussing concerns, b) link up appropriate Governments with a view to move them towards progressive positions for tobacco control and NCDs and facilitate alliances on progressive, consensual positions. Even as it is challenging to facilitate this in virtual space, Caribbean countries and Latin America are proving it possible!

6. Has the local media picked up news on the Summit and tobacco control’s linkage therein? Needless to say that Governments pay attention to what the media says. Any media reporting that occurs now on Government plans for the Summit could be useful not only to develop momentum to the Summit but could come in handy for ensuring post-summit accountability. The WHO Global Status Report on NCDs could prove a useful international tool for starting conversations with the media. http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd_report2010/en/index.html.

And there is now also a UN Secretary General Status Report on NCDs available.

7. Have you shared information with FCA regarding your country’s preparations or positions for the Summit? A two-way street, this flow of information is central to our ability as an Alliance to formulate strategies that address concerns across regions, as well as to enhance the ability of our members to influence Governments within country and across regions. The next few weeks are likely to see strategic information emerging at a fast pace between the New York- based Permanent Missions and country capitals. 

Lastly, as an Alliance, we remain focussed and committed to accelerate the implementation of the FCTC in our countries and engage various strategies and opportunities from time to time towards achieving our mission – to help develop and implement the FCTC as the basis for effective global tobacco control.

It is important to recognise that the NCD Summit is among the various opportunities that we seize globally and nationally in engaging the work on NCDs and the development agenda to speed up effective implementation of FCTC to reduce tobacco use. The FCA Campaign team and myself look forward to hearing your thoughts, information and actions in this regard. More strength to your hands as we collectively leverage the Summit towards re-energising FCTC implementation in our countries and globally!

Shoba John

* Shoba John is the Chair of the Framework Convention Alliance and Programme Director of HealthBridge, based in India.




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