India agrees that Tobacco industry puts "pressure" to relax health policies

India agrees that Tobacco industry puts "pressure" to relax health policies

The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare revealed before the Central Information Commission that tobacco industry is putting "pressure" to relax the tobacco control policies (source: The Hindu, 14 November 2008).

The tobacco industry interference has times and again weakened and delayed the enforcement of the public health policies - for example, the tobacco industry, Indian Hotel Association and other allied agencies had filed more than 70 court cases against tobacco control policies in Indian courts in September 2008, and due to aggressive lobbying by such agencies, the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed earlier to review the pictorial warnings on tobacco products, diluted the pictorial warnings provision and postponed the implementation of pictorial warnings on tobacco products at least six-times.

The industry interference in public health policies certainly needs urgent attention to save lives otherwise it will continue to threaten to reverse the great advancements made in forging public health policies and implementing them.

Meantime tobacco continues to kill more than a million people in India every year. Indian government delegation is among the representatives of 160 countries who are currently meeting in Durban, South Africa to negotiate guidelines for a provision (Article 5.3) in the global tobacco treaty that will determine whether millions of people get the health protections they are now guaranteed under the treaty.

The negotiations center on the implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which protects the treaty and related public health policies from tobacco industry interference.

This Article 5.3 of the global tobacco treaty, if defined broadly, recognizes the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict with public health.

It is also vital to understand that unless the tobacco industry interference in public health policies is checked, the implementation of other health interventions (smoke-free policies, pictorial warnings on tobacco products, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans for example) will continue to be weakened, slowed and challenged.

"Industry interference is the number one obstacle to the implementation and enforcement of the global tobacco treaty," said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director of Corporate Accountability International. "Article 5.3 is the lynchpin of the treaty, determining whether or not countries will be able to reverse this preventable epidemic without the tobacco industry standing in their way."

To prevent abuses reported in several countries, the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and the Corporate Accountability International ( insist that the following provisions of the draft Article 5.3 guidelines would help prevent abuses:
- Prohibiting government partnership or collaboration with the tobacco industry.
- Protecting against conflicts of interest for those involved in setting and implementing tobacco control policies.

They are calling for the draft Article 5.3 guidelines to be strengthened, in order to:
- Avoid government interaction with the tobacco industry, and set strict rules of engagement for any meetings determined to be necessary.
- Ensure transparency around government interaction with the tobacco industry and around tobacco industry activities and operations.
- Emphasize the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict with public health.

Since negotiations on the global tobacco treaty began in 1999, the tobacco industry has used its political and economic influence in an attempt to undermine, delay and water down public health measures.

If the government representatives of the 160 countries draft strong guidelines for Article 5.3 at the ongoing COP-3 meeting in Durban, South Africa (17-22 November), it will not only go a long way in stopping all forms of tobacco industry interference at all levels but also increase the effectiveness of other tobacco control interventions around the world.

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