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November 7th, 2016:

Seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) – Address by Dr Vera da Costa e Silva

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Groups demand tobacco lobbyist stops claiming links

Nestlé and the World Bank are among a number of organisations to demand that a controversial lobby group for tobacco companies stops claiming links to them.

The International Tax and Investment Center, which describes itself as a “non-profit research and educational organisation” that gives clients “a seat at the policymaking table”, has claimed on its website to “work closely” with the World Bank. It also listed Nestlé, law firm Pinsent Masons and the UK Department for International Development as its sponsors.

However, when Tax Justice Network wrote to sponsors and affiliated bodies asking if they were aware of the claims, all four organisations said they had no ongoing relationship with the lobby group.

ITIC works with organisations in a range of industries. But, in 2014, it was publicly denounced by the World Health Organisation for promoting “false” information on behalf of the tobacco industry. “ITIC has published extensively in favour of the tobacco industry’s false positions on excise taxation, investment and illicit trade in tobacco products,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, a director at the WHO.

Around this time, some organisations ended their dealings with ITIC. The World Bank withdrew from an ITIC-organised event in 2015, and told Tax Justice Network: “The World Bank Group does not have a formal partnership with ITIC.” Timothy Evans, writing on behalf of World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim, said: “We have, in fact, previously contacted ITIC requesting that they remove the name of the World Bank Group from their homepage.”

Nestlé, which ITIC listed as a sponsor until earlier this year, said it had ceased contributing to ITIC in 2014. It said it had “taken action” over use of its logo on ITIC’s website.

Law firm Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor as recently as 2016, but ceased contributions to ITIC in 2013.

ITIC said it had agreed to comply with the World Bank’s request to remove its name, but “inadvertently missed” a reference when updating its site. It said Nestlé’s name had remained on the ITIC website for 24 months after its last payment to comply with ITIC’s policy of being “transparent”.

When asked why Pinsent Masons was listed as a sponsor more than 24 months after ending its relationship with the group, Daniel Witt, ITIC’s president, said it “certainly was not a conscious decision to leave them on the list”. ITIC has since removed references to all of the organisations from its website.

Critics have accused ITIC of publicising links with high-profile bodies to boost its image when lobbying governments. “Central to ITIC’s credibility with policymakers is the claim that they work closely with leading international organisations,” said Alex Cobham at the Tax Justice Network. ITIC denies this.

The UK Department for International Development was listed as a sponsor, despite having never given ITIC any money. In 2013, then secretary of state, Justine Greening, said she would demand that ITIC take down the website listing.

ITIC says it received funding from DfID’s “predecessor”, the UK Know-How Fund. DfID acknowledges that this fund made payments to ITIC, but says DfID itself had never sponsored ITIC.

Boom year in Italy as vaping population triples

Italy’s vaping population has more than tripled in the past year, bringing the number of e-cigarette users back to the levels of 2013, before the 2014 crash. The Italian market is estimated for 2016 at €295m, a growth of 300% over the previous year. And the trend, according to the latest ECigIntelligence market report, is set to continue with still greater numbers of users in 2017.

One reason for this could be the decrease in prices of several e-cigs products this year – in some categories, a drop of between 24% and 44%. At the same time, the price of traditional tobacco cigarettes has risen.

The industry is optimistic too about future regulation and the implementation of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TDP). There are currently 1,107 vape stores in Italy and EcigIntelligence expects more to be opened in large urban areas.

Minimal restrictions after TPD

The TDP came into force in Italy in May 2016. Rome imposed minimum restrictions on the industry and the country is one of the most permissive in or outside Europe, according to the most recent ECigIntelligence regulatory report.

Although restrictions have been placed on packaging, and cross-border distance sales – since May it is prohibited to buy e-cig products from companies not established in Italy – advertising is permitted, with certain stipulations, such as the requirement to state that nicotine is addictive.

What This Means: The e-cig industry in Italy has reacted extremely positively to the new TPD regime, with a boom in the number of vapers and vape stores matching the increased visibility of the sector. Though recent rises in tax on traditional tobacco products provide an incentive for smokers to switch to vaping, taxation remains a major concern for the e-cig industry.

UPS Tobacco Lawsuit Wraps Up (UPS)

Arguments ended last week in a lawsuit between United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) and New York state and city authorities, reports Reuters. The lawsuit alleges that UPS turned a blind-eye toward illegal cigarette shipments, which were being sent into New York City from low-tax areas in upstate New York.

