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March 9th, 2015:

Framework of engagement with non-State actors

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March against ‘dirty deal’ done in secrecy

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was labelled a ”dirty deal” and an attack on democracy as 1500 protesters rallied in the Octagon to voice their displeasure on Saturday. The protest, part of a national day of action across 23 centres, drew MPs, city councillors and health professionals to join forces in Dunedin to oppose the agreement. Not even the threat of rain deterred the large crowd from marching along George St, carrying placards and shouting slogans such as: ”TPPA, no way!” and ”TPPA, taking people’s power away”.

Like other critics of the proposed trade agreement – planned for 12 countries including New Zealand the United States, Japan, Singapore and Australia – the protesters slammed the deal as an attack on democracy and a ”corporate power grab”. They were also concerned negotiations had been shrouded in secrecy. Once the crowd arrived in the Octagon the protesters listened to speeches, poetry and music. Dunedin based Green Party co leader Metiria Turei said the TPPA was a ”dirty deal” and an attack on New Zealand’s environment and ”fundamental democratic rights to determine for ourselves what happens in our own country”. ”This land belongs to us. It doesn’t belong to John Key or Steven Joyce,” she said.

The Green Party had challenged the Government to release the cost benefit analysis of the trade agreement. Public Health Association member Dr Alex Macmillan said the TPPA would take away access to affordable medicines through Pharmac. ”Pharmac fights for fair and affordable medicine for everyone and big pharmaceutical companies do not like that.” It would also take away New Zealand’s right to limit the power and harm of ”big tobacco and big alcohol” and limit the country’s ability to fight climate change. Dunedin City Councillor Jinty MacTavish was concerned it would limit the power of local government when it came to procurement. Many commentators believed the TPPA would restrict the ability for both local and central Government to take into account non financial measures when procuring goods and services. ”So, if we want to improve environmental standards through our procurement or we want to favour local [businesses], that may be more difficult, or it may not be possible if the TPPA is implemented.” The Dunedin march came as protesters gathered in up to 23 centres, including all of New Zealand’s largest cities. Supporters of the TPPA, including New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the deal would deepen economic ties and open up trade, boost investment flows, and promote closer economic and regulatory co operation.

UK charity backs tobacco packaging law

CLAIMS that the tobacco industry will be able to sue the British government if it passes a law on Australian-style plain packaging are “ludicrous and unjustified”, an anti-smoking charity says.

ACTION on Smoking and Health says the legislation, which will be debated by MPs on Monday, is entirely compatible with European law and compensation would therefore not be due.

Finland and France have also indicated they will follow the lead set by Australia, which introduced plain packaging in 2012.

Professor Alberto Alemanno, an expert in EU law, said there was such strong evidence to support the new law that any challenge from the tobacco industry would be unlikely to succeed.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, under current EU law, the UK Government is entitled to regulate the packaging of tobacco products well beyond what the EU prescribes,” Prof Alemanno, of HEC Paris, said.

“The UK Government therefore enjoys considerable freedom of action in regulating the presentation of tobacco products, particularly given the overwhelming evidence of the harm that tobacco consumption causes.”

He said the proposals are also admissible under EU law relating to both trademarks and the issue of fundamental rights, which do not prevent member states from introducing legislation to protect public health.

“The legal opinion we are publishing today blows out of the water the ludicrous and unjustified claims by the tobacco industry that it would be due billions of pounds in compensation if the UK proceeds with standardised packaging,” Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said.

Earlier this week, Ireland became the first country in Europe to ban branded cigarette packets, but is already facing a legal challenge over claims it infringes trademarks and the free movement of goods across the EU.

Health minister puts friends of ‘Big Tobacco’ on notice

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson has served notice that Jamaica will be moving soon to implement Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which will see the interaction of public officials with members of the tobacco industry coming under the microscope.

“The (tobacco) industry’s interests and public health interests are just irreconcilable, and there are public officials, including politicians, who find it easy to be associated with the industry. By so doing, it sometimes creates conflicts,” Ferguson told The Gleaner.

