October 13, 2014
International health conference to discuss legal liability of tobacco firms
The issue of making tobacco companies liable for the millions of diseases, premature deaths and humongous socio-economic burden caused by smoking will form part of the discussions at the 6th Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to be held in Moscow from October 13-18.
Article 19 of the FCTC, an international treaty that promotes public health through tobacco control, encourages parties to consider actions to deal with tobacco firms’ “criminal and civil liability, including compensation where appropriate.”
Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, chair of the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) and project director,of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said the conference will discuss the report of an expert group on Article 19 on taking legal action against the tobacco industry.
“As the tobacco industry uses different tactics at circumventing and undermining laws, it is important to see the potential of implementing Article 19 because of its various benefits like compensation for victims, forcing the industry to disclose internal information, and preventing further abuses in the future,” said Dr. Dorotheo.
Around 1,500 representatives from 195 countries will gather during the conference amid calls for stronger tobacco control measures specially in Southeast Asia, now considered as the tobacco industry’s “milking cow” following a string of suits cigarette makers are facing from victims in countries like the US, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Brazil.
Emer Rojas, president of the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), said it is high time to make the industry accountable for the harmful effects of smoking on public health and for its continued wanton disregard of tobacco-control laws. Prior to the enactment last July of a Philippine law on graphic health warnings, tobacco companies had challenged the Department of Health in court on this same issue.
“It is ironic that when the Department of Health had issued an executive order in 2010 mandating tobacco firms to place graphic health warnings on cigarette packages, the industry was quick to sue the government in five separate courts, alleging the DOH has no jurisdiction to do so. If there is anyone who should go and seek redress from the courts, it is the victims of smoking and their families, not the tobacco industry that is earning billions of pesos at the expense of making our people sick from nicotine addiction,” said Rojas.
Considered as one of the biggest public health threats in the world, tobacco use kills an estimated six million people globally. In the Philippines, one of Southeast Asia’s biggest tobacco users, 10 Filipinos die every hour due to smoking-related diseases.
The Philippine delegation to the COP6 is headed by Atty. Alexander Padilla, president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). He will be joined by other government representatives and some members of civil society groups that include NVAP. #