Tobacco watch on public health policy

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tobacco watch on public health policy
Special to The Japan Times
BANGKOK — A powerful consensus is emerging among health advocates and public officials around the world that the tobacco industry should not have any influence on public health policies.
The World Health Organization's FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) enshrines this concept. The COP-II (Conference of Parties) meeting for the global tobacco treaty begins at the end of this month in Thailand.
Japan ratified the FCTC on June 8, 2004, and a Japanese governmental delegation will participate at COP-II. The FCTC was the first global public health and corporate accountability treaty, taking effect more than two years ago ( Feb. 27, 2005).
A major issue related to effective enforcement of FCTC provisions among the 147 member countries is to ensure adequate financial resources. Tobacco is the world's leading cause of preventable death, killing 5 million people per year.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a generous commitment of $ 125 million, which represents four times the 2006-2007 biennial budget of WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative. Tobacco control advocates in priority countries can tap into this funding for policy, media and monitoring initiatives.
All countries benefit when the cycle of tobacco dependence is broken. Tobacco-control policies have been shown to be good for the world's economies.
The World Bank estimates that high-income countries spend up to 15 percent of their health-care budgets to treat tobacco-related illnesses. In 2002, China spent $ 3.5 billion on health-care costs attributable to tobacco. If these costs were reduced by just 20 percent, China could afford to hire more than half a million additional primary school teachers.
Wealthy countries that have chartered, assisted and benefited from the international expansion of tobacco transnationals bear a responsibility to make a viable transition away from tobacco-dependent economies. Political realities in the developing world could help speed up implementation of the treaty.
Japan paid $ 87 million in 2006 to support the WHO — more than any other nation. Yet that support represents only 10 percent of the Japanese government's share of Japan Tobacco's annual profits.
Seventy-nine percent of the world's tobacco was sourced in developing nations in the late 1990s, up from 52 percent four decades earlier. Countries that have most aggressively embraced tobacco production have not seen advances in development. Only five of the 125 tobacco-exporting nations derive more than 5 percent of their export income from tobacco.
These five nations are concentrated at the bottom of United Nations Development Program's 2006 Human Development Index: Uganda (ranked 145 of 177 nations); Zimbabwe (151 of 177), deriving nearly a third of its export income from tobacco; United Republic of Tanzania (162 of 177); Malawi (166 of 177), deriving more than half of its export income from tobacco; and the Central African Republic (172 of 177).
Far from being a path to prosperity, tobacco production paves the way to poverty. Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has played a key role as a civil society watch organization along with Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals from the first discussions of WHO's FCTC. It continues to do so, monitoring the tobacco industry and gathering evidence to protect public health.
At the forthcoming COP-II meeting in Thailand, CAI will release a report that has compiled information from civil society members across the world on the three major issues impeding FCTC implementation, and makes recommendations for effective enforcement. These three public health challenges are:
* To protect public health policy from tobacco industry influence.
* To prevent tobacco industry interference in agricultural diversification efforts — alternative crops to tobacco.
* To ensure full funding of FCTC implementation programs.
Article 5.3 of the FCTC obligates parties to "protect these (public health) policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry."
Furthermore, WHA (World Health Assembly) Resolution 54.18 states that corporations involved in the tobacco industry should not be at the table discussing alternatives to tobacco production.
It is imperative that the three concerns raised by the CAI report get the due attention they deserve.