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Tobacco Industry And Front Groups Pump Up Their Propaganda For COP7

http://www.asiantribune.com/node/89760

Over the past year, governments across the globe have continued to make new agreements with the tobacco industry, as shown above. However there is a ray of hope from Namibia, which is choosing to grow more food crops.

The tobacco industry is very angry that the Conference of the Parties (COP) is using Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to protect the policy-making process from industry interference.

The industry has hijacked the “public space” of the COP. FCTC Parties have responded in recent sessions by not allowing participation from the “public”, which is dominated by industry representatives. For COP7, FCA is recommending Parties adopt pre-screening processes for the public and for the media. (Presently, media is in the category public).

The industry has gone on the offensive: conducting an international campaign to attack and discredit the COP and the World Health Organization (WHO) about lack of transparency. Industry representatives have written angry letters to both the COP and WHO and published many statements in the media criticizing the COP’s lack of ‘transparency’, which strikes a chord with broader society.

The industry throws a tantrum whenever it does not get its way, and has no qualms in criticising the 180 governments that are FCTC Parties. In one statement, a representative of Japan Tobacco International (JTI) said the industry wants to see change, (read, “we want to influence the COP”), and that it needs to “keep raising our voice about these censorship practices”.

Since the tobacco industry has no credibility to criticise the COP and tobacco control, it has recruited front groups, think tanks and sympathetic individuals to sing from its song sheet.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is one such close ally. It advises the industry to talk more about “due process and fairness and less about the specifics of tobacco policy in drawing attention to this issue”.

According to the IEA, “With regard to [Article] 5.3 and COP, the industry needs to find allies amongst groups who take an interest in transparency, openness and constitutional structures. Such groups needn’t be sympathetic to the regulatory agenda of the industry; indeed they may even be antagonistic to the industry and tobacco products in general. That needn’t matter—the issue here is about the manner in which policy is developed and created, not the exact content of the policy.”

Another industry funded group, the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC), has stepped up its efforts to protect industry interests ever since the FCTC Secretariat issued a Note Verbal in 2014 about its activities. Earlier this year, an ITIC consultant, Gary Johns, wrote to several civil society groups involved in tobacco control taking issue with the critiques they had done on the ITIC’s skewed research. In a 36-page letter he sent to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) earlier this year Johns wrote, “vested interests are not the problem – debate behind closed doors is”.

The letter was riddled with false accusations against SEATCA, mischaracterizations of fact and law, disparaging comments about the WHO, the Framework Convention Secretariat and FCTC Parties. SEATCA published an open letter in response.

In September, Johns, a former Australian Labor Minister, released a publication attacking WHO for not conducting its business in “transparent fashion and in public view.” The tobacco industry publicized his report in the Tobacco Reporter.

Another industry front group, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), which routinely rounds up its members to rabble rouse at COP sessions, has stepped up its misinformation campaign. ITGA’s Indian member Federation of All India Farmer Associations (FAIFA) has been applying pressure on the Indian government to allow its members to the COP using arguments of “principles of transparency and equity”

ITGA’s president has also claimed that the FCTC had banned dozens of officials representing tobacco-growing countries from participating in COP7.

A similar statement was made by a new NGO representative cum journalist, who claimed, “The policy of banning delegates having associations with tobacco production is said to be so broad that it will almost certainly prohibit finance ministers, economic development secretaries, public health officials, and even presidents and prime ministers …”

In September, ITGA members from North and South America, India, Europe, Africa, and Indonesia were in New Delhi for a two-day seminar to prepare their protests for COP7.

The ITGA claims COP decisions are being made “only by health officials and activists”. This is simply not true. Government delegations have included officials from non-health departments, such as ministries of agriculture, industry and trade, as official COP records show (Table 1).

In 2008, FCTC Parties adopted Article 5.3 guidelines. They include recommendations 4.9 and 8.3, which explicitly state that Parties should not nominate any person employed by the tobacco industry, or any entity working to further the industry’s interests, to serve on delegations to COP or other FCTC meetings, nor should any representatives of state-owned tobacco industries be included on government delegations.