Currently, New York City charges high taxes on tobacco products to discourage smoking. However, businesses on Native-American reservations are not required to collect tobacco taxes. Enterprising businessmen have been shipping untaxed cigarettes down to New York City for at least a dozen years. (See also: How Will E-Cigarettes Affect Big Tobacco?)

In 2005, UPS and New York State signed an agreement where UPS promised to monitor its shipments more carefully to avoid shipping untaxed cigarettes. In 2010, new federal regulations were created to bind all delivery carriers from shipping illegal cigarettes.

The lawsuit against UPS claims that the delivery company purposefully violated the 2005 agreement and 2010 regulations. According to prosecutors, UPS knowingly shipped almost 700,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes into New York City between 2010 and 2014. The state is asking for an $872 million fine, along with a court-appointed compliance monitor to enforce the 2010 regulations. (See also: The Real Cost Of Smoking.)

UPS denies the allegations. The company says it followed the 2005 agreement and 2010 regulations.

The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, said last week that she will rule by Dec. 25.

Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Meets in New Delhi for the Seventh Time

The seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) began today.

The COP is the governing body of the Convention, which meets regularly to review its implementation and take decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation. During the opening day it was announced that Mozambique is to become the 181st Party to the Convention and Zimbabwe was welcome as the most recent Party to accede to the Convention.

Parties highlighted the progress they have made in implementation of the Convention and it shows there is increasing compliance with the provisions of the treaty. The report by the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Global Progress in Implementation of the WHO FCTC also notes the incredible advances made in implementing the measures of the treaty.

Key note address by President of Sri Lanka and opening ceremony

Dr Oleg Salagay of the Russian Federation chaired the session in his capacity as President of the COP and H.E. Mr Jagat Prakash Nadda, the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, delivered an opening speech welcoming delegates and observers to the country.

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena addressed COP7 on the inaugural day. The Sri Lankan President, who has also served as the Minister of Health is a strong advocate of tobacco control and successfully implemented laws to display pictorial warnings up to 80% on both sides of cigarette packets.

A statement on behalf of Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, was conveyed to the delegates stressing the growing success of the Convention, and stating that, “In a world full of so many new and old threats, we turn to tobacco control as unquestionably our biggest, surest, and best opportunity to save millions of lives.”

The session is being attended by 136 Parties, as well as representatives of four States non-Parties. Staff from WHO and UNDP are attending, along with representatives from four intergovernmental and 13 nongovernmental organizations, accredited as observers. More than 1,300 participants are attending COP7.

The WHO FCTC successes

Delegates have heard how the Parties have overcome legal challenges from the tobacco industry and its front groups when implementing tobacco control measures, in some cases by opposing domestic legislation, and in others by using international trade and investment agreements to challenge Parties’ initiatives in curbing the tobacco epidemic.

The Head of the Convention Secretariat, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, noted that the period since COP6 in 2014 has seen significant success, saying, “We must applaud the bold action taken by many Parties during the last two years and it’s reassuring that the treaty and the standards adopted by COP have helped you protect your decisions against legal challenges.”

Interaction with the Parties has reached an all-time high with around three-quarters of Parties delivering implementation reports. As the treaty matures it has been establishing relationships beyond the health sector as its role in development and human rights has become more obvious. The Secretariat has engaged with the UN Interagency Task Force on Noncommunicable Diseases and recently has become a participant of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on prevention and control of NCDs.

Excluding the tobacco industry

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva asked for Parties to consider Article 5.3 dealing with tobacco industry interference. For the first time, under the guidance of the Bureau, note verbales had been sent requesting Parties to exclude representatives of partially or wholly state-owned tobacco companies from their delegations. This has helped the Secretariat adhere to its mandate and Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said, “We do not question the right of sovereign states to choose national representatives but we must be reminded that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interests between the tobacco industry and public health policy.”

The conference was warned that while delegates made decisions about the future implementation of the Convention there were malign forces close at hand. Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said, “There is another observer here, although its representatives may not always wear badges. The tobacco industry takes a very keen interest in COP meetings and makes every effort to insinuate itself into delegations and proceedings. If anyone doubts the importance of what we do here, always remember the industry’s malevolent presence and the strong need for transparency. “

The facts that drive tobacco control measures

Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. This epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. The gathering this week in India is the most important global anti-tobacco conference. The WHO FCTC was adopted in 2003 and has quickly become one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations. To date a total of 180 Parties have committed to implementing the treaty’s articles and obligations. It provides a united legal means of challenging a deadly addiction.

Concluding her remarks, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva encouraged the delegates, “I am certain that COP7 will mark a significant moment in our march towards a tobacco-free world.”

