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Countries unite against tobacco industry interference

By       Message Bobby Ramakant     Permalink
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Countries unite against tobacco industry interference

DURBAN: Today on 22 November 2008, 160 countries agreed on strong new guidelines to block tobacco industry interference in global health policies and the implementation of the global tobacco treaty.

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Since it took effect in 2005, implementation of the global tobacco treaty, formally known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), has been systematically obstructed by Big Tobacco. The abuses of corporations like Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco have ranged from attempting to write tobacco control laws, blocking the passage of smoke free legislation, and using so-called "corporate social responsibility" to circumvent ad bans.

Tobacco industry interference has been the number one obstacle to the treaty's implementation, and ratifying countries now see protections against this interference as the backbone of the treaty.

"The tobacco industry has long exploited every opening to perpetuate a preventable epidemic that pads their bottom line," said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director of Corporate Accountability International. "These guidelines will help advocates and public officials begin to slam the door on tobacco industry tactics, and focus on implementing the treaty's lifesaving measures."

The new guidelines are designed to give teeth to Article 5.3 of the treaty which states, "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 interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law."

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The guidelines include the following recommendations, rooted in the principle that the tobacco industry has a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict with public health:

- governments should reject partnerships with the tobacco industry;

- conflicts of interest such as the "revolving door" between the tobacco industry and public health offices, government investments in the tobacco industry and tobacco industry representation on tobacco control bodies should be avoided;

- government interaction with the tobacco industry should be strictly limited and transparent;

- the tobacco industry should be required to be transparent about its activities, a measure which will help to counter interference by Big Tobacco's front groups and allied organizations.

"This week a diversity of countries, facing a diversity of tobacco industry offenses, arrived on a set of universal principles to strip this industry of its ability to threaten public health," said Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) spokesperson Bobby Ramakant. "An important precedent has been set that life-threatening corporate practices will not be tolerated."

Ratifying countries also approved strong guidelines for tobacco product packaging and banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, but funding to support treaty implementation remains in question.

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"In sum, these meetings have been an overwhelming victory for tobacco control," said Sam Ochieng from NATT in Kenya. "But now our work begins anew in implementing this landmark treaty. Our initiatives on the ground will require increased funding and constant vigilance against an industry whose profit-driven avarice will continue to challenge our advances, though its power to do so has been greatly reduced."


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Bobby Ramakant is a development journalist and has been writing on development issues since 1991. Health is one of the key focus areas he writes on. He is also a World Health Organization (WHO)'s WNTD awardee for 2008

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