WASHINGTON – As Parties to the global tobacco treaty prepare for their biannual meeting in Uruguay, the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) is facing attacks worldwide from the tobacco industry.
Earlier this year, Philip Morris International launched a challenge at the World Bank‟s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes against Uruguay for tobacco control measures that put the South American nation at the forefront of implementing the FCTC, the world‟s first modern-day public health treaty and one of the most successful UN treaties.
The strategy was to force the Uruguayan Government to buckle under the industry giant‟s pressure and roll back measures including mandatory warnings that cover 80% of the front and back surfaces of cigarette packs, the largest in the world.
But after initial doubts it is clear that the Government of President Jose Mujica will hold firm against the industry, a stance that has won support from the Pan-American Health Organization and civil society groups from around the globe, including members of the FCA.
“The Government of Uruguay is an example for both developing and developed countries in implementing tobacco measures,” said FCA Director Laurent Huber. “Overturning its measures would be a blow to all of the 170 Parties to the FCTC,” added Huber.
From 15-20 November, Uruguay will host the fourth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the FCTC, which now has 171 Parties, representing 89% of the world‟s population.
The tobacco industry has the treaty in its crosshairs. In recent months an organisation claiming to represent tobacco growers worldwide has been publicly lobbying against items on the COP agenda. The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) is focusing on draft guidelines that recommend countries “restrict or prohibit” flavourings added to tobacco to make it more palatable, especially to young smokers and potential smokers.
According to the ITGA, a public relations vehicle created by the tobacco industry in the 1980s to front its lobbying efforts against international tobacco control initiatives, the guidelines on flavourings if adopted would effectively ban burley, a type of tobacco popular in "American-style‟ cigarettes. Burley is grown widely in the developing world, whose farmers would be devastated by the guidelines, according to the ITGA.
“What the ITGA fails to mention is that burley cigarettes continue to be sold in countries that are already restricting tobacco flavourings,” said the FCA‟s Huber. “It is also a fact that the economies of countries dependent on tobacco for foreign exchange, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, have remained poor and suffering economic woes. Tobacco farming does not alleviate poverty,” he added.
The FCA is calling on the COP to adopt the draft guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 without change. The Alliance‟s other priorities for the COP include: adoption of guidelines on education and public awareness and demand reduction measures; the creation of a working group that would draft guidelines on tobacco taxes – tobacco taxes have proven to be the single most effective measure to reduce smoking prevalence – and a decision to continue work on a protocol on illicit trade in tobacco.