Japan among 160 countries meeting to limit big tobacco's influence

Japan among 160 countries meeting to limit big tobacco's influence

DURBAN: Representatives from Japan are among the 160 ratifying countries meeting this week in South Africa to negotiate guidelines for a provision in the global tobacco treaty that may determine whether millions get the health protections they are now guaranteed under the treaty. And the Japanese government's 50 percent holding in Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is already threatening to slow progress in the negotiations.

The negotiations center on the implementation of Article 5.3, which protects the treaty and related public health policies from tobacco industry interference.

At stake this week is how narrowly or broadly these protections are defined. If defined broadly, ratifying countries will recognize the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict with public health, and reject collaboration with tobacco giants like JTI, Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT). If defined narrowly, Big Tobacco could continue to gain influence with governments, and demand a seat at the table when public health policies are being developed.

"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 Big Tobacco standing in their way."

The global tobacco treaty, formally called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), took effect in 2005 and now protects more than 85 percent of the world's population. But efforts to implement the treaty are being systematically stymied by tobacco transnationals like JTI, reinforcing the importance of this week's third Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban .

Mulvey's organization and its partners around the Pacific Rim are advocating for firewalls that make no special exceptions for state-owned corporations when it comes to the treaty's prohibitions on industry interference in health policy. The party from Japan has already made clear their intention to weaken any guidelines for the treaty's implementation with respect to state-owned tobacco corporations.

Since negotiations on the global tobacco treaty began in 1999, the Japanese Ministry of Finance has been heavily represented at treaty meetings, with the country often playing an obstructionist role. This has earned them multiple "Marlboro Man Awards" for actions at odds with public health and the spirit of the treaty.

"We are optimistic this time that Parties like Japan will keep the interests of our children's health closer to their heart than those of tobacco transnationals," said Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) Spokesperson Bobby Ramakant. "But we know from experience that some will act from the pocket when the circumstance demands they act from the heart."

Corporate Accountability International, with observer status at the COP, and its allies in NATT believe that the following provisions of the draft Article 5.3 guidelines must be maintained:
- Prohibitions on government partnership or collaboration with the tobacco industry.
- Protections against conflicts of interest for those involved in setting and implementing tobacco control policies.

Corporate Accountability and NATT 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.

"If we don't lay out clear terms now about the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict of interest when it comes to health policy making, it may cost us everything we have achieved through this treaty in turn," said Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth-Nigeria, a member of the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT). "We are dealing with an industry bent on protecting its profit interest at all human expense - an industry that has written the book on policy manipulation and interference."