Myanmar ranks last in ASEAN tobacco control study

With out-of-date policies, cheap access, and ubiquitous usage, Myanmar ranks last in tobacco control, according to a survey of the region released last week.

http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/23722-myanmar-ranks-last-in-asean-tobacco-control-study.html

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) study measures each of the ASEAN countries’ implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) framework for tobacco control. Myanmar scored 45.7 out of 100, falling just behind the Philippines and Laos. Singapore topped the list with a score of 80.5.

Myanmar adopted the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law on May 4, 2006, to reduce the number of people using tobacco and tobacco-related products. The law contains rules on non-smoking areas and regulations to control the sale, production and advertising of tobacco products.

However, according to the SEATCA survey, Myanmar lags behind other countries in its banning of smoking in indoor workspaces, including bars and restaurants, and indoor public places. It is the only country that has not regularly updated its tobacco control policy and strategy, according to the study.

While it falls in the middle of the pack for taxation of tobacco products, Myanmar stands alone as the only country in the region that does not spend any public money on tobacco control, according to the study. And, despite the taxation, cigarettes are still fairly cheap: K2000 for a pack of Regular Marl¬boros and K800 for a pack of Red Ruby, the most popular brand in the country. Red Ruby’s are the cheapest cigarettes in the region.

The country is also middling in its ability to provide education or cessation programs.

According to the report, the government does not allow tobacco industry officials to sit on government committees or advisory groups that are deciding health policy.

However, the government does give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry, according to the report.

Like many of the other countries in the region, regulation of tobacco advertising and sponsorship goes unenforced in many mediums. Tobacco ads are banned in television, movies, print media, and billboards but there is no enforcement of tobacco advertising bans on the internet.

Regulations on the packaging of tobacco products, on the other hand, are fairly strong when compared with other countries in the region. A majority of the packaging is dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of using tobacco.

In February, the government announced that new regulations would go into effect on September 1, requiring that health warnings and graphic photos illustrating the dangers of tobacco use must appear on all brands of cigarette and other tobacco products manufactured in Myanmar.

However, the tobacco companies asked for a six-month reprieve. The Department of Public Health told The Myanmar Times that following appeals from the companies – which cited a lack of awareness among retailers that they could face punishment if they sell incorrectly packaged products – the rules would not go into effect until February 2017.

Once the new law is in full effect, anyone involved in the production, distribution or sale of tobacco products that do not contain a graphic warning label could be subject to a fine of between K10,000 (US$7.95) and K30,000 for a first offence.

According to a 2014 survey, the rate of tobacco use in Myanmar is 26.1 percent of the population, including 43.8pc of men and 8.4pc of women.

SCORECARD LAUNCHED ON FCTC IMPLEMENTATION IN THE ASEAN REGION

Singapore leads the way in a 10-country race in the ASEAN to protect public health from the harms of tobacco use according to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Scorecard launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

In a region where nearly half of all adult men smoke and where 10% (125 million) of the world’s smokers live, it is indeed a race to reverse the smoking epidemic and its devastating impacts that claims about 500,000 deaths every year.

“The scorecard acknowledges achievements and progressive efforts of ASEAN governments while also identifying implementation gaps that need further action. It also encourages comparisons between countries to further motivate the strengthening of FCTC implementation. Overall, there is significant room for further progress,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA FCTC Program Director.

Over-all, Singapore scored the highest (80.5%), followed by Brunei (71.2%) and Thailand (67.1%). Two key areas for improvement are in policies on tobacco taxation and protecting health policies from tobacco industry interference.

While raising tobacco taxes is recognized as among the most effective means of reducing consumption, this measure is the least well implemented among ASEAN countries. The region’s most expensive cigarettes are found in Brunei and Singapore, but cigarettes are still generally very affordable in all countries.

Most countries are experiencing tobacco industry interference and do not have a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct to address this problem. Only Singapore has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that is enforced by the whole government, while the Philippines has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that applies to the whole government but needs improved enforcement.

Enforcement of smoke-free policies needs to be strengthened further to achieve the full health benefits of such policies. All countries restrict or ban smoking in many settings, but only Brunei enforces a smoking ban in all indoor workplaces, indoor public places, and public transport, as well as some outdoor public places.

While standardized packaging of tobacco or ‘plain packaging’ is widely regarded as the best way to package tobacco, no ASEAN country has yet implemented this measure.

All countries, however, require pictorial health warnings on packages, although some require them only for cigarettes and not for other (e.g. smokeless) tobacco products.

