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Tobacco use kills over 1.3 million every year in Southeast Asia

Dili (Timor-Leste), Sep 7: Over 1.3 million people die of tobacco consumption in Southeast Asia every year, with the region consisting of 250 million smokers and nearly the same number of smokeless tobacco users, according to a senior official of World Health Organization Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for South-East Asia, said: “We know that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths.” She was speaking at the inauguration of the WHO’s South-East Asia regional committee meeting here where health ministers and officials of 11 countries are meeting to set health priorities and discuss the health agenda for the region. (Also Read: World Health Organisation calls for higher taxes on tobacco)

“Worldwide, tobacco use kills nearly six million people annually with over 600,000 deaths due to exposure to second hand smoke,” she said at the inauguration, attended by Timor-Leste Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo, who was earlier the country’s health minister. Timor-Leste became the first new state of the 21st century when it achieved sovereignty on May 20, 2002.WHO has reiterated several times the number of deaths occuring because of tobacco use in Southeast Asia and other regions. Singh said the region was one of the largest producers and users of tobacco products in the world. “Many types of smoking and smokeless tobacco products are used in the region, which poses difficulties to harmonise taxation and regulations for controlling tobacco use,” she added.

But, she said, she was encouraged by the fact that the member state in the region had intensified their tobacco control activities. When asked later at a press conference on steps taken by India on tobacco control as compared to its regional partners, she said, India had “expressed an intention” to increase the size of pictorial warning on one side of the tobacco pack from 40 percent to 80 percent of the packet.She, however, declined to comment whether India would go ahead with its earlier commitment on pictorial warning.

Singh said WHO would continue to give advisory to India on tobacco control. She said that the best thing about the regional meeting was that the countries got to know the best practices of other countries to adopt. Thailand, she said, had graphic pictorial warning on both sides of the pack covering 85 per cent of the area, while Sri Lanka had 85 percent and Nepal 83 percent.

The latter intended to go up to 90 percent of the packet, she said adding that more countries were in the process of adopting larger warnings. Many countries had established smoke-free public places and banned advertisement of tobacco products, Singh said.Indonesia, she said, was not a signatory to the WHO convention on tobacco control, but on its own it had required 40 percent coverage of the cigarette packet with pictorial warning about the dangerous effects of smoking cigarettes. Although India is signatory to the WHO convention on tobacco control. India was not represented at the ministerial level at the regional meeting. J.P. Nadda is the minister of health. The meeting is from September 7 to September 11 at the state capital of the country which lies between Indonesia and Australia and occupies a land area of 14,874 km.

SEATCA rejects tobacco research findings

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) has stamped “Failed” a new tobacco industry research funded by a giant cigarette firm on illicit trade in 14 Asian countries, including the Philippines.

Failed: A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013 (full text), see:
Last year, a giant tobacco firm funded a second research on illicit trade of tobacco products in Asia, called “Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator” which was carried out jointly by a Washington based group, International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) and a UK group, Oxford Economics (OE).

“It is no surprise that the findings of this research, like its predecessor (Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012), are pro-tobacco industry, SEATCA said.

The Asia-14 Report claimed that the 341.2% excise tax increase (2.72 to 12 pesos) in the Philippines last January 1, 2013 was the main driver of the alleged large volume increase in Illicit Consumption at 198% or 18.1% of Total Consumption.

An alleged 89.8% of Illicit Consumption and 16.3% of Total Consumption in 2013 was attributed to Domestic Illicit Consumption which was estimated to have grown to 11 billion cigarettes based on the Asia-14 Report.

However, like its predecessor (Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012), the research findings are biased to an international tobacco company, SEATCA said.

