Organized interference by tobacco industry in health issues brings death

Francis Okoye, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
Tobacco industry all over the world, is bringing death through its interference in health policies. Panelists at a webinar, recently organised by Citizen News Service on tobacco industry interference in WHO framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC), said that tobacco industries have hijacked political and legislative processes, exaggerated the economic importance of tobacco industry, and manipulated public opinion to gain an appearance of respectability.

It has been fabricating support through its various front groups (like the international tobacco growers Association ITGA), discrediting proven science and intimidating governments  with litigation or threat of litigation. Speaking on the matter Maitri Porecha, a noted journalist, said that tobacco industry interference is not new. We need to firewall health and development policies from the industry’s unrelenting onslaught . One thing is clear— public health is not on the tobacco industry’s agenda. Their misleading notions are meant to protect markets. Journalists must watch out for such pro industry campaigns of lobbying and influencing governments,. Samuel Ochieng, from the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) leadership revealed that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on politicians by tobacco companies to expand their market and ensure no anti tobacco legislature in Kenya.

British American Tobacco (BAT) company has been trying intimidate, manipulate and influence people in positions of power. It sponsors government delegations and/or be part of government delegations. It sued the Minister of Health of Kenya for bringing out an anti tobacco regulation, but lost the case. Just 3 days before the deadline of its implementation, BAT filed an appeal. They have also budgeted huge sums of money for political donations to stop the regulation, what with the elections coming up, said Ochieng. Speaking on the challenges of fighting Big Tobacco, Cloe Franko, of Corporate Accountability International, said that the tobacco industry exploits loopholes to attend the sessions of the Conference of the Parties (COP), with industry representatives attending as part of delegates. It has been found that in the past at least 11 parties have sent tobacco industry representatives to attend COP sessions under false pretences. They have also been intimidating and manipulating delegates, lobbying with delegates without revealing their identity, and having access to confidential draft documents. There was the BAT bribery scandal, in which a whistle blower revealed conspiracy of bribes  been given to FCTC representatives from some countries.

One way to fight tobacco interference in health is to prevent their participation in COPs, and ensure that independent representatives are no longer admitted in view of Article 5.3, screen delegates and make use of public media to expose the nefarious actives of the tobacco industry, felt the experts. We need to escalate the awareness about Article 5.3 of the FCTC thats says—‘In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interest of tobacco industry in accordance with the national law’. (COP is the governing body of the WHO FCTC and comprises all Parties to the Convention. It keeps under regular review the implementation of the Convention and takes the decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation, and may also adopt protocols, annexes and amendments to the Convention. The 7th session of the COP will be held in India in November 2106)

Francis Okoye, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 19, 2016