Thailand leads with the largest pictorial health warnings (85% front and back).

All ASEAN countries except Indonesia, a non-party to the FCTC, enforce a complete ban on tobacco advertising in print media, TV, radio, and cinema. Regrettably, only half of the ASEAN countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) enforce a ban on tobacco advertising at points of sale (POS).

The scorecard is available at www.seatca.org.

TOBACCO INDUSTRY AND FRONT GROUPS PUMP UP THEIR PROPAGANDA FOR COP7

RECENT AGREEMENTS BETWEEN GOVERNMENTS & TOBACCO COMPANIES Over the past year, governments across the globe have continued to make new agreements with the tobacco industry, as shown above. However there is a ray of hope from Namibia, which is choosing to grow more food crops.

RECENT AGREEMENTS BETWEEN GOVERNMENTS & TOBACCO COMPANIES
Over the past year, governments across the globe have continued to make new agreements with the tobacco industry, as shown above. However there is a ray of hope
from Namibia, which is choosing to grow more food crops.

The tobacco industry is very angry that the Conference of the Parties (COP) is using Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to protect the policy-making process from industry interference.

The industry has hijacked the “public space” of the COP. FCTC Parties have responded in recent sessions by not allowing participation from the “public”, which is dominated by industry representatives. For COP7, FCA is recommending Parties adopt pre-screening processes for the public and for the media. (Presently, media is in the category public).

The industry has gone on the offensive: conducting an international campaign to attack and discredit the COP and the World Health Organization (WHO) about lack of transparency. Industry representatives have written angry letters to both the COP and WHO and published many statements in the media criticising the COP’s lack of ‘transparency’, which strikes a chord with broader society.

The industry throws a tantrum whenever it does not get its way, and has no qualms in criticising the 180 governments that are FCTC Parties. In one statement, a representative of Japan Tobacco International (JTI) said the industry wants to see change, (read, “we want to influence the COP”), and that it needs to “keep raising our voice about these censorship practices”.

Since the tobacco industry has no credibility to criticise the COP and tobacco control, it has recruited front groups, think tanks and sympathetic individuals to sing from its song sheet.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is one such close ally. It advises the industry to talk more about “due process and fairness and less about the specifics of tobacco policy in drawing attention to this issue”.

According to the IEA, “With regard to [Article] 5.3 and COP, the industry needs to find allies amongst groups who take an interest in transparency, openness and constitutional structures. Such groups needn’t be sympathetic to the regulatory agenda of the industry; indeed they may even be antagonistic to the industry and tobacco products in general. That needn’t matter—the issue here is about the manner in which policy is developed and created, not the exact content of the policy.”

Another industry funded group, the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC), has stepped up its efforts to protect industry interests ever since the FCTC Secretariat issued a Note Verbal in 2014 about its activities. Earlier this year, an ITIC consultant, Gary Johns, wrote to several civil society groups involved in tobacco control taking issue with the critiques they had done on the ITIC’s skewed research. In a 36-page letter he sent to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) earlier this year Johns wrote, “vested interests are not the problem – debate behind closed doors is”.

The letter was riddled with false accusations against SEATCA, mischaracterisations of fact and law, disparaging comments about the WHO, the Framework Convention Secretariat and FCTC Parties. SEATCA published an open letter in response.

In September, Johns, a former Australian Labour Minister, released a publication attacking WHO for not conducting its business in “transparent fashion and in public view.” The tobacco industry publicised his report in the Tobacco Reporter.

Another industry front group, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), which routinely rounds up its members to rabble rouse at COP sessions, has stepped up its misinformation campaign. ITGA’s Indian member Federation of All India Farmer Associations (FAIFA) has been applying pressure on the Indian government to allow its members to the COP using arguments of “principles of transparency and equity”.

ITGA’s president has also claimed that the FCTC had banned dozens of officials representing tobacco-growing countries from participating in COP7. A similar statement was made by a new NGO representative cum journalist, who claimed, “The policy of banning delegates having associations with tobacco production is said to be so broad that it will almost certainly prohibit finance ministers, economic development secretaries, public health officials, and even presidents and prime ministers …”

In September, ITGA members from North and South America, India, Europe, Africa, and Indonesia were in New Delhi for a two-day seminar to prepare their protests for COP7.