In conjunction with the recent World No Tobacco Day, SEATCA pointed out in their critique that the Asia-14 Report failed to highlight significantly higher tax revenues after the 2013 excise tax increase; for tobacco excise alone, the government collected P70.4 billion, higher by 113.7% compared to 2012. Excise revenue gains were therefore 454% higher than the Asia-14 Report’s estimated excise tax losses in 2013. In effect, SEATCA’s critique disproves allegations that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is losing revenues through illicit tobacco trade. BIR Commissioner Kim Henares earlier said the overwhelming growth in sin tax collection was an indication of the inconclusiveness of the Asia-14 report alleging the fast-rising illegal cigarette trade in the country.

According to the main reviewer of the research, Prof. Hana Ross, Principal Research Officer of the Economics of Tobacco Control Project at the University of Cape Town, “The Asia-14 report fails to provide scientifically sound and unbiased information to policy makers and other tobacco market stakeholders.

“The reason for this is simple. The figures and statistics it reports are products of either incorrect or unverified/unverifiable estimation methods applied to often questionable data from multiple sources that do not blend,” Ross said, adding “that the quality of the original data collection is questionable due to the lack of representativeness and possibly intended bias. Many secondary data come from sources with an obvious conflict of interest.”

“More seriously, the report is full of errors and mistakes, which is surprising given the ‘commercial’ quality of the results. For example, the report does not make any distinction between smoking incidence and smoking prevalence, even though these are two very different concepts. It also confuses ‘sales’ and ‘consumption,’ two fundamental concepts on which the calculations are based.” She emphasized that: “While illicit tobacco trade is a problem that requires government attention, it is often blown out of proportion and out of context by the tobacco industry in order to discourage governments from increasing tobacco taxes and implementing other regulatory measures.” Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA’s FCTC program director, said: “Governments should reject partnerships and non-binding agreements with the tobacco industry to solve illicit trade. Instead, governments should secure the supply chain in accordance with measures contained in the FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which was adopted in 2012 by the 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The new report claims to take advantage of newly available data and improved methodology and covers all 10 ASEAN member nations plus Australia, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Taiwan.

Here are the other major concerns of the failed report:

• Different sources and methods are used across countries, leading to results that are not comparable to one another, yet presented for comparison, without acknowledgement of their distinctions.

• As was pointed out in the SEATCA critique of the Asia-11 report, no rationale is given for including or excluding countries from coverage in this report. The report excludes many of the region’s largest cigarette-consuming countries, such as China, Japan, and South Korea while including Pakistan, geographically an outlier.

• Many methodological approaches are either weak or lack sufficient description that would allow to judge their merits.

• The quality of the original data collection is questionable due to the lack of representativeness and possibly intended bias.

• Many secondary data come from sources with an obvious conflict of interest. Beyond these weaknesses, the Asia-14 report in many cases fails to provide sufficient description of data used to generate the estimates. This lack of transparency makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the report to be fully analyzed or critiqued; it certainly prevents replication of the report’s estimates and other statistics. Even the authors’ self-described attempt to provide more detail in the Annexes of the report falls short of the level of disclosure provided in academic studies and does not permit thorough evaluation. (Jun Ramirez)

Japan and Korea stake out tough anti-counterfeiting positions in proposed trade deal

Trade representatives from 16 Asian countries are convening in Kyoto this week for an eighth round of negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. In the run-up to the meeting a series of leaks revealed the IP positions of four key parties to the deal (Japan, Korea, India and ASEAN), which indicate that the East Asian nations are hoping to codify tough measures against counterfeiting.

Back in April, this blog covered the leaked provisions of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which some observers feared could affect plain packaging laws in Australia and elsewhere by giving tobacco companies more leeway to sue governments over alleged appropriation of their brand assets. The RCEP is an alternative trade deal being negotiated exclusively by Asian countries. But while it is relatively unknown compared to the TPP, if passed the RCEP could have a greater impact on regional trademark enforcement efforts. That is because, unlike the TPP, it involves China, India and the whole of ASEAN (though four ASEAN states are also negotiating TPP). Taken together, these markets probably account for the lion’s share of the enforcement activities undertaken by global brands focused on the region. Therefore, any change in policy could have a notable impact.

