Turning up the heat on Big Tobacco

As delegates from Nigeria and 167 other countries reach the mid-point in their final round of negotiations on a protocol to the global tobacco treaty aiming to curb tobacco smuggling, nongovernmental organisations from the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals are urging governments to stand firm in their progress toward a ban on duty free tobacco sales.

The message coincides with Corporate Accountability International’s release of a new expose, Smokescreen for Smuggling: Tobacco Industry Attempts to Derail the Illicit Trade Protocol, highlighting the role of the duty-free lobby in Big Tobacco’s efforts to thwart implementation of the global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Not business as usual

“Many delegates have told us the last negotiating meeting was more productive without the industry present in the room,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action Nigeria. “We hope this will clear the way for parties to adopt a rigorous protocol at the end of this week.”

Corporate Accountable International’s Tobacco Campaign Director, Gigi Kellett, said that tobacco corporations have organised a powerful coalition of anti-tax and duty-free trade associations to try and weaken or derail treaty negotiations.

“But governments won’t tolerate business as usual with the tobacco industry anymore,” said Mr. Kellett.

‘Shut out tobacco lobbyists’

At a meeting with the press during the World Health Assembly, last spring, Dr. Graciela Gamarra, a delegate from Paraguay, made what many see as a prescient observation: For tobacco control there are two eras, before and after FCTC Article 5.3. One month later the intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) for the FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP) made a historic decision.

Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires that “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.”

Delegates observed that over 90 percent of the people at the meeting with “public” badges, lobbying delegates in the hall and watching from the public gallery, worked for the tobacco industry. Legally bound by FCTC Article 5.3’s requirement to protect policy making from tobacco industry interference, the INB closed the public gallery to exclude the tobacco industry.

One of the people kicked out of the meeting as a result was Keith Spinks, a key coordinator of the Big Tobacco/duty-free lobbying effort for the past eight years. This week, parties reaffirmed this decision.

“This decision demonstrates the strength of the legal obligations of the first corporate accountability treaty,” said Yul Dorado, Corporate Accountability International Latin America Campaign Coordinator.

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