Note to Editors

COP7 is being held at the Expo Mart, Greater Noida in India, 7 – 12 November 2016. There will be daily press releases distributed from the conference.

Experts urge WHO to back tobacco harm-reduction strategies at CoP7

The seventh Conference of the Parties (CoP7) of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) — the world’s first public health treaty — kicked off here Monday with a coalition of experts seeking a focus on policy for new nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

The FCTC entered into force in 2005 and establishes requirements and recommendations for reducing demand-supply of tobacco products to reduce preventable diseases and premature death caused by tobacco use. As many as 180 countries are now parties to the convention.

Slated to run till November 12, CoP7 is expected to play a crucial role in shaping global policy in the field of tobacco harm reduction.

Ahead of the conference, a coalition of top tobacco harm-reduction experts warned that “one in two life-long smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease”.

The coalition, established to provide balanced, evidence-based information on harm reduction, observed that “if current smoking patterns and trends continue, a billion people might die from smoking-related diseases in the 21st century”.

“Despite the availability of smoking-cessation medications, many smokers do not want to try them. Of those who use them, the majority either fail or relapse within a year,” the coalition pointed out in a Mission Statement.

It explains how “public health experts have recommended that smokers be encouraged… to switch completely to less harmful substitutes”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified harm-reduction strategies as a core principle of tobacco control, and recently stated: “If the great majority of tobacco smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit would switch… to using an alternative source of nicotine with lower health risks… this would represent a significant contemporary public health benefit.”

According to the Mission Statement, there are new technologies that comply with this principle. One such is the “electronic cigarette” — or, as WHO calls it, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, ENDS — which delivers nicotine without burning tobacco. The vapor from e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers contains very low levels of potentially-harmful chemicals”.

According to the experts, Public Health England recently concluded vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking and acknowledged that e-cigarettes can be an effective aid to quitting smoking. The experts said they support “government policies that seek to remove barriers to the availability of better, safer, non-combustible nicotine delivery products, with appropriate quality standards and regulations”. They added that disproportionate restrictions — regulation of e-cigarettes as medical products, restrictions similar to tobacco cigarettes, advertising bans — will make such products expensive and create misconceptions that they are as harmful as smoking. The coalition called such measures “counter-productive”.

The Tobacco Harm Reduction Expert Group includes Konstantinos E. Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens; Prof. Riccardo Polosa of the Institute for Internal and Emergency Medicine, University of Catania; Christopher Russell of the Centre for Substance Use Research, Glasgow; Amir Ullah Khan, member of the Telangana government’s Commission of Inquiry on Socioeconomic Conditions; Julian Morris, Vice President of Research at Reason Foundation; and Prof. Rajesh N. Sharan of the Department of Biochemistry, North-Eastern Hill University.

E-cigarette vapour does not induce DNA mutations linked to tobacco smoke exposures

E-cigarette vapour does not induce DNA mutations commonly observed with tobacco smoke exposures in lab-based tests.

Scientists at British American Tobacco used a method called the Ames test to compare the mutagenic potential of cigarette smoke with that of vapour from Vype ePen, a commercially available e-cigarette. DNA mutations result in genetic instability, which may be involved in the development of cancer.

The Ames test is widely used method that uses bacteria to test whether a given chemical or drug causes mutations in the bacteria’s DNA. The standard test involves five bacterial strains. In this study, two of these bacteria were used Salmonella typhimurium strains TA98 and TA100, both of which are effective at screening 90-95% of potential mutagens. TA98 and TA100 have been used widely to assess tobacco smoke, but never for the assessment of freshly generated e-cigarette aerosols, until now.

Traditionally, the particulate matter in smoke is assessed, but this is only a small fraction of the tobacco smoke. To more accurately reflect real-life exposure, whole smoke was also tested. In all, the researchers tested both the particulate matter and whole aerosol of smoke from a reference cigarette 3R4F and vapour from Vype ePen.

To do this, they trapped particulate matter from smoke or vapour on a filter pad and then washed the pad with a solvent to produce a stock solution that could be diluted into various concentrations. They then exposed the test bacteria to the same concentrations of either smoke or vapour extract. They also exposed test bacteria to freshly generated smoke or e-cigarette vapour.

Exposure to smoke was seen to cause mutations in both bacterial strains in a dose-dependent manner – the higher the dose, the higher the mutation rate. Whole smoke took just 24 minutes to cause mutations. E-cigarette vapour extracts, gave no response, and whole vapour did not cause the bacteria to mutate, even after three hours of continuous exposure, which was comparable to the results obtained from air and untreated controls.

