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UN agency shelves vote on ties with Big Tobacco

The governing body of the International Labor Organization, which has taken millions of dollars in funding from Big Tobacco, has shelved a decision about whether to cut ties with the industry.

http://cumberlink.com/business/un-agency-shelves-vote-on-ties-with-big-tobacco/article_e5b47bd9-0f4a-5c55-8bff-c1043cb174c9.html

The ILO body voted Wednesday to delay until November a decision about whether to join other U.N. agencies that have pledged to fight tobacco-industry influence in policymaking.

The Geneva-based body is trying to calibrate its mandate to help ensure proper working conditions, particularly in an industry linked to child labor, amid a broader U.N. fight against the harmful health effects of tobacco use.

ILO has received over $15 million through two partnerships that aim to fight child labor in the industry with Japan Tobacco International and nonprofit group linked to some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies.

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Tripling tobacco taxes: Key for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) a decade ago, over 180 countries have signed the treaty. Progress has been made in expanding the coverage of effective interventions–more than half of the world’s countries, with 40% of the world’s population have implemented at least one tobacco control measure, and despite increasing global population, smoking prevalence has decreased slightly worldwide from 23% of adults in 2007 to 21% of adults in 2013. How can greater reductions in smoking be achieved in the next decade and contribute to reaching the health and social targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030? We review some key issues in the epidemiology and economics of global tobacco control.
Smokers face a three-fold higher risk of death versus otherwise similar non-smokers, resulting in a loss of at least one decade of life. While the hazards of smoking accumulate slowly, cessation is effective quickly. People who quit by age 40 get back nearly the full decade of life lost from continued smoking; quit by 50, get back six years; quit by 60, get back four years. Cessation is now common among adults in high-income countries. For example in Canada there are over 1 million more ex-smokers than just a decade ago. However, due in large part to the marketing and pricing strategies of the tobacco industry, cessation remains a major public health challenge in most low and middle-income countries (LMIC) where 85% of smokers live.

http://blogs.worldbank.org/health/role-excise-tax-meeting-sdg

Global annual cigarette sales rose from five trillion cigarettes in 1990 to about six trillion today. Cigarette production has increased by 30% in China since 2000, which consumes 40% of the world’s cigarettes. Global tobacco industry profits of about $50 billion – or $10,000 per tobacco death – enable it to access finance officials, fund pricing research, and run interference against tobacco control–summarised wonderfully by comedian John Oliver. Serious control of tobacco must counter these strategies on the basis of robust health, social and economic data that document the negative societal impact of tobacco use.

WHO has recommended a 30% reduction in smoking prevalence by 2025, which would avoid at least 200 million deaths by the end of the 21st century among current and future smokers. The only plausible way to reduce smoking to this extent would be to triple tobacco excise taxes in most LMICs. A tripling of the excise tax would roughly double the retail price and reduce tobacco consumption by about 40%. As of 2015, WHO reported that only 28 LMICs had comprehensive policies covering counter advertising, restrictions on public smoking, and on appropriately high taxes, and that few had made progress on raising taxes.

The common strategy of tobacco producers is to lobby governments to keep cigarettes affordable by keeping tax hikes below the rate of income growth, and by taxing different cigarettes at different rates to enable smokers to change to cheaper brands or lengths. Smart taxation needs to simplify taxes by adopting, ideally, a high, uniform excise tax on all types of cigarettes (both filter and nonfilter) to reduce downward substitution (let’s not forget, all cigarettes will kill you!). The Government of India has recently made modest tax reforms in this direction, the 2015 tobacco tax adjustment in China is reducing consumption and increasing fiscal revenue, and in 2016 World Bank teams supported the work of government teams in Armenia, Colombia, Moldova and Ukraine for the undertaking of comprehensive tax reforms that were approved by Parliaments, including reforms on tobacco tax structures and rate levels—additional work is being supported in other countries worldwide. Smart taxes can follow the example of Canada’s tax hike of about 5 cents a pack in 2014, as well as the Sin Tax Reform (both tobacco and alcohol) in the Philippines of 2012 that helped mobilize domestic resources to fund the expansion of universal health coverage. There have been other successes: Botswana, Ecuador, Mauritius, Mexico, and Uruguay, where local political champions, paired with expert taxation advice, achieved large tax hikes. South Africa also raised taxes in the last decade and has curbed consumption per adult by half.

Non-price interventions also play an important role as they help to reduce the social acceptability of tobacco use. Young American women took up smoking in large proportions in the 1960s and 1970s due in part to aggressive advertising (“The “Virginia Slims” epidemic”). Advertising bans or restrictions are likely one reason why young Chinese or Indian women have not yet done so. Australia has adopted plain packaging, and other countries are starting to follow this example. Simple questions on past smoking status to death certificates or to verbal autopsies could enable low-cost monitoring of the consequences of tobacco use in many populations.

