Japan's obstructionist position on illicit trade protocol

Japan's obstructionist position on illicit trade protocol

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GENEVA---Negotiations toward a protocol on illicit tobacco trade to the global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), opened yesterday. While many countries voiced their commitment to a protocol that will require tobacco corporations to assume responsibility for their supply chains, provide financial disincentives to the illicit tobacco trade, and prevent government collaboration with the tobacco industry, Japan earned the first Marlboro Man Award of the protocol negotiations.

The award, bestowed by the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) , exposes and challenges countries for espousing treaty positions that benefit the tobacco industry at the expense of public health. The award is named after Philip Morris's notorious advertising icon, which has played a central role in spreading tobacco addiction globally. On the strength of the Marlboro Man advertising and promotional campaign, Marlboro became the world's leading cigarette brand, and Philip Morris/Altria (soon to split into Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International) became the world's largest and most profitable tobacco transnational.

In its opening comments, Japan questioned the value of a potential protocol and suggested that the illicit tobacco trade could be tackled at the domestic level and through existing trade and intellectual property agreements. The Japanese government owns a 50% stake in Japan Tobacco, the world's third largest tobacco corporation, and was sharply criticized throughout the FCTC talks for advocating positions that served the interests of Big Tobacco.

"Tobacco industry interference poses a huge threat to implementation of the global tobacco treaty," said Kathy Mulvey of Corporate Accountability International , a NATT member. "Governments and civil society must be vigilant to ensure that this vital protocol is not derailed." Throughout negotiations on the FCTC from 2000 to 2003, NATT presented the Marlboro Man Award based on the previous day's negotiations.

"Considering that Japan Tobacco's products are being smuggled into West African markets like Nigeria, we're concerned that the Japanese government has a conflict of interest in these negotiations," says Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action Nigeria, also a NATT member.

Contact: Bryan Hirsch, Corporate Accountability International , +41 76 547 3476


Tobacco giants accused of 'collusion' over cigarette smuggling

GENEVA (AFP) --- Tobacco giants Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco actively collude with cigarette smugglers to gain a foothold in lucrative developing markets, campaigners alleged on Wednesday.

"Transnationals benefit in a number of ways from the illicit trade in tobacco," said Kathyrn Mulvey, director of international policy with the lobby group Corporate Accountability International (CAI).

This includes establishing a brand presence in new markets, and getting more people addicted to cigarettes -- particularly children because smuggled tobacco is so cheap, she told journalists.

"Documents do show industry complicity in this deadly business," Mulvey added.

The World Health Organisation is meeting in Geneva to debate a new protocol on the illicit tobacco trade to the existing Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

"This week, governments have a new opportunity to prioritise health over trade and commercial interests, and hold tobacco transnationals accountable for the harms they cause," Mulvey said.

The illicit tobacco trade makes up approximately 10 percent of global tobacco sales and costs governments between 40-50 billion dollars (27-34 billion euros) every year, CAI said in a statement.

In African countries such as Nigeria, the rate is even higher at between 10 and 16 percent, said environmental and health activist Akinbode Oluwafemi.

Smuggled tobacco constitutes a "serious public health issue in Africa," he told journalists.

In Nigeria, a pack of smuggled cigarettes can be less than half price.

"It's cheaper than sweets, cheaper than any other item," Oluwafemi said.

Companies such as British American Tobacco are now seeking to portray themselves as anti-smuggling, with BAT offering to supply logistical support and even vehicles to the Standards Organisation of Nigeria.

However, these moves ignore the company's "long history of smuggling into Nigeria," which was documented in a probe by Britain's House of Commons, Oluwafemi said.

CAI said that only a strong protocol to the WHO treaty would be effective in holding companies to account.

"If history is any indication, the tobacco industry will take every opportunity to undermine the treaty's implementation," Oluwafemi warned.

The WHO said last week that tobacco use could kill more than one billion people around the world this century unless governments and civil society act to reverse the epidemic.


(To read this posting in hindi language , click here )


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