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  Asia-Pacific
Alert to Protect Global Tobacco Treaty before COP-II Begins in Thailand
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Tobacco Addicts
Cartoonist: Khalil Bendib

The 2nd Conference of Parties (COP-II) meeting for Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – the first global public health and corporate accountability treaty ( Republic of Korea ratified FCTC on 16 May 2005) shall begin at the end of this month in Thailand .

Corporate Accountability International (CAI, formerly Infact) has played a key-role as civil society watch organization along with Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) from the very initial discussions of World Health Organization's FCTC. It continues to play a pivotal role in monitoring tobacco industry and gathering evidence to protect the public health. At the forthcoming COP-II meeting in Thailand, CAI is releasing a ground-breaking report which compiles evidence from civil society members across the world in outlining the three major issues impeding the FCTC implementation. These three public health challenges are:

- To protect public health policy from tobacco industry influence

- To prevent tobacco industry interference in agricultural diversification and alternative crops to tobacco

- To ensure full-funding of FCTC implementation programme

There is an emerging powerful consensus among health advocates and public officials around the world that the tobacco industry should have no influence on public health policies. The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) enshrines this concept in international law.

Article 5.3 of the FCTC obligates Parties to "protect these [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry." Allowing tobacco corporations to influence tobacco control policy violates both the spirit and letter of the FCTC.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco's interference in health policy continues to be one of the greatest threats to the treaty's implementation and enforcement. Philip Morris/Altria, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco (JT) use their political influence to weaken, delay and defeat tobacco control legislation around the world. While the industry claims to have changed its ways, it continues to use sophisticated methods to undermine meaningful legislation.

Transnational tobacco corporations have supported and sustained a production system that has undermined human health and stifled human development. Therefore, in keeping with WHA (World Health Assembly) Resolution 54.18 and FCTC Article 5.3, these corporations SHOULD NOT be at the table discussing alternatives to tobacco production.

Acting as a mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, ITGA (International Tobacco Growers Association) and its country chapters have spread misinformation and attempted to influence tobacco growers in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, India, South Africa , Zimbabwe, Malawi and Kenya as a strategy to slow down or block ratification and implementation of the FCTC. The Chief Executive of ITGA spoke on behalf of eight government and non-governmental organizations at the Public Hearing on Agricultural Diversification and Alternative Crops to Tobacco held in Brazil in February 2007, claiming to represent governments and farmers, while neglecting to reveal ITGA's connection to the tobacco transnationals.

Tobacco is the world's leading cause of preventable death—killing five million people per year. The generous commitment by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg marks a major change in the landscape for global tobacco control. Mayor Bloomberg's $125 million gift represents four times the 2006-2007 biennial budget of the World Health Organization's Tobacco-Free Initiative.

* Tobacco control advocates in priority countries should tap into this funding for their policy, media and monitoring initiatives. Both governments and NGOs can apply.

* All countries benefit when the cycle of dependence on tobacco is broken, and tobacco control policies have been shown to be good for the world's economies. The World Bank estimates that high-income countries spend up to 15% of their health care budget to treat tobacco-related illnesses. In 2002, China spent $3.5 billion on healthcare costs attributable to tobacco. If these costs were reduced just 20%, China could afford to hire more than half a million additional primary school teachers.

* Wealthy countries that have chartered, assisted and benefited from the international expansion of tobacco transnationals bear a responsibility to make transition away from tobacco-dependent economies viable. Political realities in the developing world also make assistance pragmatic, and could help speed up implementation of the treaty. Japan paid $87 million in 2006 to support WHO, more than any other nation. Yet Japan 's support of WHO represents only 10% of its share of Japan Tobacco's annual profits.

79% of the world's tobacco was sourced in developing nations in the late 1990s, up from 52% four decades earlier. However, countries that have most aggressively embraced tobacco production have not seen advances in their development. Only five of the 125 tobacco exporting nations derive more than 5% of their export income from tobacco. These five nations are concentrated at the bottom of UNDP's 2006 Human Development Index: Uganda (ranked 145 of 177 nations); Zimbabwe (which derives nearly a third of its export income from tobacco and ranks 151 of 177); United Republic of Tanzania (ranks 162 of 177); Malawi (which derives more than half of its export income from tobacco and ranks 166 of 177); and the Central African Republic (ranks 172 of 177). Far from being a path to prosperity, tobacco production paves the way to poverty.

Let's hope that these three concerns raised by the evidence-based report to be released by Corporate Accountability International ( www.stopcorporateabuse.org) at COP-II in Thailand later this month, shall get due attention.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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