ASEAN moving at ‘snail’s pace’ in preventing tobacco industry interference – report

27 November 2017:

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is moving at a “snail’s pace” in terms of preventing tobacco industry interference.

In a roundtable discussion at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) launched the report “Tobacco Industry Interference Index: ASEAN Report on Implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3.” It revealed that the tobacco industry interference remains a “big problem” in the ASEAN Region; as the industry “continues to interfere, deter and thwart government efforts to protect public health through both overt and covert means.”

“Having monitored the implementation [of the Article 5.3 guidelines] for several years now, we have found that it [ASEAN Region] has achieved very slow progress, like a snail’s pace,” said SEATCA senior policy advisor Mary Assunta Kolandai, who is also the author of the report.

It was disclosed that tobacco industry interference remains to be an impediment in fully implementing effective tobacco control measures under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the ASEAN Region.

“Big tobacco [industry] does not take a holiday when it comes to undermining health policy,” Kolandai stressed.

She emphasized the importance of the Article 5.3, an article which is described as the “backbone” of the FCTC.

“Article 5.3 is the backbone of the Convention as it guides countries to protect their tobacco control policies from vested interests of the tobacco industry. The FCTC cannot be implemented effectively if industry interference is not rooted out,” she noted.

The official, however, said the Article 5.3 is the “least effectively implemented.”

In the region, Brunei Darrusalam maintains a good record while the Philippines holds a second position.

But both countries have not advanced in strengthening their implementation of Article 5.3, Kolandai disclosed.

Malaysia and Myanmar, on the other hand, have greater tobacco industry interference.

What governments can do

Kolandai stated that governments need to be proactive and vigorous in putting in place safeguards and measures to prevent unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry, limit necessary ones, and set up disclosure procedures to protect public health policies.

“A whole of government approach is vital for FCTC Article 5.3 implementation. Transparency in dealing with the industry is a major area that needs improvement. Governments need to record and document all meetings with the tobacco industry and their outcomes,” she added.

“A practical way forward would be to adopt a Code of Conduct for government officials just like in the Philippines’ Civil Service Commission and Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 that builds firewall around the bureaucracy,” she further stated.

Source: Manila Bulletin