Countries to set stage for widespread legal action against tobacco industry

Aarti Dhar, CNS Correspondent, India
[First published in India Saga on 20th October 2016]
Representatives of close to 179 countries will meet next month for the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties of the global tobacco treaty to take some of the most powerful steps in tobacco control since the World Health Organization treaty’s adoption. At the Conference, to be held at Greater Noida near India’s National Capital New Delhi from November 7 to 12, countries will advance a provision to hold the tobacco industry civilly and criminally liable for its abuses.

The governments will also advance policies to exclude the industry from public health policy making at the international and national levels. This comes in the wake of revelations, earlier this year, about British American Tobacco (BAT) Company’s widespread allegations of bribery to civil servants and policy makers in East Africa to undermine public health policies. Litigation against Big Tobacco has compelled the industry to pay for the healthcare costs it has caused to countries around the world. The successful litigation against the tobacco industry in the USA, via the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), secured the recovery of USD 206 billion in healthcare costs and transformed public health by banning advertising to children and exposing industry lies. A recent 17-year court case in Canada has similarly awarded smokers CAD 15.6 billion, in what is believed to be the largest class-action lawsuit in Canada to date.

“Litigation is one of the most powerful strategies in forcing the tobacco industry to pay for the staggering costs it incurs on society,” said Cloe Franko, senior international organizer with the Challenge Big Tobacco campaign at Corporate Accountability International. “The outcomes of this year’s Conference of the Parties are poised to mark a turning point for public health.” The tools Parties to FCTC will promote at this year’s conference will especially help low- and middle-income countries, where the majority of the world’s smokers now live, but whose GDPs are often dwarfed by Big Tobacco’s revenues - making going head-to-head with the industry in the courts a dubious prospect."We must hold these corporations responsible and accountable for the premature loss of life and disease burden attributed to tobacco use in addition to the catastrophic economic impact this has on us. These tobacco companies need to be held liable if government is serious about ending tobacco game" said Bobby Ramakant, a member of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and a WHO Director-General's WNTD Awardee (2008).

In addition to advancing tools to hold the tobacco industry liable, Parties will also close loopholes the tobacco industry has exploited to participate in treaty meetings. The policy stems from a broader treaty directive called Article 5.3 that prevents industry interference in the halls of government. The global tobacco treaty, known formally as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in 2005. To date, 179 countries and the European Union have become Parties to the treaty. It contains the world’s most effective tobacco control and corporate accountability measures—estimated to save more than 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented.
[First published in India Saga on 20th October 2016] 

Aarti Dhar, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 20, 2016