Governments and international agencies with accumulated know how and expertise in data sciences such as the World Bank Group and OECD along with WHO could also help countries create accessible and independent sales, revenue and smuggling data sources as a basis for rational tobacco tax policy. Country finance officials should refuse advice from tobacco lobbyists to avoid falling into conflict of interest situations, as WHO recommends for health officials.

Implementing the FCTC more effectively in the next decade is required to raise cessation rates in LMICs. The World Bank recommended taxation as the core strategy in its 1999 publication, Curbing the Epidemic: Goverments and the Economics of Tobacco Control. Similar recommendations follow in recent reports on tobacco taxation by WHO, and by the International Monetary Fund. Building upon accumulated evidence and country experiences, a tripling of the worldwide excise tax might be the only way to achieve the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal of reducing non-communicable disease deaths by 30%!

Why delegates are barred from UN anti-tobacco meeting

http://thenationonlineng.net/delegates-barred-un-anti-tobacco-meeting/

Delegates representing dozens of countries may be barred from participating by the United Nations (UN), as the world’s global health establishment will gather in New Delhi to consider new tobacco taxes and regulations that will impact nearly every country in the world.

The five-day meeting, which functions as an international parliament that makes decisions about tobacco control efforts, is billed for India from November 7-12 and could feature delegates from over 180 nations. The UN’s public health arm, the World Health Organisation, holds a tobacco control conference every two years through a sub-agency called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

To avert a compromised outcome, the FCTC hopes to ban certain “appointed and elected officials from executive, legislative and judicial branches” from the meeting.

In a document obtained from the FCTC, the organisers ask for support to “ensure the exclusion of representatives and officials from…fully or partially state-owned tobacco industries, including state tobacco monopolies.”

In the bid to assert independence, uphold public interest and equity, careful efforts will be made to exclude delegates with associations with tobacco production. it will almost certainly prohibit finance ministers, economic development secretaries, public health officials, and even presidents and prime ministers representing countries that operate state-owned tobacco growing or manufacturing operations, or engage in marketing and trade efforts.

Available statistics at the FTCT show that governments are responsible for over 40% of the world’s tobacco production, while many nations maintain tobacco research centres and fund promotional agencies to support tobacco exports.

Consequently, countries including China, Cuba, Egypt, Bulgaria, Thailand and the convention’s host country, India, may have a hard time having delegates approved to attend the event and vote on issues that impact their citizens.

The FCTC justifies this possible exclusion of countries who pay dues toward the event because representatives from tobacco-producing countries “may have prevented public health interests from prevailing in the policy discussions” at previous conferences, according to the document obtained from FCTC.

Blackballing participants and observers from its conference is nothing new for the FCTC. The FCTC has a long-standing mandate to prevent tobacco industry workers, including farmers, from attending. In fact, all possible negative influence of outcomes of the meeting against public interest, including the media,have a history of being thrown out of the conference.

Advocates gets tobacco industry rep. removed as speaker at UN meeting

http://www.fctc.org/fca-news/opinion-pieces/1428-advocates-gets-tobacco-industry-rep-removed-as-speaker-at-un-meeting

Quick action by tobacco control advocates resulted in a representative from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) being dropped as a speaker at a meeting on investment policy hosted by the United Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Mr Ulle Geir, JTI director of international trade, was to speak at UNCTAD’s biennial investment forum in Kenya on 19 July. However, as advocates pointed out in email messages to UNCTAD days before the meeting, it is highly inappropriate for the tobacco industry to speak at events focused on policy-making, for various reasons.

As explained in a letter to UNCTAD signed by two dozen FCA members, tobacco use is a barrier to development, costing millions of lives and billions of dollars a year.

Strengthening implementation of the FCTC is one of the ‘means of implementation targets’ (target 3a) included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted in September 2015.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly recognised “the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health”. This was a clear reference, by world leaders, to FCTC rules on protecting policy-making from tobacco industry interference.

‘Fundamental, irreconcilable conflict’

Article 5.3 of the FCTC, requires governments to protect “public health policies with respect to tobacco control” from the “commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”. Principle 1 of Article 5.3 guidelines, unanimously adopted in 2008, states: “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.”

The UN Task Force on NCDs, of which UNCTAD is a member, is currently developing a model policy for United Nations organisations on preventing tobacco industry interference. The policy is expected to contain measures based on FCTC Article 5.3 and its guidelines.

