01 Sep 2010
The tobacco industry has a tight grip on Argentina, which remains the only South American country not to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Tobacco-free advocate Veronica Schoj says Argentina suffers one of the most successful and intensive tobacco industry lobbying strategies in South America.
“The tobacco industry still holds great power and influence over the federal government, which continually undermines tobacco control efforts in Argentina, particularly at a federal level,” she said.
Veronica is the executive director of Interamerican Heart Foundation-Argentina (IAHF Argentina) and national coordinator of the Argentina Smoke-free Alliance (ALIAR) .
According to Veronica, Argentina is also one of the world’s largest tobacco growers and exporters, so the tobacco industry targets small and large tobacco grower associations.
“The industry creates many myths about how the FCTC will negatively impact regional economies and the growers’ income – particularly through the alleged elimination of tobacco crop subsidies,” she said.
“Therefore these sectors work with the tobacco industry to oppose FCTC ratification.”
Argentina signed the FCTC in 2003 but is yet to ratify the treaty.
Veronica says that 30 per cent of Argentine adults smoke, with 40,000 being killed a year by tobacco-related diseases. Of these deaths 6,000 are due to second-hand smoke exposure. Veronica also says that on average people start smoking at 12.
Tobacco industry must stop interfering
With these alarming statistics, it’s essential to stop the tobacco industry’s interference in public policy and government activities.
“It’s also very important to strengthen a federal policy for tobacco crop substitution to protect the health and economy of small tobacco growers, which make up 90 per cent of tobacco growers in Argentina,” said Veronica.
Unfortunately, over the last 30 years Veronica says every health bill related to tobacco control in Argentina has failed to be enacted at the federal level thanks mostly to the tobacco industry.
Joining forces to fight
As a result, IAHF Argentina and ALIAR formed the Coalition for the Argentine Ratification of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control with other civil society organisations committed to tobacco control in Argentina.
This coalition of more than 80 organisations arranges public events, media campaigns, meets with senators and government representatives and provides capacity building opportunities.
“We believe we are taking all the necessary steps to promote FCTC ratification, which we hope to see happen within the next 12 months,” said Veronica.
“However, we have a strong fight on our hands thanks to the tobacco industry’s strong lobbying powers.”
Hope for COP-4 in Uruguay
This November the 4th Conference of the Parties to the FCTC (COP-4) takes place in Uruguay, and according to Veronica it should help influence Argentina’s ratification of the treaty.
“Uruguay and Argentina share many cultural traits and a closely linked history,” she said. “The coalition hopes this will increase public awareness about ratification because Uruguay has made so much more progress than Argentina.
Uruguay ratified the FCTC in 2004, and has become a leader among nations in tobacco control. The warning labels that it requires manufacturers to put on cigarette packages are the largest in the world. The country also recently resisted pressure from the tobacco industry to reduce the size of these warnings. (http://www.fctc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=395:victory-uruguay-keeps-warning-labels&catid=239:packaging-and-labelling&Itemid=243)
Smoke-free laws on the rise
But it’s not all doom and gloom for tobacco control in Argentina.
According to Veronica, eight Argentine provinces and over 20 cities have 100 per cent smoke-free laws in place.
“Civil society is working to expand this success to other provinces, as well as to strengthen its implementation,” said Veronica.
“Further work is being made to implement other policies such as on price increases and advertising bans.”