The question on everyone’s mind is how similar or dissimilar the RCEP will be to the TPP. Four proposed IP chapters leaked by Knowledge Economy International (KEI) give insight into the negotiating positions of Japan, Korea, India and ASEAN (which is negotiating as a bloc), while a leak of the proposed IP chapter of the latter agreement revealed what is shaping up to be a strongly rights-holder friendly system. Given the Obama administration’s repeated refrain of “If we don’t write the trade rules, China will”, there has been some speculation about whether RCEP could emerge as a homegrown alternative to the TPP – potentially without all of the IP protections sought by Western corporations. But the leaks make clear that Japan and Korea are pushing for a TPP-style regime.

While many of the most contentious flashpoints are in the patent space, surrounding issues like compulsory licensing for pharmaceuticals, anti-counterfeiting is one area where there are marked differences in the proposals that have now been made public.

One area in which both Japan and Korea are seeking to enshrine strong anti-counterfeiting measures is in the realm of customs enforcement. Both propose that customs authorities be empowered to act ex officio to suspend the release of trademark infringing goods for import, export or transhipment. India’s proposal makes no specific mention of customs enforcement, while ASEAN’s includes a general call for cooperation on border measures. The leaked TPP draft makes clear that there are splits within ASEAN on the issue: Vietnam opposes the inclusion of ex officio powers for customs officials, while Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia support granting such authority only over goods imported into a country, not goods which are exported or in transit.

Another strict measure sought by both Korea and Japan relates to criminal prosecution in cases of wilful trademark infringement or counterfeiting on a commercial scale. Both countries’ proposals also detail standards to ensure that wronged parties are granted adequate damages and other remedies in civil and criminal litigation. Again, neither the ASEAN nor the Indian chapters cover this issue in detail. The TPP draft includes similar language but there is ample disagreement over the details; Vietnam, for example, supports criminal sanctions for commercial-scale import of counterfeit goods, but not export.

Beyond counterfeiting, there is discord over whether the agreement should require signatories to extend protection to non-traditional trademarks. India’s submission proposes that parties may require a mark be visually perceptible to be reigistrable. Korea, which allows sound and scent marks, wants such marks to be accepted throughout the region. It may be joined in this by Japan, which has introduced its own system of non-traditional marks in the time since its proposal was authored. The TPP draft in circulation looks set to extend protection of sound marks, while parties including Vietnam, Brunei and Japan oppose adding similar language about scents.

Another issue this blog has covered which is likely to be a hot topic in Kyoto is India’s strict FDI rules. Countries including Japan and Australia are likely to ask for the addition of an e-commerce chapter to the agreement pressuring India to open up that part of its economy, allowing foreign brands to sell goods online directly to Indian consumers.

Of course the usual caveats apply here: these positions are all at least nine months old and could be far from what ends up in the final agreement (especially because we haven’t yet heard from China). But it’s clear that Japan and Korea have an incentive (due to the former’s role in the TPP and the latter’s FTA with the US) to lobby for robust trademark protection policies. Rather than rival alternatives, it looks likely that the two agreements could be mutually reinforcing. With the TPP near completion and the RCEP aiming to wrap up negotiations by the end of this year, we should soon have more than just speculation to go on. And then we’ll know who gets the first crack at “writing the rules” for intellectual property in Asia.

Failed: Tobacco Industry Funded Research on Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products in Asia

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A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013

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‘Tobacco lobbying in India undermining public health’

Three medical experts have cautioned that there was ‘troubling evidence’ of the tobacco industry influencing governments in India and other countries in Asia, which is underming public health.

In a paper in the latest issue of the ‘British Medical Journal’, British experts Nicholas S Hopkinson Martin McKee, and K Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India say that some governments in Asia were complicit in protecting the interests of the tobacco industry.

The paper titled ‘Tobacco industry lobbying undermines public health in Asia’ identifies India, Pakistan and Laos where the tobacco industry was reportedly targeting control policies.

