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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nigeria, others criticize attempts to smuggle loopholes into WHO tobacco treaty

-Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco fingered

Non governmental organizations from across the globe, including Nigeria, on the platform of Corporate Accountability International and the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) have released an exposé highlighting new tobacco industry tactics to undermine the implementation of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The report comes at the midpoint of an eight-day negotiating meeting on a protocol to the WHO FCTC on illicit tobacco trade in Geneva, Switzerland, which commenced June 28, 2009, where tobacco giants such as Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco (JT) have a strong presence.

The document, produced by Corporate Accountability International and NATT, also criticizes FCTC Parties such as Lebanon and the Philippines for collaborating with tobacco corporations and falling short of commitments under the treaty.
FCTC Article 5.3 obligates treaty Parties to “protect [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” Guidelines for the implementation of this measure were adopted at the third Conference of Parties (COP3) last November in Durban, South Africa.

“In Durban, ratifying countries unanimously adopted rigorous guidelines to protect public health policy against tobacco industry interference,” explains Kathryn Mulvey, International Policy Director for Corporate Accountability International. “Now, the tobacco industry is trying to get governments to ignore their obligations under the treaty and make exceptions to these new rules. We urge the international community to reject the tobacco industry’s attempts to subvert the FCTC and derail the illicit trade protocol.”

“The heavy presence of the tobacco industry at the current negotiations and their surreptitious attempts to manipulate discussions on solutions to the illicit trade runs contrary to Article 5.3 provisions which discourage any form of cooperation between ratifying parties and the tobacco industry,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, programme manager, Environmental Rights Action, and spokesperson of NATT.

The tobacco corporations and civil society do seem to agree about one thing: the protocol on illicit trade is precedent-setting. This is the first high-profile tobacco control issue to be taken on at the global level since last November, when three sets of implementation guidelines were adopted – on banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; effective warning labels; and protecting against tobacco industry interference.

NGOs are calling on treaty Parties to follow through on their commitments. Meanwhile the tobacco lobby is present and visible at this week’s negotiations in full force, seeking to influence the content of the protocol to its own advantage and chip away at the safeguards of Article 5.3.

PMI has invited delegates to attend private meetings at the Intercontinental Hotel throughout the week. In contrast to the previous two negotiating sessions, this week the public gallery has been packed full of tobacco industry lobbyists. On Monday there were more than forty people in the gallery. Twenty-three of the twenty-eight people willing to identify themselves were from the tobacco industry, including twelve from BAT, seven from JT, one from Imperial Tobacco, and one from the Tobacco Institute of South Africa.

The Article 5.3 guidelines begin with the principle that ‘There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests” (Principle 1) and urge Parties to avoid conflicts of interest for government officials and employees (Recommendation 4). Yet PMI reports meeting with 2,800 government agencies and 8,000 government employees to promote its system for tracking and tracing cigarette products.

Article 5.3 guidelines instruct ratifying countries to “Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur”. But last month Lebanon played host to BAT’s two-day conference on illicit trade, where Lebanese Minister of Finance Dr. Mohammed Shateh and other high-level public officials from the region reportedly met with BAT behind closed doors to discuss taxes, smuggling and other policy issues.

The guidelines also recommend that treaty Parties, “Reject partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements with the tobacco industry”. But last month Philippines customs authorities signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Philip Morris Philippines, through which the corporation will presumably gain access to law enforcement personnel and customs data. (This is the same corporation that was accused by Thailand two years ago of exploiting customs procedures and evading taxes by understating the value of exports.)

View the full report:
Clearing the Smoke-Filled Room: An Exposé on How the Tobacco Industry Attempts to Undermine the Global Tobacco Treaty and the Illicit Trade Protocol online.