SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – Today delegates from across the world began a week of negotiations to further strengthen the global tobacco treaty – the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty – but not without a fight from Big Tobacco.
In the lead up to the Seoul negotiations, the World Health Organization, which administers the treaty, deemed the tobacco industry’s interference in these negotiations and the implementation of the treaty as the single greatest threat to its success.
But, despite continued pressure tactics from the industry, ratifying countries unanimously adopted the landmark protocol to eliminate the illicit trade of tobacco, which undermines tobacco control, generates huge profits for smugglers and tobacco manufacturers, and costs governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, law enforcement and health care expenditures.
“For nearly five years, Big Tobacco has fought tooth and nail throughout these negotiations in an effort to undermine progress, thwart public health policy and police itself with regards to illicit trade,” Irene Reyes, public health lawyer and member of the Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT), “but the text of the final Protocol reflects delegates’ resolve to maintain the spirit and letter of the FCTC to stand together for public health and against Big Tobacco. However, though we may have insulated the negotiations from Big Tobacco, the struggle now will be to protect the Protocol’s implementation.”
The adoption of the protocol is just one of many expected outcomes this week that will protect against tobacco industry interference. During the opening plenary, Parties to the treaty did not approve the official observer status of Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, due to widespread concern over the agency’s acceptance of a recent 15-million-euro contribution from Philip Morris International to support the agency’s efforts against the illicit trade of tobacco products. A critical article – Article 5.3 – of the treaty prohibits official status to any organization that has a direct affiliation with the tobacco industry.
Also, after pressure from civil society, the government of the Philippines excluded the National Tobacco Authority (NTA), which promotes tobacco industry interests, from its official delegation in Seoul.
“Today’s decisions on the illicit trade protocol and efforts to keep industry interference at bay are a strong reminder of the power behind this treaty and the unanimous commitment to independent negotiations and implementation. We are optimistic that Seoul’s negotiations will further insulate lifesaving progress from industry attack,” said Reyes also of Health Justice in the Philippines.
Others issues to be taken up this week include: a challenge to the Czech Republic for its attempts to cherry pick ratification, claiming it has a right to engage Big Tobacco on its public health policy, guidelines for tobacco taxation, a re-commitment to hold the tobacco industry liable for its abuses, and a declaration to protect public health over trade – a reference to industry’s attempts to bully countries through intimidation by litigation strategies.