‘These findings suggest that Vype ePen vapour does not induce the mutations observed on exposure to smoke,’ said Dr James Murphy, Head of Reduced Risk Substantiation at British American Tobacco. ‘This study adds data to support the growing evidence base that e-cigarettes have the potential to be significantly less harmful compared to cigarette smoke, though more research is needed’ he said.

Many in the public health community believe e-cigarettes offer great potential for reducing the public health impact of smoking. Public Health England, an executive body of the UK Department of Health, recently published a report saying that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than cigarettes. The Royal College of Physicians have said that the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer then smoking and that they should be widely promoted as an alternative to cigarettes, but called for more research to be done on the potential long term effects of using e-cigarettes.

R&D at British American Tobacco

With mixed progress, nations review war vs. tobacco industry

In Nepal, health warnings cover 90 percent of cigarette packs, while Australia requires those packets be wrapped in drab, plain paper. Indonesia’s new ban on outdoor advertising brought down tobacco billboards depicting smiling, smoking youths. And India wants scary photos of rotting lungs and mouth tumors covering packets sold in the country.

Still, national drives to discourage smoking and cut back tobacco sales haven’t done enough, campaigners say. Smoking-related deaths are still rising worldwide, with 80 percent of them expected to occur in developing country populations by 2030.

“Most people in the United States think tobacco is over and done with, but it’s still the largest preventable cause of disease on the planet” killing 6 million people a year — or one person every six seconds, said John Stewart, deputy campaigns director at the Boston-based lobbying group Corporate Accountability International.

Starting Monday, representatives from at least 178 countries are meeting for five days in the Indian capital to discuss how they can further the fight against smoking and push back against tobacco company lobbyists.

Since they set down stiff regulations and guidelines in a landmark 2003 treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — the first and only global treaty dealing with public health — most of the 180 signatories have ratified it and passed laws restricting tobacco advertising or sales.

Still, many governments remain entangled with powerful tobacco companies, while industry lobbyists continue attempts to stymie efforts to implement anti-smoking laws through bribery, misinformation and even suing national governments for lost profits, campaigners say.

“The tobacco industry is definitely feeling the heat,” Stewart said. “They’ve got their back against the wall.”

Indian courts are currently grappling with 62 lawsuits filed by tobacco companies or cigarette makers challenging laws requiring that 85 percent of all cigarette packets be covered with photos of medical horrors.

In Japan, a 10-percent hike in taxes on cigarettes has led to a 30-percent decline in smoking. But the country still has some of the lowest tax rates on cigarettes among industrialized nations, while its finance ministry owns 33 percent in Japan Tobacco.

The anti-tobacco campaign has had some success. It is widely accepted, at least among national leaders, that smoking causes cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, along with a host of other harmful health impacts.

That awareness still has not trickled down to national populations, though. And campaigners say tobacco interests have shifted their focus to poorer, less educated populations in the developing world.

India — among the first to ratify the anti-tobacco treaty in 2004 — is still considered one of the biggest battlegrounds in the fight against the tobacco industry, public health specialists say.

Despite harsh laws passed more than a decade ago banning smoking in public and sales to children, smoking is still common across the country. A government survey in 2010 showed nearly 35 percent of adults were either smoking or chewing tobacco.

Meanwhile, more than 1 million Indians die each year from tobacco-related diseases that cost the country some $16 billion annually, according to the World Health Organization.

“The revenues that the government earns from tobacco taxes are far less than the billions that are spent on health care,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of the Voluntary Health Association of India, a public health organization.

“Public health and the health of the tobacco industry cannot go hand in hand,” she said, noting that campaigners are now pushing for countries to make tobacco companies and their shareholders civilly and criminally liable for the harm done by tobacco.

Part of the trouble in India is “the Indian consumer is spoilt for choice,” she said, with cigarettes sold alongside chewing tobacco and cheap, hand-rolled smokes known as bidis.

The easy availability and wide choice means many smokers get hooked at a young age. Some are initiated early through the common, cultural practice of chewing something called gutka, which combines tobacco with spices, lime and betel nut and is widely sold as a mouth freshener.

Putting pictorial warnings on cigarette packets is an attempt to educate people about the risks.

“The idea was that even an illiterate person, or a child, would understand the message about the health risks from smoking,” said Monika Arora of the Public Health Foundation of India, who runs an anti-smoking campaign aimed at young Indians.

