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October 12th, 2011:

Australia may delay controversial anti-tobacco plan

CANBERRA | Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:27am BST

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s government may have to delay plans for the world’s toughest anti-tobacco laws after conservative opposition lawmakers on Wednesday postponed a final vote on the controversial legislation in parliament.

The new laws, which will force cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from 2012, are being closely watched by New Zealand, Canada, the European Union and Britain, which are considering similar restrictions.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the conservatives, who managed to postpone an upper house Senate vote on the bills during a rancorous day in parliament for the minority Labour government, were playing into the hands of big tobacco firms.

“Given the delays in passing the bill caused by the opposition, the government now has no choice but to reconsider the impact on implementation timeframes,” Roxon said.

Australia says the new laws reflect its obligations under the World Health Organization’s 2005 framework against tobacco, which urges states to consider plain packaging laws. The WHO estimates more than 1 billion around the world are regular smokers, with 80 percent in low and middle income countries.

The laws have angered tobacco producers who have threatened a High Court challenge, while the governments of Nicaragua and Ukraine said the new measures breached international trade rules and would be challenged in the World Trade Organisation.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is hoping the laws will come into effect on January 1 next year, although the main provisions forcing all cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging only come into operation on July 1, 2012.

The delay in the Senate means the laws will not be voted on before November, forcing the government to reconsider now whether it can meet its deadlines.

Australia’s Cancer Council said the Senate should end the political delays and get on with passing the legislation, with authorities estimating smoking now kills 15,000 Australians each year and costs the health system $32 billion (20 billion pound).

“We know the tobacco industry is vehemently opposed to plain packaging, which is just another indication that plain packaging has great potential to reduce tobacco,” council chief executive Ian Olver said.

Analysts say tobacco companies like Britain’s Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris are worried that plain packaging could spread to emerging markets like Brazil, Russia and Indonesia, and threaten growth there.

Australia’s tobacco market generated total revenues of around $10 billion in 2009, up from A$8.3 billion in 2008, although smoking generally has been in decline. Around 22 billion cigarettes are sold in the country each year.

British American Tobacco, whose brands include Winfield, Dunhill and Benson & Hedges, has said the government’s plans would infringe international trademark and intellectual property laws, promising a court challenge to the laws.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

WHO chief faces fight on reforms

Hong Kong standard – 12 Oct. 2011

Tough-talking World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun may be facing the toughest battle of her leadership as she launches a bid for unprecedented funding and management reform at the UN body.

The WHO director-general has begun governance reforms in the Geneva headquarters and has been traveling the world trying to convince the group’s regional and country offices they should change the way they do business amid global financial austerity.

On the second day of the WHO regional meeting in Manila, Chan emphasized to the 194 member states the need for reform.

“We have to rethink given this financial austerity,” she said yesterday.

The WHO budget would have to be cut by 30 percent, and the cost-savings would include even a cutback on money spent on telephone calls.

She said the WHO should not hastily plan programs before funding has been received, “otherwise we will go bankrupt.”

In an interview with The Standard, Chan emphasized her determination to fight the tobacco companies.

She said big companies will go as far as character assassination to derail global efforts to combat smoking.

“Dr Judith Mackay [Hong Kong’s pre-eminent anti-tobacco activist] was named and [the tobacco lobbyists] gave her a hard time, saying this and that.”

Chan said it is unethical for scientists to be paid by the tobacco industry to do research to counter studies about the harmful effects of tobacco.

The former Hong Kong director of health, has announced she will seek re-election for a second five-year term, when her first term ends next year.

Chan, 64, who ran as a representative of China for the leadership of the UN health body, said the mainland has one third of the world’s smokers, and that every time she visits China, she takes up the tobacco issue with the nation’s top leaders.

” I always talk to them. I talked to Premier Wen [Jiabao] before they organized the Beijing Olympics and I also talked to the leaders in Shanghai when they were organizing the World Expo,” she said.

Both were declared smoke-free.

Chan said her focus on noncommunicable disease in recent weeks does not mean communicable diseases will be relegated to second place.

WHO chief says tobacco lobby is at work in city

South China Morning Post – 12 Oct. 2011

Margaret Chan warns that progress to cut smoking rates is under threat from industry

Tobacco industry lobbyists are working “on the ground” in Hong Kong’s political arena to combat efforts that have cut the smoking rate to a 30-year low, the head of the World Health Organisation says.

Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said the city had done “extremely well” in its battle against tobacco – reducing the number of people who smoke daily to just 11.1 per cent of those aged over 15 – but it faced an uphill battle against challenges from the tobacco industry.

Chan (pictured), a former Hong Kong director of health, said she had been told that tobacco lobbyists would do “all sorts of things” to fight the government’s initiatives.

“People supported by the tobacco industry are working on the ground in Hong Kong to give trouble to people who are anti-tobacco,” she said.

“They will lobby politicians not to approve laws and they will do all sorts of things … character assassination,” she said.

Chan’s warning came four months after a divided Legislative Council ratified a 41.5 per cent rise in tobacco tax, adding HK$10 to the cost of a packet of cigarettes. The endorsement came only after a fierce political debate, in which traditional government allies either abstained or voted against the increase.

Opposition to the policy also dealt a blow to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who proposed it in the budget in February.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 62nd session of the WHO’s regional committee of the Western Pacific region, Chan (pictured) said that although there would be resistance to tobacco control measures, governments including Hong Kong’s should “put out all the facts” and not succumb to political pressure. “We are not in a popularity contest,” she said.

In 1997, Chan, then director of health, saw her popularity plunge after she ordered that all 1.5 million chickens in Hong Kong be killed during a bird flu outbreak, although she tried to allay public concern by saying she ate chicken every day.

On the mainland, home to a third of the world’s smokers, Chan said progress was being made on tobacco control but “it’s not easy”.

“Every time I go to China, this is an issue I always talk about with them. I talked to Premier Wen [Jiabao] before they organised the Olympic Games and I also talked to the leaders of Shanghai when they organised the [World] Expo,” she said.

A national smoking ban was introduced in public places this year, six years after Beijing ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Chan, whose first term as WHO director general expires next June, is seeking a second term.

Norway’s left-center proposed a string of measures, including an outdoor smoking ban, to tighten existing laws, reports Dagsavisen.

Current laws have banned or highly restricted smoking indoors for years, but now the government also wants to ban smoking outdoors, for example at the entrances to public buildings and in the outdoor areas of bars, restaurants and cafés. Many were set up to accommodate smokers who no longer were able to smoke inside.

Other proposals include bans on all smoking, indoors or outdoors, at public institutions, schools and day care centers.

The government also seeks a ban on toy cigarettes and sale of cigarettes with just 10 in a pack.

The government’s new proposals will be up for hearings this autumn. (pi)