Despite the odds, countries adopt illicit trade protocol of global tobacco treaty

[Hindi]Today government delegates from across the world adopted the illicit trade protocol of the global tobacco treaty – the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty - but not without a fight from Big Tobacco. In the lead up to the Seoul negotiations, the World Health Organization, which administers the treaty, deemed the tobacco industry’s interference in these negotiations and the implementation of the treaty as the single greatest threat to its success. But, despite continued pressure tactics from the industry, it is commendable that illicit tobacco trade protocol was adopted on the first day of the negotiations.

“In the two years since the last treaty meetings, Big Tobacco has taken its fight to new depths. The industry's brazen bullying, its efforts to co-opt governments, and disregard the rule of law has been on full display. But just as countries from Australia to Norway have forcefully rebuked Big Tobacco in recent months, thanks to the treaty and the civil society organized behind it, we are optimistic Seoul's negotiations will further insulate lifesaving progress from attack," said John Stewart, Challenge Big Tobacco Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability International. John is leading a team of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) on-site in Seoul negotiations. Adoption of a landmark protocol to eliminate the illicit trade of tobacco is indeed a lifesaving step forward. Illicit tobacco trade undermines tobacco control, generates huge profits for smugglers and tobacco manufacturers, and costs governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, law enforcement and health care expenditures.

“For nearly five years, Big Tobacco has fought tooth and nail throughout these negotiations in an effort to undermine progress, thwart public health policy and police itself with regards to illicit trade,” said Irene Reyes, Human Rights Lawyer for Health Justice in the Philippines, “but the adoption of the final Protocol reflects delegates’ resolve to maintain the spirit and letter of the FCTC to stand together for public health and against Big Tobacco. However, though we may have insulated the negotiations from Big Tobacco, the struggle now will be to protect the Protocol’s implementation.”

The adoption of the protocol to eliminate illicit trade is just one of many other expected outcomes this week including:
- Parties to adopt guidelines on taxation – Big Tobacco is aggressively attempting to block efforts to codify guidelines to promote taxation and it’s no surprise: adding a tax to tobacco products has proven to be the most efficient way to halt addition, particularly for youth and low-income communities – target markets for Big Tobacco.
- A challenge to the “intimidation by litigation” strategy pushed by Big Tobacco – Since the last treaty meetings, the tobacco industry has launched a global litigation strategy, using obscure trade agreements as its staging ground, to undermine countries’ efforts to implement the public health policies. At the last meetings, the Punta del Este Declaration was unanimously adopted in solidarity of Uruguay who is being sued by Big Tobacco for its attempts to implement the strongest graphic health warnings on cigarette packs in the world. Civil society is calling to protect the right to health over Big Tobacco’s profits.

- A recommitment to holding the tobacco industry liable for its abuses – A key article of the treaty requires Parties to do everything in their power to share legal strategies and resources to bring the industry to account, much like the Master Settlement Agreement in the US, where the state attorneys general sued tobacco corporations for their harms to public health by willful deception. This marked a sea change for lawmakers who had previously avoided direct confrontation with Big Tobacco.  This week, delegates are expected to lay the groundwork to build a roadmap for how governments can collaborate to hold the tobacco industry liable for its abuses, generate much-needed revenue to treat tobacco-related disease, and expose decades of deception.

- Adoption of guidelines to force the tobacco industry to disclose the toxic and addictive contents of cigarettes and other tobacco products so they can be regulated. 

Citizen News Service - CNS

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