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International Community Demands Big Tobacco Comply Swiftly with Health Treaty

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Bobby Ramakant
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MUMBAI, INDIA. At the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in India this week, governments and civil society are demanding tobacco corporations comply swiftly with new treaty guidelines preventing industry interference in health policy.

Big Tobacco has long interfered in public health laws and regulations that might threaten its profits. The industry has done everything from offering contributions and "partnerships" with governments and drafting tobacco control laws to planting its representatives in tobacco control bodies.

The global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), slams the door on such tactics. At a treaty enforcement meeting in South Africa last November, ratifying countries unanimously adopted a set of guidelines to protect against tobacco industry interference. The treaty is in force in more than 160 countries, home to over 85 percent of the world's people.

"Philip Morris International and other tobacco giants have a history of working at cross-purposes with the letter of the law and public health," said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director for Corporate Accountability International. "This gathering of governments and civil society is a critical opportunity to forge the institutions and grassroots movements essential to spare our children from the tobacco epidemic we face today."

At the conference, Corporate Accountability International and the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) will be exposing Philip Morris International's interference in Mexico's efforts to implement the global tobacco treaty. Under the treaty, "corporate social responsibility" by the tobacco industry is treated as what it is: a form of advertising, promotion and sponsorship – and therefore subject to a comprehensive ban. PMI is currently sponsoring and promoting the Marlboro MXBeat concert series which appeals primarily to youth.

The organizations will be working with allies to generate photo petitions to PMI's top decisionmakers, demanding a stop to the corporation's meddling in health policies around the world.

But the conference will also be an opportunity to spotlight the impact new treaty guidelines are already having on untangling the industry from tobacco control policy. The Chinese government, which had nominated several state-owned tobacco corporations for awards recognizing their philanthropic contributions, withdrew nominations in light of the new guidelines. In the conference's host country, the government recently severed ties with a conference on tobacco that included industry representatives.

"Across borders and ideology, the global community has a united understanding of what needs to happen to save lives from tobacco addiction," said Bobby Ramakant of ASHA Parivar, a NATT member in India. "Preventing the tobacco industry from interfering in lifesaving efforts is at the heart of the solution."

And while the U.S., which has not yet ratified the global tobacco treaty, has been notably sidelined in the international tobacco control arena, last week legislation calling for FDA regulation of tobacco was reintroduced in the House of Representatives.

The World Conference on Tobacco or Health was first held in 1967 in New York, where Robert F. Kennedy gave the keynote; it was held most recently in Washington in 2006. India, the host country this year, is the world's second largest producer and consumer of tobacco. Organizers view India's hosting as an opportunity to raise the visibility of the epidemic and effective tobacco control strategies.
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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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