2 November 2016:
With a week left for inter-governmental meeting of global tobacco treaty (formally called World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control or WHO FCTC), 115 civil society organisations from India and several other nations globally have endorsed a letter calling upon the governments (that are Parties to the WHO FCTC) to act against the tobacco industry interference in FCTC. We are reproducing this letter below:
“Dated: 1st November 2016
The Parties to the WHO FCTC
Dr. Vera Luiza Da Costa e Silva, Framework Convention Secretariat
JP Nadda, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Government of India
Amal Pusp, Director of National Tobacco Control Programme
Dear Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC):
As civil society organizations concerned with public health, we write to express our concern over tobacco industry interference in the meetings of the WHO FCTC and its subsidiary bodies. In advance of the Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP) of the WHO FCTC in Greater Noida, India, we urge the Parties to the treaty to commit to adopting a comprehensive policy that would protect the COPs of the FCTC from interference by the tobacco industry.
Tobacco kills more than six million people every year, with more than one million of those deaths occurring in India alone. The total combined direct and indirect economic costs attributable to tobacco use amount to Rs. 1,04,500 crores. It remains the largest preventable cause of death on the planet and is wholly driven by an industry whose revenues dwarf the GDPs of the majority of the countries in which it operates. Big Tobacco’s primary business strategy is resulting in the exportation of the epidemic from the highest-income to the lowest-income countries, where 80 percent of the world’s smokers now live.
Evidence is mounting that tobacco industry representatives are increasingly infiltrating the COPs through both Party delegations and by posing as members of the public – all with the intent of undermining the critical public health outcomes of these meetings.
Recently, a British American Tobacco (BAT) employee-turned-whistleblower confirmed that BAT bribed FCTC officials from Rwanda, Burundi, and Comoros. Most alarmingly, in 2012 BAT bribed a Ministry of Health and FCTC official from Burundi to support BAT’s positions at the final negotiating round of the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), one of the most important subsidiary bodies of the COP.
The industry has also been aggressive about infiltrating FCTC meetings by manipulating the public badge process. This is why Parties unanimously decided to remove those with public badges from the negotiation spaces during the final round of ITP discussions and at COPs 5 and 6.
This infiltration and manipulation of COP procedures is occurring despite the fact the FCTC has an article dedicated to preventing just such actions. FCTC Article 5.3 acknowledges the fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health. The Parties to the treaty have even unanimously adopted guidelines, which oblige Parties to “not nominate any person employed by the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to serve on delegations to meetings of the Conference of the Parties, its subsidiary bodies or any other bodies established pursuant to decisions of the Conference of the Parties.”
With COP7 taking place in our home country of India we condemn the tobacco industry’s efforts to infiltrate the COP process and we call on our leaders to prevent this, protecting the COPs and public health globally from the undue influence of the tobacco industry.
It is clear that the era of Big Tobacco dictating public health policies and bullying countries to bend to its will is coming to an end. Just recently, Philip Morris International lost a six year battle against Uruguay over the country’s implementation of tobacco control laws that prioritized public health. And Australia won a landmark case against the tobacco industry over plain packaging. But as governments and the public health community increasingly stand up to Big Tobacco, the industry will increase its efforts to directly interfere in the COP process. Continued interference by the tobacco industry will prevent the global public health community from advancing the implementation of the life-saving measures of the FCTC. We cannot let this happen.
Therefore, as members of civil society concerned with public health and democracy, we strongly urge the Parties to take action at COP7 to protect COPs from tobacco industry infiltration and interference by bringing COPs in line with Article 5.3 of the FCTC.
Note: Endorsements below from India and other countries are listed in the order in which they were received.