The ITGA claims COP decisions are being made “only by health officials and activists”. This is simply not true. Government delegations have included officials from non-health departments, such as ministries of agriculture, industry and trade, as official COP records show (Table 1).

In 2008, FCTC Parties adopted Article 5.3 guidelines. They include recommendations 4.9 and 8.3, which explicitly state that Parties should not nominate any person employed by the tobacco industry, or any entity working to further the industry’s interests, to serve on delegations to COP or other FCTC meetings, nor should any representatives of state-owned tobacco industries be included on government delegations.

PRESS RELEASE: CAMPAIGN TO EXPOSE BIG TOBACCO’S LOBBY FRONT MAY SAVE MILLIONS OF LIVES IN LOWER-INCOME COUNTRIES

‘INTERNATIONAL TAX AND INVESTMENT CENTER’ (ITIC) FORCED TO WITHDRAW CLAIMS OF ASSOCIATION WITH WORLD BANK, IMF, TAX AUTHORITIES AND MAJOR MULTINATIONALS

http://taxtobacco.org/2016/11/press-release-campaign-expose-big-tobaccos-lobby-front-may-save-millions-lives-lower-income-countries/

Today, an unprecedented joint movement of leading international development and public health organisations including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Christian Aid and Save the Children, declared a major success in their campaign against the tobacco lobby.

For more than two decades, big tobacco companies have used the neutral-sounding ‘International Tax and Investment Center’ (ITIC) to promote their agenda around the world. Since tax policies are the single most powerful measure to reduce tobacco consumption, and the inevitable deaths that follow, the influence of ITIC on public officials and finance ministers has the potential to be – quite literally – a killer. ITIC has targeted developing countries as the major growth markets for tobacco; it is in these countries where the death toll will be greatest, if the tobacco lobby succeeds.

Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that it works closely with leading international organisations, multinationals and global professional services firms. The campaign to expose ITIC as a front for tobacco interests, coordinated by the Tax Justice Network, ASH (UK) and the FCA contacted all the groups named by ITIC, described the ITIC’s role as a lobbyist for tobacco and asked the groups to disassociate themselves from ITIC. The letter that was sent can be viewed here.

The organisations that responded overwhelmingly expressed support for the the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, and in many cases outlined their dismay at the claims made by ITIC.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS

Previously, ITIC regularly claimed – including on the very front of their website – that “ITIC works closely with ministries of finance, customs services and tax authorities in 85 countries, as well as international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Customs Organization, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”[1]

itic-front-250416-1024x499

Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said:

“I am writing to confirm that the World Bank Group (WBG) does not have a formal partnership with ITIC. We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC (on November 29 and December 1, 2015), requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage, and also remove the World Bank Group’s logo from several other pages and PDFs on their website. I am pleased to note that this request has been complied with by the ITIC… I appreciate all of your strong advocacy for better global public health policy on tobacco, which has been extremely important to ensure better regulation of tobacco and to save lives. We look forward to working together towards the same goals.”

The International Monetary Fund stopped short of full disassociation, but wrote: “We understand your concerns with the work of the ITIC on tobacco… [W]e have asked them to clarify the nature of our interactions with them on their website.”

This involved, again, the removal of nearly all references and above all the claim on the site’s front page of ‘working closely together’. The World Customs Organisation wrote that “ITIC is not a partner”, and references have also since been deleted from the ITIC website (except a quote from 2011).

Perhaps most damning of all was the response from the African Tax Administrators’ Forum (ATAF), a key regional body, whose executive secretary Logan Wort said:

“Allow me to state categorically that ATAF does not partner, cooperate nor collaborate with the ITIC in any way, and has no intention of doing so. Officials of the ATAF Secretariat had attended two of its meetings a few years ago in order to establish its motives and how the organisation functioned, however we soon distanced ourselves from the ITIC, with the ATAF Council also directing the Secretariat to inform all ATAF members of this decision, and warning them against associating with the organisation…

“We are thus well aware of the activities of the organisation and find its objectives and modus operandi to be in direct conflict with everything that ATAF stands for. In recent discussions with officials of the World Health Organisation, we were also in full agreement that higher taxes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco use among vulnerable populations.

