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May 5th, 2015:

Govt finance execs urged to boycott Asian tax forum with tobacco industry sponsors

BANGKOK – Government finance and tax experts from the region are attending the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum that opens in New Delhi today, amid concern that the forum’s main organizer received sponsorships from Big Tobacco.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) issued a word of caution to governments in the ASEAN region, particularly departments of Finance and Customs attending the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum.

The May 5-7 meeting drew flak after the organizers, the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) received sponsorships from, among others, big tobacco companies (Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Group). Moreover, SEATCA noted, tobacco executives from these companies sit on ITIC’s Board of Directors. This, it added, poses a problem to participants from countries that are Parties to the tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The FCTC in Article 5.3 warns governments to protect their public policies from any vested interest of the tobacco industry. To be compliant with FCTC Article 5.3, the Indian Minister of Finance, whom ITIC listed as the Chief Guest of the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, is not attending the event. His name has been removed from the event website and the program agenda.

The World Bank has also announced withdrawal of its participation and financial support for the event.

The World Bank’s decision affirms the concerns around ITIC’s intentions and sets a positive precedent, said SEATCA. It also strengthens the ongoing global efforts to require greater transparency and distancing by international and intergovernmental agencies from tobacco interests.

According to information in the ITIC website, it has confirmed participation from six ASEAN countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

All countries in the ASEAN region, with the exception of Indonesia, are parties to the WHO FCTC and obligated to enforce the treaty.

Philippines government officials are bound by the DOH-CSC Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 that prohibits civil servants, including all legislative staff, from interacting with the tobacco industry except to the extent necessary for its effective regulation, supervision, or control, said SEATCA.

In 2012 the ITIC, through its president, Daniel Witt, had been aligned with the tobacco industry in opposing the sin tax reform bills that were being supported by the DOF and DOH. The Philippines nonetheless enacted these bills and has successfully implemented the sin tax reform.

ITIC a ‘pro-tobacco’ entity

“While the ITIC claims to be an independent, non-profit organization, it is in fact a pro-tobacco entity that does the bidding for the tobacco industry,” pointed out Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, FCTC Programme Director of SEATCA. “Countries are better off not attending this event and making themselves vulnerable and running foul of the FCTC.”

The Tax Forum will discuss Goods and Services Tax (GST). GST came into force in Malaysia just last April 1, 2015. About two weeks after the GST went into effect, BAT Malaysia declared they were reverting to pre-GST prices for their main cigarette brands.

BAT controls 60 percent of the cigarette market in Malaysia. This means a reduction in cigarette prices and more affordable cigarettes for Malaysians. This move undermines the efforts of the Malaysian Ministry of Health to discourage smoking and raise taxes as a tobacco control measure in compliance with the FCTC.

The ITIC has discouraged the Malaysian government from increasing excise tax on tobacco claiming big tax increases will fuel smuggling, said SEATCA.

The ITIC, meanwhile has released a study on tobacco smuggling in Asia – a study described by SEATCA as containing more myths than facts, because its findings echo tobacco industry positions on tobacco tax. For SEATCA’s critique of the report, CLICK HERE.

8-9 Lakh Deaths Can be Attributed to Tobacco Use: Health Minister JP Nadda

New Delhi: Nearly 8-9 lakh people die every year due to diseases related to tobacco use, the government today said while assuring the Rajya Sabha that a number of multipronged initiatives to reduce its consumption in the country have been undertaken.

“As per the report of Tobacco Control in India (2004), each year 8-9 lakh deaths in India can be attributed to tobacco use,” Health Minister JP Nadda said in a reply.

He said that as per the findings of the study “Economic Burden of Tobacco related Diseases in India” (2014), commissioned by the Health Ministry, the total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in 2011 for persons aged 35-69 accounted for Rs 1,04,500 crore.

Replying to another question, he said that the government had notified a few new rules on October 15, 2014 as per which, health warnings shall cover at least 85 per cent of the principal display area on both sides of the tobacco products.

“The committee on Subordinate Legislations, 16th Lok Sabha is currently examining the rules. The committee submitted its interim report in Lok Sabha on March 18, 2015 recommending to keep in abeyance the implementation of the rules till the committee finalises the examination of the subject and arrive at appropriate conclusions and present an objective report in the House.

“Considering that the report of the committee is interim in nature, the Ministry decided to keep the notification in abeyance. Accordingly a corrigendum was issued on March 26, 2015 suspending the date of implementation and stating that the rules shall come into force on such date as the central government may by notification in official gazette appoint,” the Minister said.

Other initiatives include ratification of WHO framework convention on tobacco control, launch of national tobacco control programme, launch of pilot project titled ‘Alternative crops for ‘bidi’ and chewing tobacco in different agro-ecological sub-regions’ and notification of rules to regulate depiction of tobacco products of their use in films and television programmes.

“The government is not under any pressure from the tobacco lobby,” Mr Nadda said.

Replying to another question, Mr Nadda said the government has constituted an inter-ministerial committee of secretaries under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary to review and develop a comprehensive policy on tobacco and related issues.

He said the government got an external evaluation done of the National Tobacco Control Programme through Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

“Recommendations of this evaluation have been suitably incorporated in the 12th Five Year Plan for national tobacco control programme to make the outcomes more effective,” Mr Nadda said.

