148 Nations to Protect Health Policy From Tobacco Industry Interference

148 Nations to Protect Health Policy From Tobacco Industry Interference

7 July 2007

BANGKOK — The 148 nations meeting at the Second Conference of Parties (COP2) to the global tobacco treaty have committed themselves to develop specific guidelines for protecting health policy from tobacco industry interference.

The global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), will save millions of lives and change the way tobacco corporations operate around the world. Members of the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) commend Parties for their vigilance in protecting ongoing treaty implementation from interference by the tobacco industry.

Article 5.3 of the FCTC obligates Parties to "protect these [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry." Allowing tobacco corporations to influence tobacco control policy violates both the spirit and letter of the FCTC. Parties demonstrated strong leadership at COP2 in taking the decision to push forward with policy guidelines to implement Article 5.3.

"Big Tobacco's interference in health policy is one of the greatest threats to the global tobacco treaty's implementation and enforcement," explains Kathryn Mulvey of Corporate Accountability International, a NATT member. "Philip Morris/Altria, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco (JT) use their political influence to weaken, delay and defeat tobacco control legislation around the world. While the industry claims to have changed its ways, it continues to use sophisticated methods to undermine meaningful legislation."
South Africa has long been a leader in tobacco control, and recently advanced a bill to close loopholes and strengthen its tobacco control laws. A month prior to the parliamentary deliberations on the bill, both Swedish Match and the Tobacco Institute of South Africa sent letters to the Health Portfolio Committee asking for the inclusion of a provision that would empower the health minister to exempt certain tobacco products. Unfortunately, the tobacco corporations were partially successful in shaping the debate in their favor. Later, Swedish Match and BAT sponsored a foreign tour for more than 20 South African legislators to Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Members of NATT also highlighted tobacco industry interference at COP2. " Japan attempted to bully other countries by reminding them of Japan 's significant contributions to the COP budget," says Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action, a member of NATT from Nigeria . "However, the Japanese government owns 50% of Japan Tobacco. Japan 's contribution to support the global tobacco treaty represents less than 1% of its share of Japan Tobacco's profits."

Government officials in Thailand are fighting back. "In my country, tobacco corporations, led by Philip Morris/Altria, have been exploiting our tobacco tax policy by dramatically underreporting the cost of cigarettes thereby lowering the amount of taxes the corporations owe," explains Dr. Hatai Chitanondh, President of Thailand Health Promotion Institute. "For example, Philip Morris/Altria reports Marlboro to cost just 7 baht per pack (22 cents). We have calculated the loss from the tobacco industry to be upwards of 650 million dollars."

Thailand joined Brazil , Ecuador , Palau , and the Netherlands in volunteering to lead a process to develop policies to bolster the capacity of government to challenge these types of interference and to implement their obligations under Article 5.3 of the treaty. According to Dr. Chitanondh, "the development of guidelines on Article 5.3 is a major step forward and will help Parties to protect their national health policies from tobacco industry interference."

"From Africa to Latin America to the Middle East and Southeast Asia , we are hearing of attempts to interfere at the highest levels of government. Fortunately, parties have taken the critical step of initiating the policy guidelines process to assist governments in standing up to Big Tobacco's attempts to interfere," explains Mulvey. Corporate Accountability International, formerly Infact, is a membership organization that protects people by waging and winning campaigns challenging irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around the world. For 30 years, we've forced corporations—like Nestlé, General Electric and Philip Morris/Altria—to stop abusive actions. Corporate Accountability International, an NGO in Official Relations with the World Health Organization (WHO), played a key role in development of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).