“We had also requested the ITIC to remove the ATAF logo from its website and all of its publications. Should we find that the ITIC has continued to abuse our logo or (mis)informed stakeholders of any association or partnership between our respective organisations, we will demand, in the strongest of terms, that they desist with this practice. Rest assured of our full support for this campaign.”

ITIC’S CLAIMED ‘SPONSORS’

Before the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts, ITIC listed around a hundred multinationals, global professional services firms and national authorities on its roster of sponsors. While some have told the campaign they will continue with their support, such has been the response that ITIC has now removed the list entirely from their website – so it is no longer possible to see which supporters remain.

Nestlé said that it had ceased to make any contribution to ITIC in 2014, but that the letter had drawn their attention to the fact Nestlé’s logo was still displayed on ITIC’s website, so “we have taken action on this.” Similarly, the law firm Pinsent Masons said there was “no on-going relationship with ITIC, having last engaged with the organisation in 2013.” The Qatar Financial Center thanked the campaign for highlighting the claims on the ITIC website, and said: “we will write to ITIC formally to request the immediate removal of our name from their list of sponsors and any promotional materials or publications; we will also consult with Qatar’s Ministry of Finance on any further action that needs to be taken.”

However, Carlsberg told campaigners: “we do not plan to participate in the activities mentioned in your letter. We have our policy of Responsible Drinking and other projects are beyond our plans.” IBM said: “The policy issues discussed in your letter fall outside the scope of, and do not directly impact, IBM’s business.”

RESEARCH ORGANISATIONS

ITIC’s approach has often involved working with or funding existing think tanks or research centres, in order both to draw on their credibility and in some cases to generate new findings that support the case against strong tobacco tax measures – notably, by suggesting that high tobacco taxes will simply lead to growth in illicit trade. Most prominent amongst these has been Oxford Economics, whose chair Adrian Cooper told campaigners in May: “I can assure you that we consider all such representations very seriously and we will table your letter for a discussion with our Board.” Subsequent requests for an update or Board response have not been replied to.

CAMPAIGNER REACTIONS

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH UK), said: “This is a fantastic victory. For years, this tobacco industry-funded tax think tank has bolstered its credibility by claiming the support of major global organisations – and now those claims have been revealed as completely hollow. We should no longer be surprised at the tobacco companies being liberal with the truth, but the willingness to misrepresent relationships is still striking. Nobody should take this outfit or its claims seriously – least of all, public officials.”

Dereje Alemayehu, chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ), said: “For developing country policymakers, the claim of working closely with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank carry a great deal of weight. Now these organisations have demanded that ITIC stop making these misleading statements, people can see the true picture – that this is just one more lobby group, pretending to offer technical analysis but really just pushing an agenda. And a particularly poisonous agenda at that.”

Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said: “We need to expose how the tobacco industry funds third parties to do its lobbying. Every lobbying success of Big Tobacco causes a delay in life-saving measures in developing countries. This wave of public disassociations should send a clear message to the ITIC that being a spokesperson for the tobacco industry runs counter to global movement to reduce tobacco use.”

Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network said: “If current trends persist, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide annually by the year 2030, with 80 percent of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries. If ITIC’s loss of credibility undermines their ability to influence for Big Tobacco, in a way that reduces that by just 5%, it would save 400,000 lives a year.”

NOTES

[1] Quotation from ITIC website as at 18 November 2015, currently available in archive from: http://web.archive.org/web/20151118225508/http://www.iticnet.org/.

[2] Quotations from ITIC website as accessed at 8 July 2016.

ADDITIONAL NOTES FOR EDITORS

The organisations involved in the campaign to counter big tobacco’s tax lobbying efforts are: Action on Smoking and Health, (UK); Action on Smoking & Health, USA; Action on Smoking and Health, Scotland; African Tobacco Control Alliance; Association of Directors of Public Health, UK; British Heart Foundation; British Lung Foundation; CAFOD; Cancer Research UK; Christian Aid; Faculty of Public Health, UK; Framework Convention Alliance; FRESH; Global Alliance for Tax Justice; Health Poverty Action; InterAmerican Heart Foundation; International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; Latindadd; Save the Children; Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA); Tax Justice Europe; Tax Justice Network; Tax Justice Network – Africa; and Vital Strategies.
This press release and the original letter sent to companies and organisations can be accessed at http://taxtobacco.org.
CONTACTS

Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network: +44 7982 236863 and alex@taxjustice.net