It says: “The implementation of tobacco control measures is a political choice. Although tobacco control will improve the wellbeing of the populations that governments serve, the industry spares no attempt to deter, dilute, or delay effective measures for tobacco control, be it taxation or prominent pictorial health warnings”.

“There is troubling evidence that the tobacco industry is exerting undue influence in several Asian countries, in some cases with the complicity of governments, to thwart public health measures”.

The paper recalled that in October 2014 the Indian government had announced plans to mandate the use of pictorial health warnings covering 85% of tobacco product packaging, which was to come into effect from 1 April 2015.

“However, a committee of parliamentarians that had consulted tobacco industry lobbyists successfully recommended that these plans be suspended. Although tobacco is estimated to account for 40% of all cancers in Indian men, the committee chair, Dilip Gandhi, made the extraordinary assertion that no study in India had established that tobacco causes cancer”, the paper says.

It also noted that senior Indian tax officials were reportedly listed as participants in the 12th annual Asia Pacific tax forum, to be held in Delhi, sponsored by four of the global tobacco corporations.

“Understandably, these contacts have faced vigorous opposition from the Indian public health community”, the paper says.

US-Asia trade deal in tatters after senators target Chinese currency manipulation

US President Barack Obama’s ambitions to pass sweeping new free trade agreements with Asia and Europe are in tatters after Senate Democrats rebelled, having been rebuffed on their demands to curtail Chinese currency manipulation.

A vote to push through a bill on the trade deals failed on Tuesday as 45 senators voted against it, to 52 in favour. Obama needed 60 out of the 100 votes for it to pass.

Failure to secure so-called “fast track” negotiating authority from Congress represents a huge blow to the president’s top legislative priority.

White House officials dismissed the Senate vote against fast-track as a “procedural snafu” but without this crucial agreement from lawmakers to give the administration negotiating freedom, it is seen as highly unlikely that international diplomats can complete either of the two giant trade deals currently in negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The Senate fast-track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA, was facing even tougher opposition in the US House of Representatives.

Opponents have been emboldened by the growing influence of liberal senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and were joined by all but one Senate Democrat in voting against moving forward with TPA.

Even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race and historically a supporter of free trade, has been cautious amid growing concern over the effect of globalisation on middle-class jobs, warning against “trade for trades sake”.

But the failure to persuade even the half-dozen Democrats needed to join Republicans in the Senate is a shock reversal from earlier consensus in the finance committee, which had included an agreement to soften the impact on US jobs with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

Oregon senator Ron Wyden, who had led Democrat efforts to find a compromise with Republicans on the committee, said he had withdrawn his support because they refused to guarantee passage of another additional bill to prevent currency manipulation by China.

White House trade negotiators fear that provisions in this bill would prove impossible to introduce into trade talks at this late stage and Republicans have dismissed the issue as a wrecking tactic by Democrats.

Utah senator Orrin Hatch, the Republican sponsor of the TPA bill, accused Wyden and other Democrats of betrayal in a speech on the Senate floor.

“I am shocked that after all we have done, the bipartisan vote in committee and the importance of TPA and TAA to the president that, we now have damaging procedural mechanics that can make this impossible,” he said. “It is hard for me to believe. We had an agreement and I am concerned about that agreement being broken.”

Hatch later told reporters the issue must be resolved quickly but was uncertain of the pathway forward. The congressional drama over the TPA, he added, “creates a whole new monster set of arguments and debates that we don’t need” in negotiations over the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But Democratic critics heralded the vote as a breakthrough moment.

“We need to fundamentally renegotiate American trade agreements so that our largest export doesn’t become decent paying American jobs,” said Sanders.

Business leaders expressed disappointment in the vote. The Business Roundtable, Washington’s top business lobby group, had urged the Senate to pass TPA “without delay” arguing the trade pact would support US jobs and spur economic growth.

Last week Obama chose Nike’s headquarters to call for Congress to support the deal. Nike chief executive Mark Parker has claimed the deal would allow it to create 10,000 new jobs in the US.

Source URL (modified on May 13th 2015, 8:21am):

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