When asked whether the government has stakes in cigarette manufacturing companies in the country, he said information is being collected and will be laid on the table of the House.

WHO’s Chan urges India to double size of pack warnings

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged India to follow through on plans to double the size of health warnings on tobacco product packaging, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

Plans to raise the space devoted to graphic warnings to 85 per cent from 40 per cent from 1 April were shelved at the last minute. India has had pictorial warnings since 2009. India is host country for the next plenary session of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2016.

E-cigarettes and smoking to feature in forthcoming Bill – Scotland

Health Bill consultation response

E-cigarettes and smoking to feature in forthcoming Bill

Measures to regulate e-cigarettes and smoking in NHS hospital grounds are to be included in a forthcoming Health Bill.

Responding to a consultation into the proposed legislation, Maureen Watt, Minister for Public Health, set out plans for the Bill, which will be introduced later this year.

Following the consultation, the Scottish Government proposes to ban the sale of non-medicinal e-cigarettes to under 18s, and to also make it an offence for an adult to buy them for a minor. E-cigarette retailers will be required to be registered on a central register, as tobacco retailers in Scotland currently are.

Smoking in the vicinity of hospital buildings will be made a statutory offence as part of the Health Bill. Currently all NHS boards operate a policy banning smoking on their grounds.

The Bill will also contain measures to introduce a statutory duty of candour for health and social care organisations, placing a duty on them to be open when harm has occurred, to provide support to all involved and training for staff involved with organisational responses after an incident.

There will be separate provisions that will create a criminal offence of wilful neglect/ill-treatment, to protect people from what are very rare cases of deliberate neglect or ill-treatment in the health and social care system.

Maureen Watt said:

“E-cigarettes might have a place when it comes to helping current smokers to quit their habit. This government is not opposed to e-cigarettes, but we think it is right to protect children from nicotine addiction, and to limit the prevalence of smoking behaviours. Through this Bill we will seek to strike that balance.

“We have long thought that it is wrong for people to have to walk through clouds of smoke when visiting hospitals. Following our consultation, and to support NHS boards, we believe the time is right to make it a statutory offence to smoke near health buildings.

“The measures on duty of candour will place a duty on organisations to be open and honest when physical or psychological harm has occurred. It will help to put transparency at the heart of our health and social care systems, recognising the impact of these events on staff and placing the emphasis clearly on learning and improvement, not fear and blame.

“The criminal offence of wilful neglect/ill-treatment will only apply in the rare cases where someone has been intentionally neglected or ill-treated by a health or social care professional. It will ensure that mistreatment of anyone receiving care can be effectively dealt with by the criminal justice system.”

Consultation on Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control in Scotland

A Consultation on Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control in Scotland: Analysis of Responses

Executive Summary

A public consultation paper, Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control in Scotland, was launched on 10 October 2014 and was open for written responses until 2 January 2015. It contained 49 questions on e-cigarettes and on tobacco control policy proposals. By the closing date, 172 written responses had been received: 78 from individual members of the public and 94 responses from organisations. A variety of organisations responded: academic groups, the e-cigarette industry, retailers, pharmacies, the tobacco industry, NHS health boards and partnerships, local authorities and other public bodies.

The paper covered: a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s; a ban on proxy purchase of e-cigarettes for under-18s; introducing a mandatory age verification policy for e-cigarette and tobacco sales; a requirement for retailers to register to sell e-cigarettes; restrictions on the domestic marketing of e-cigarettes; the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces; a ban on smoking in cars when under-18s are present; smoke-free NHS grounds; smoke-free outdoor areas for children and families; a ban on unauthorised sales of tobacco and e-cigarettes by under-18s; equalities impacts of the policy proposals; and business and regulatory impacts of the proposals.

Responses towards the age-related policies which aim to prevent young people from accessing e-cigarettes or tobacco were broadly positive across respondent categories.

However, opinion was more varied on other proposals. A majority supported mandatory registration for the sale of e-cigarettes, but the e-cigarette industry and the pharmacy retail sector objected to tobacco and e-cigarettes being conflated in the context of a joint retailers register, especially if e-cigarette sellers were required to register on the existing Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register.

The idea of restricting the domestic advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes elicited a varied response. A majority favoured restrictions but the e-cigarette sector and the tobacco industry were concerned that this would impede businesses’ ability to grow and compete. Several respondents advocated waiting to see how effective the CAP and BCAP codes prove to be at encouraging responsible marketing before introducing any legislation. The majority of public health stakeholders advocated a comprehensive ban on e-cigarette advertising and promotion, with some advocating no exceptions and others suggesting limited exemptions for forms of marketing aimed only at current smokers. A small majority thought that action should be taken on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces.

In response to questions on smoke-free hospital grounds, a majority favoured national legislation and supported its application to all NHS premises. This included NHS Boards who expressed a preference for legislation to make entire grounds smoke-free. Respondents acknowledged the challenges of implementing smoke-free rules across often large hospital grounds and some exemptions were suggested. A majority agreed with a ban on smoking in cars when someone under-18 is present and that the Scottish Government should take action to support the creation of smoke free outdoor areas for children and families.