Deborah Arnott, ASH (UK): +44 7976 935 987 and deborah.arnott@ash.org.uk

The Tobacco Control Atlas: ASEAN Region

Download (PDF, 11.39MB)

Tobacco industry’s CSR activities still an issue in PH despite improvement in interference index

http://news.pia.gov.ph/article/view/1141474976323/tobacco-industry-s-csr-activities-still-an-issue-in-ph-despite-improvement-in-interference-index

While the Philippines has made significant improvement to control tobacco industry interference two years after it had ranked high among Southeast Asian countries that reported industry influence, much is still needed to be done to protect the government from unnecessary interaction with cigarette makers.

Citing results of the third Tobacco Industry Interference Index organized by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) President Emer Rojas said based on the report, the tobacco industry still finds ways to wield influence in government affairs in many countries through corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

The report, the world’s first ever assessment of tobacco interference in government, and the third one by SEATCA since 2014, reveals that the industry invests huge money on CSR activities to circumvent laws regulating their business and gain access to public officials in charge of implementing tobacco control policies.

“We have a Civil Service Commission guideline that prohibits unnecessary interaction between government and the tobacco industry. Despite that, the industry is able to continue to exercise some influence in government affairs through fake CSR using legitimate business organizations and foundations that lend support to local government units,” Rojas said.

Rojas was referring to the CSC’s Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01, a code of conduct banning all government officials from receiving or supporting tobacco industry-related CSR activities.

SEATCA noted that while more than 200 national and local government units, including educational institutions and government controlled corporations, have supported the memorandum and drastically reduced unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry, it still was able to contribute to LGUs through the American Chamber of Commerce which fronts for Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) and Mighty Corporation’s Wong Chu King Foundation (WCKF).

SEATCA revealed that as ASEAN countries implement stricter bans on tobacco advertising and promotion, cigarette giants such as Philip Morris International have recently increased their CSR spending in the region.

“Philip Morris International (PMI), for example, increased its spending in three countries (i.e., Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) in the ASEAN region from USD 1.5 million in 2009 to USD 2.5 million in 2015,” the report said.

“PMI spends the lion’s share of its CSR handouts in Indonesia and the Philippines, about USD 6 million and USD 1.8 million respectively, which are also its largest cigarette markets among ASEAN countries,” added the report.

Rojas said the tobacco industry should be banned from using their “fake” CSR activities because they run counter against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control guidelines signed by member countries including the Philippines.

“We should encourage legitimate CSR activities and ban fake CSR of the tobacco companies. They need not give us assistance coming from the profits derived from selling products that kill people,” Rojas said.(NVAP)

US-BASED THINK-TANK TRIES TO INTIMIDATE REGIONAL TOBACCO CONTROL GROUP

http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/25/4/373.full

Tobacco control advocates are familiar with the “scream test” – the litmus test for an effective measure that hurts the tobacco industry and causes it to protest. Recently, a regional tobacco control group, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) received a 36-page letter from Dr Gary Johns on behalf of the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) which shows the industry screaming.

The ITIC is a think tank based in Washington DC that claims to be an independent, non-profit research and educational organisation supported by 100 corporations including four transnational tobacco companies (BAT, PMI, JTI and Imperial Brands), each of which are represented on its board of directors (http://www.iticnet.org/Sponsors_BoardOfDirectors). Dr Gary Johns is an Australian consultant “engaged by ITIC to engage with its critics”.

The letter sent to SEATCA is riddled with false accusations against SEATCA, mischaracterizations of fact and law, disparaging comments about the World Health Organization (WHO), the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat (FCS) and the Parties to the FCTC.

What had SEATCA done to bring about this tirade? In 2012, the ITIC and Oxford Economics (OE) released a report on illicit tobacco trade, Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012 to provide evidence of illicit trade of tobacco products of 11 countries in Asia. The ITIC later launched an updated version, Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013”, expanding the review to 14 countries in Asia. Both reports were funded by Philip Morris International (PMI).

SEATCA published critiques of both reports. The first, More Myth than Fact provided an expert review of the methodology of the Asia-11 report, questioning the reliability and accuracy of the estimates of illicit consumption. The second, A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013, pointed out that the report failed to provide scientifically sound and unbiased information. The figures and statistics used in the report were products of either incorrect or unverified/unverifiable estimation methods, applied to often questionable data from multiple, disparate sources.

