Reina Roa, a founding member and international relations co-ordinator for the Panamanian Coalition Against Smoking

24 Jun 2009

Reina RoaAlthough the Panamanian Coalition Against Smoking (COPACET) is only three years old, the organization has already received an international award for its work towards enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion in Panama.

This year the awards, known as the Bloomberg awards, recognized governments and non-government organizations in low and middle-income countries that demonstrated extraordinary achievement in implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Despite the success of an award, such accomplishments do not come easy in the fight for tobacco control.

COPACET’S founding member and international relations co-ordinator Reina Roa attributes the organization’s achievements to its persistence.

“There is never an end to our work and we must constantly be prepared to face the challenges imposed by the ever creative tobacco industry,” she said.

To win the award, COPACET ensured the ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in Panama was comprehensive, including restriction at the point of sale of tobacco – a vital component of this type of law, which has been difficult for many countries to pass.

During the award ceremony, Bloomberg Philanthropies praised COPACET’S leadership in helping to bring about a strong and effective tobacco law regulating smoker and non-smoker places as well as cigarette publicity.

Adoption of the law meant that Panama implemented: a 100 per cent smoke-free indoor policy; a total ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; health warnings and pictograms on 50 per cent of both sides of cigarette packaging and labelling; and banned misleading terms on product labelling.

There is never an end to our work and we must constantly be prepared to face the challenges imposed by the ever creative tobacco industry —  Reina Roa.

Besides this awesome achievement, COPACET has also been working hard to provide programs that educate children, teenagers and adults about the harmful effects smoking and passive smoking has on health.

COPACET’S success also does not come without challenges. Like most non-profit organizations, it struggles with a lack of financial resources and a lack of paid staff.

“We work exclusively with (about 30) volunteer staff,” Roa said. “This can be a challenge because it can restrict our work in terms of what we can do but we are always looking for new people to join us.”

Despite this, Reina says that the tobacco industry poses one of the biggest challenges for COPACET because it has strong access to the highest levels of decision making in Panama.

“Plus the ministry of economy and finance is opposed to the proposed price increases and taxes on the proceeds of snuff,” she said.

Snuff is a popular tobacco product in Panama and poses its fair share of problems.

“Cessation clinics have not spread in Panama so the development of quit smoking programs is a major challenge for people addicted to snuff,” Reina said. “Despite the existing legislation, the sale of single cigarettes, smuggling and the continued need for a timely monitoring of compliance also poses problems.”

For only three years, and with a volunteer workforce, COPACET has achieved a lot but the organization’s work is far from over.
According to Reina, persistence is vital as COPACET will continue pursuing the legislative process in regards to prices and taxes. “COPACET will play an important role as a watchdog for compliance with current legislation, and the organization will seek a permanent space for education and communication to policy makers, youth and the general population.”

**COPACET was founded in May 2006 and the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) accepted it as a member in September, 2006.  COPACET’s funding is mostly through members, donations or projects submitted to international non-government organizations.**

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