“You know the tobacco industry, they have been engaged in doing things in constituencies. At the same time, we have legislation that will come to Parliament, and we are not saying or accusing anyone but … the same will go for our public officials. If you are in critical areas – finance, customs, etc, association would be very sensitive, and so what we want is … not any condemnation of anyone, but to get officials to be aware,” he advised.

Ferguson, who last week delivered the keynote address during an FCTC joint needs assessment stakeholders meeting at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew, said Jamaica was well aware of the influence wielded by ‘Big Tobacco’ and remained committed to resisting possible manipulation.

“We have a formidable opponent in the form of the tobacco industry. Its power and influence are wider reaching and its approach very subtle. As minister of health, I remain undaunted by the challenges that we continue to face and recommit myself yet again to advancing the FCTC agenda,” he told the meeting.

Ferguson called for the private and public sectors to unite with civil society to, among other things, raise public awareness about the dangers of tobacco products as well as the influence of this very rich and powerful global industry.

“There are persons who genuinely are not aware of that article and this is why our public education thrust going forward will definitely have a focus on Article 5.3 and Article 13, which speaks to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and Article 15, which speak to the illicit trade the (tobacco) industry oftentimes speaks about.”

Article 5.3 is very specific, with health experts across the world agreeing that: “The tobacco industry has operated for years with the expressed intention of subverting the role of governments and of the WHO in implementing health policies to combat the tobacco industry.”

The measures recommended in these guidelines are aimed at protecting against interference not only by the tobacco industry but also by organisations and individuals that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry.

The Gleaner, last Thursday, sought a response from local cigarette manufacturer Carreras on the impact, if any, it expected from the implementation of Article 5.3. Carreras, however, had, up to last night, not yet responded.

Meanwhile, the Pan American Health Organization has commended Jamaica for its concerted and ongoing tobacco control efforts.

“There are still many things that have to be done here, but in this moment I see a really good window of advancing in the implementation of the FCTC. Because you have political commitment, and this is one of the most important things that you need because the majority of the measures of the FCTC don’t need big investment. They need the big investment of the political will … the people who are serious enough to go against economic powers or other powers in play, to say ‘I dare to defend public health’,” Dr Adriana Blanco, regional adviser, tobacco control for PAHO, told The Gleaner.

Still, Blanco, who addressed the meeting on the progress, challenges and opportunities in regional implementation of the FCTC, expressed confidence in Jamaica’s commitment and ability to achieving, among other things, the eradication of the influence of ‘Big Tobacco’ by way of advertising, sponsorship or promotion of any of its product.

“I think that you have that a lot here (Jamaica). You have a team of people working on this that is very capable and very knowledgeable. So there is the conjunction of things that I think is putting Jamaica in a very good position to advance, and then advancing will lead the sub-region of the Caribbean that, unfortunately, has been behind in the implementation of FTCC,” Blanco told The Gleaner.

She warned Jamaicans to be alert to the inducements from the tobacco industry, especially the argument that they contribute to the economy by way of employment and tax payments, as a non-argument.

“I have no problem with them. They are doing their job. That is, making money for their stakeholders. But we are in public health and, really, there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest with our goals. If they sell cigarettes, people die …,” the senior PAHO executive argued.

Tobacco kills more than half of its users, estimated at more than five million each year, with more than 80 per cent of the world’s one billion smokers living in low and middle-income countries, like those in the Caribbean, where the burden of tobacco-related illnesses and deaths are the heaviest.

In 2010, the Big Three tobacco corporations – Phillip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco – had combined revenues of more than US$200 billion, an amount greater than the combined gross domestic production of Jordan, Panama, Kenya, Cambodia, Mozambique, Bolivia, Liechtenstein, Estonia, CotÍ d’Ivoire, and Togo.

Article 5.3 addresses the need for governments to take decisive action to prevent these companies from using their financial clout to subvert their public-health programmes, especially by way of influencing public and other high-ranking officials in key industries.

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