It appears that PMI wants to steer governments away from WHO FCTC Article 5.3, which aims to protect public health policies from tobacco industry interference, and would rather governments participate in industry sponsored programs and adopt its recommendations on tobacco taxation.

In November 2014, the ITIC organized a briefing for governments attending the sixth session of the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP6) in Moscow hoping to dissuade them from their decision to adopt Article 6 guidelines on tobacco tax. However, the Framework Convention Secretariat (FCS) was able to caution governments in a timely manner about this ITIC meeting by issuing a Note Verbale in September 2014.

In February this year, SEATCA’s Executive Director received a letter from ITIC’s President inviting her to a ‘roundtable discussion’, particularly “an experts’ meeting of professional economists” which SEATCA declined.

In March, the FCS issued a second Note Verbale on tobacco industry interference on the tracking and tracing systems, again making reference to the ITIC.

Dr Johns wrote to an internationally renowned Thai tobacco control leader requesting them to urge SEATCA to meet with him about the critiques of ITIC reports.

However, SEATCA has a policy of not engaging with the tobacco industry or its representatives. Dr Johns made another effort by phone and email, and failing to secure a meeting hand-delivered the letter in April. Because SEATCA does not engage with the tobacco industry or individuals or organisations representing it, it decided to publish an open letter in response to Dr Gary John and the ITIC.

Among the many accusations the ITIC makes is that SEATCA “sees itself as an instrument of the World Health Organization and its Framework Convention Secretariat”.

This statement undermines the credibility of the many international and regional non-governmental groups that work closely with inter-governmental organisations.

SEATCA is a civil society alliance that works independently of the WHO and FCS. Like many other tobacco control NGOs, SEATCA has observer status with the FCTC COP.

Observer status with the COP does not make SEATCA an instrument of the COP.

SEACTA is an NGO in a developing country which carries out its activities in countries in the Southeast Asian region. ITIC’s letter, with its intimidating tone, appears aimed at bullying SEATCA in its efforts to expose the tactics of PMI and its representatives. This type of intimidation has a larger impact in a developing country setting as it aims to discredit a tobacco control NGO that works closely with governments.

The ITIC’s attack on a tobacco control NGO is another example of an old tried and tested tactic of the tobacco industry. Attempts at intimidation or silencing NGOs in any form must be exposed and stopped.⇓⇓⇓⇓

Mary Assunta

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance

mary.assunta@cancer.org.au

OPEN LETTER TO DR. GARY JOHNS AND ITIC

On April 21 2016, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) received a letter from Dr. Gary Johns, on behalf of his client the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC). The letter is riddled with false accusations against SEATCA, mischaracterizations of fact and law, disparaging comments about the World Health Organization (WHO) and the FCTC Convention Secretariat (FCS) and the Parties to the FCTC. Because SEATCA does not engage with the tobacco industry and its representatives, it has decided to publish an open letter in response.

OPEN LETTER TO DR. GARY JOHNS AND ITIC

19 May 2016

Dr. Gary Johns,

Queensland, Australia

We are taken aback by the accusations hurled against our organization and we find unacceptable the disrespect shown to us. We feel it is necessary that this intimidation ceases and that the misinformation you conveyed is addressed.

The letter you wrote on behalf of ITIC contains false accusations against SEATCA, disparaging remarks about the World Health Organization (WHO)/ Framework Convention Secretariat (FCS), misinterpretations of facts and law, particularly of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO.

You also used rulings/opinions from authorities of five governments, namely Philippines, Germany, India, Netherlands, and European Commission, to attempt to show that “the work of ITIC does not violate Article 5.3 and the Convention,” when none of these governments have in any manner, in these documents or elsewhere, made an official announcement to that effect.

Let me start by stating that SEATCA is a non-profit, civil society organization working to save lives from the many devastating harms of tobacco use. We take our work very seriously, because of the six million deaths (of which half a million are from the ASEAN region) caused annually by tobacco products that are made, promoted, and sold by profit-oriented tobacco companies.

On the other hand, it is quite plain to see that ITIC represents the interests of the tobacco industry. Aside from the fact that ITIC has a longstanding relationship with the tobacco industry (as documented on the University of Bath’s tobaccotactics.org website) and that executive officials of the four largest multinational tobacco companies sit on the ITIC board of directors, ITIC has made statements and published reports that advance tobacco industry interests, and at least two of such reports were financed by Philip Morris International.

