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Can we end tobacco pandemic without holding industry liable?

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The disease burden, death toll and economic loss caused by tobacco is mountainous enough to warrant urgent action globally. Over 7 million deaths every year and more than US$ 1.4 trillion economic cost cripples the global economy - can this be ignored? Also more evidence piles up on how tobacco threatens sustainable development.


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But what is preventing governments from walking the talk on tobacco control and sustainable development? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco industry interference is the biggest challenge in implementing the global tobacco treaty (formally called the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). So if we are to prevent tobacco related diseases, avert untimely deaths caused by tobacco, and thereby also accelerate progress on sustainable development which currently tobacco not only stalls but reverses, then holding industry liable is the lynchpin.

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Be more surprised: in November 2008, almost ten years back, governments adopted FCTC Article 5.3 to stop tobacco industry interference in public health policy so that corporations are not allowed to water down, dilute or defeat evidence-based and life-saving tobacco control measures. But tobacco industry continues to connive to knowingly sell and expand markets for its disease and death causing products. Although governments kicked tobacco industry out of global tobacco treaty negotiations but industry keeps on finding deceitful ways to reap profits from products that fuel deadly epidemics. For example, BBC exposed British American Tobacco (BAT) illegally paid politicians and civil servants in countries in East Africa.

Unless we hold the industry accountable for over 7 million deaths, over US$ 1.4 trillion economic cost, damage to environment and reversing progress on sustainable development, it will not mend its ways. Also without holding industry liable, progress on tobacco control and SDGs will continue to remain under threat.

Governments must hold industry liable

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Thankfully, the global tobacco treaty has FCTC Article 19 to power governments with policies to hold tobacco industry liable - financially and legally - for the catastrophe it unleashes.

At the recent eighth session of the global tobacco treaty negotiations, countries unanimously adopted policies that eliminate loopholes Big Tobacco used to gain access to the talks, redouble defenses against evolving industry tactics, and mandate a study on new tobacco products, like heat-not-burn, which pose a threat to public health - particularly to children. The negotiations were under constant assault as Big Tobacco attempted to undermine talks by stacking government delegations, commandeering industry front groups, lobbying countries, posing as the media and employing other means to interfere with policies that would save lives and reduce tobacco consumption.

For years, the tobacco industry has exploited loopholes to send representatives that pose as members of the public and media, and stack delegations with tobacco-friendly industries in attempts to delay, weaken, or block progress. Governments adopted a landmark good governance policy that eliminates these loopholes, shutting out the industry and protecting the treaty from interference.

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