In its letter, FCA called on UNCTAD, as well as other UN agencies and bodies, to help develop that policy, and to adopt it without delay. It also sought confirmation that, until such a policy is adopted, UNCTAD will quickly put in place, structures and procedures to prevent any tobacco industry employee or representative from acting as a speaker or participant at any event organized by UNCTAD.

Pressure grows for Commission President Juncker to end tobacco lobbying secrecy

Splits occur within European Commission, as European Parliament, Ombudsman and NGOs increase the pressure for implementing UN rules for contacts with tobacco industry lobbyists.

http://www.corporateeurope.org/power-lobbies/2016/04/pressure-grows-commission-president-juncker-end-tobacco-lobbying-secrecy

In February, European Commission President Juncker took many by surprise by flatly rejecting a European Ombudsman’s ruling recommending full transparency around tobacco industry lobbying. The previous autumn (after an investigation sparked by a complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory), Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly had slammed the Commission’s failure to comply with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as ‘maladministration’. The ruling urged the Commission to publish details of all meetings with tobacco lobbyists online. Four months later Juncker responded by claiming that the Commission “complies in full” with the UN rules, repeating the unconvincing argument that its general rules in the field of transparency and ethics are sufficient.

In her speech “Combating tobacco industry tactics: State of play and a way forward” in the European Parliament a few weeks later, O’Reilly expressed strong regret “that the Commission declined to accept my recommendation to extend proactive tobacco lobbying transparency across all DGs and across all levels of the service.” “And, given the stated commitment of the EU to the Convention”, the Ombudsman added, “I confess to being puzzled as to why that is.” In the conclusions of her speech, O’Reilly offered at least a partial explanation, stating that “the sophistication of the tobacco industry’s global lobbying efforts is still seriously underestimated”.

The Ombudsman, fortunately, has far from given up. Within a few weeks, she will publish a final ruling on the case. O’Reilly is also organising an official hearing in the European Parliament on “Improving transparency in tobacco lobbying”. Among the speakers will be Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health. Andriukaitis has recently voiced strong disagreement with Juncker’s rejection of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Last month, Andriukaitis revealed at a conference in the European Parliament that Juncker’s response to the Ombudsman had not been discussed in the College for Commissioners. He reported that it was drafted by the Commission’s Legal Services, signed by Juncker and sent to the Ombudsman without consulting other commissioners.

In a resolution approved in a plenary vote last month, the European Parliament added to the pressure on the Commission, stating its concerns about the Ombudsman’s finding that the Commission was “not fully implementing UN WHO rules and guidelines governing transparency and tobacco lobbying”, adding that the Parliament “is of the opinion […] that the Commission’s credibility and seriousness have been endangered”. The Parliament’s resolution “urges all the relevant EU institutions to implement Article 5(3) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in accordance with the recommendations contained in the guidelines thereto”.

In his response to the Ombudsman, Juncker argued that tobacco lobbying transparency is not needed because the number of meetings between top officials and tobacco lobbyists has decreased since decision-making on the Tobacco Products Directive came to an end in 2014. This is a clear example of the European Commission seriously underestimating the lobbying efforts of the tobacco industry. Tobacco lobbyists are now targeting other issues, such as EU trade policy (TTIP and other trade negotiations), the renewal of the controversial agreements with four tobacco giants on combating illicit trade in tobacco, and the battle around the choice of technology for high-tech digital watermarks in tobacco packaging to prevent counterfeiting. New documents uncovered by CEO – see box below – show the tobacco industry is also making full use of the Commission’s flagship “Better Regulation” initiative in attempts to weaken tobacco control measures such as health warnings on cigarette packs. This has included attempts to bypass the health commissioner by lobbying the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans, who is responsible for ’Better Regulation’.

The European Parliament, the health commissioner and public health NGOs are calling on the Commission to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations. So what is Juncker waiting for?

Tobacco industry lobbyists using the Commission’s “Better Regulation” agenda

After attending a BusinessEurope meeting with the Commission on the Commission’s “Better Regulation” package, Japan International Tobacco (JTI) requested a meeting with the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans to “discuss a number of specific areas”. When the meeting happened (November 25 2015), the JTI lobbyists only raised “a very specific issue” concerning “the placing of health warning on cigarette packs with bevelled sides”. JTI attempted to use the “Better Regulation” agenda in its lobbying on this issue and went to Timmermans’ cabinet to bypass the Commission’s health department. The cabinet member promised to contact the cabinet of the health commissioner “to hear their side of the story”, but the notes of the meeting also stress that “no further commitments were undertaken”. This meeting was disclosed because it involved a top Commission official, but how many more meetings like this are happening at lower levels?

Promotion of tobacco control goals

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