You asserted that “ITIC does not work on any public health issues” hence, its work on tobacco taxation does not take into account the World Bank’s identification of tobacco tax increases as a cost-effective measure for tobacco control and a key intervention for health outcomes. It completely ignores the fact that tobacco taxation had been classified as a public health issue by Parties to the FCTC. Disregarding the public health dimension of taxation as documented in the FCTC and its guidelines is an affront to the collective wisdom of the 180 governments that adopted the guidelines based on international best practice.

On behalf of ITIC, you asserted that SEATCA “inaccurately criticized the work of ITIC and mischaracterized its role”. You referred to our critiques as “false statements” and “mischaracterizes ITIC’s work.”

The critiques of ITIC’s three reports are well-researched, detailed, and as accurate as possible. These were written in collaboration with much-respected professionals. On this note, we want to point out the sheer inaccuracy of your statement: “Of 180 Parties to the Convention only 16 are signatories to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.” Publicly available information shows that there are 54 signatories to the Protocol. And there is no mischaracterization of ITIC’s role because, as stated above, it represents the interests of the tobacco industry.

You alleged that “SEATCA is an opaque organization. There is no public document that displays your members, or your executive, or anything remotely suggesting good governance. There is no indication of your sources of income.”

Asserting that a civil society organization lacks transparency and accountability in the same breath as challenging the messages it sends is a distasteful way to silence civil society voices. We refuse to dignify this approach by providing you with organizational information but suffice it to say that you would have found all the information you needed if you looked in the right places.

You claimed that SEATCA “refused to operate in an open manner” and “operates under the false protection of Article 5.3 of the Convention, which, among other things, seeks to ’improve the transparency and accountability of policy-making in the tobacco control process’.”

SEATCA does not engage with the tobacco industry and its representatives. SEATCA’s decision is soundly based on the principle that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests, a guiding principle fully recognized by the 180 States Parties to the FCTC. This principle is the basis for the state’s obligation to protect tobacco control policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry (FCTC’s Article 5.3).

SEATCA is actually open to discussion with partners other than the tobacco industry and those representing its interests in accordance FCTC’s Article 5.3. Referring to it as “false protection,” shows disregard for the treaty and the Parties’ commitment thereto. You also mention Article 5.3 Guideline’s transparency provision but left out the essence of it, which is to require transparency from the tobacco industry and from those who interact with it when strictly necessary for regulation.

You stated that SEATCA “sees itself as an instrument of the World Health Organization and its Framework Convention Secretariat.”

This statement undermines the credibility of many international and regional non-governmental groups that work closely with inter-governmental organizations. SEATCA is a civil society network that works independently of the WHO and FCS. The fact that SEATCA was granted observer status by the FCTC Conference of Parties (COP), like many other organizations, does not make it an instrument thereof.

Such a statement is also laden with innuendo that there is the possibility for the FCS to be treating civil society organizations as “instruments.” This type of reference could damage the reputation of the FCS as it undermines the trust and partnership developed by the FCS with CSOs over time.

In addition, the criticism you made of the WHO/FCS having “excluded reputable authorities such as Interpol from its illicit trade work” is actually a direct challenge to the judgment made by a body comprising of about 180 governments (the COP); for it is the COP that decided to defer reviewing Interpol’s application as observer due to the organization’s receipt of tobacco funding.

Finally, you claim that ITIC’s repeated attempts to engage were in good faith. And yet, by your own admission, you stated that ITIC’s aim was “to provide opportunities (for SEATCA) to rectify (its) comments and mischaracterization.” Attempts to engage with the intention of making the other party rectify supposed errors show prejudice and are not a manifestation of good faith.

SEATCA will not tolerate any more offensive statements. It is simply unacceptable for organizations representing the multinational corporate sector to intimidate civil society organizations that support government implementation of a human rights and public health treaty that aims to prevent deaths from a deadly product.

Sincerely,

Ms.Bungon Ritthiphakdee
Executive Director

Address: Thakolsuk Place, Thod-dumri road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10200, Thailand. www.seatca.org

SEATCA Tobacco Packaging and Labelling Index

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