Big step taken toward linking tobacco and human rights

08 Apr 2016

The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a body of the Organization of American States, held the thematic hearing on the nexus between tobacco and the rights to health and life at its 157th Period of Sessions. Three organizations – The InterAmerican Heart Foundation (FIC Argentina), the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University Law Center and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH US) provided testimony.

Fundamental human rights

The aim of the petitioners was to convince the Commission that tobacco is a threat to fundamental human rights, especially health and life. The presentation focused heavily on acts of the tobacco industry, such as marketing to children and other vulnerable groups, and undermining public health policies.

Public health advocates have long pressed for the human rights community to embrace tobacco, but this was the first time the IACHR invited expert witnesses to testify. The Commission does not have enforcement powers over national health policies, but states must submit periodic reports, and the Commission’s recommendations following those reports are taken seriously.

First collaboration?

In addition to asking states to report on progress in stemming tobacco use, the three organizations requested that the Commission cooperate with the Pan-American Health Organization and include tobacco in its next periodic report as well as an upcoming omnibus poverty report. It is hoped that the hearing is the beginning of an ongoing collaboration to advance tobacco control in the Americas.

Also on 5 April, Ambassador Carlos Gianelli co-hosted a reception with ASH at the Uruguayan embassy in Washington, DC. Uruguay is a tobacco control champion in the region, and President Tabaré Vázquez has accused the tobacco industry of “mass murder” in his country. Uruguay is currently facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit (under a trade agreement) from Philip Morris International over its packaging requirements.

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