Need to take multi-sectoral action to tackle tobacco challenge: J P Nadda

The Union Health Minister said there are nearly 275 million current users in the country and close to one million lives are lost every year due to tobacco use.

Health Minister J P Nadda on Monday termed the challenge of tobacco control as “formidable” and said there is need to take multi-sectoral action and integrated approaches to health goals, especially as the country is facing the dual burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases. He was speaking during the inauguration of the Seventh Session of the Conference of Parties (COP7) to World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which India is hosting for the first time.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena gave a special address during the inaugural session of the conference.

Nadda said there are nearly 275 million current users in the country and close to one million lives are lost every year due to tobacco use, either directly or indirectly.

He said the economic cost to India or the healthcare cost to treat tobacco-related diseases is a whopping USD 22 billion and the target of achieving relative reduction of tobacco use by 30 per cent is no longer a choice but a necessity.

“The challenges faced by India in the realm of tobacco control are formidable, both in their number and in their complexity. However, despite our vast complexity, substantial investments for implementation of WHO FCTC are slowly improving the situation,” he said at the conference where more than 1500 delegates from all over the world are taking part.

He said India has to go a long way in preventing millions of avoidable deaths resulting from the habit of tobacco use and there are many challenges like new products which are emerging and the existing products are profilerating locally and internationally to newer areas.

“The prevalence of tobacco use is still unacceptably high. Morbidity and mortality due to its use is also very high. There is a huge economic burden on people and governments due to adverse health consequences of tobacco use. Certain parts of the world, including India, have a myriad of tobacco products.

“We cannot do this alone. Along with national will and resources, we also need the strength of international collaboration to mitigate the rising burden of health, social and economic costs of tobacco,” Nadda said.

He said this is a landmark year for tobacco control activities as the country has successfully implemented, from April, large pictorial health warnings occupying 85 per cent of the principal display area of tobacco packs and on all forms of tobacco.

Terming WHO FCTC as India’s strongest tool to curb the emerging non-communicable diseases, Nadda said India cannot tackle these diseases only by making more hospitals, cancer institutes and producing more doctors and allied health professionals.

“Today, India and other developing countries in the south east Asian, African and Latin American regions face the dual burden of infectious diseases like malaria and TB, and emergent conditions like zika and dengue, along with non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes etc.

“All countries are gearing up and making efforts to strengthen their health systems to tackle these challenges. For this to happen, we need multi-sectoral action along with integrated approaches to health programmes and health goals,” he said.

“We need to prevent the risk factors, tobacco being the biggest of them, since today’s risk factors are tomorrow’s diseases,” he said.

He said India is committed to strengthening non- communicable disease programmes and interventions and implementation of the WHO FCTC as an integral part of the post 2015 sustainable development goals.

“Tobacco use is detrimental to all aspects of life and grips users in the most productive years. We must reverse this tide. We must, for this purpose, target our young children, catch them young, and indoctrinate their minds against the harms of tobacco use,” he said.

Lanka to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products

Sri Lanka is planning to introduce plain packaging of all tobacco products in a new step to curb its consumption, President Maithripala Sirisena said yesterday.

Stating consumption of smokeless tobacco was an alarming issue in Sri Lanka and the entire region, Sirisena said there should not be any kind of compromise with the tobacco industry.

Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne is proposing to introduce plain packaging as another important measure in the near future, and “here we thank the FCTC for the excellent technical support”, said Sirisena.

The Sri Lankan president was speaking at the opening ceremony of the WHO FCTC COP7 – the world’s biggest convention on tobacco control policies being held in India for the first time.

Sri Lanka ratified the FCTC in 2005 and was one of the first country to sign the FCTC. It passed a Tobacco and Alcohol Act in 2006 and set up the Tobacco and Alcohol Authority, popularly known as NATA.

“With support of the WHO and FCTC, we regularly monitor the trends of tobacco prevalence among the populations,” said Sirisena.

Accusing the tobacco industry of being a dishonest industry, Sirisena said: “The tobacco industry often distorts and challenges the best scientific knowledge, promotes dishonest arguments that have nothing to do with the truth.

“We know that the industry will try to influence policy makers in many ways, often support petitioners to challenge government legislation and persuade the mass media.

“This to me is a direct interference in the internal policy matters of any country. We need not have any compromise of any kind with the tobacco industry,” said Sirisena.

Sri Lanka has 80% pictorial warnings mandatory on all the packets of tobacco products.

The president, who held the health portfolio during former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s tenure, had once called for a fight against the rising illicit trade of tobacco products.

He also urged more countries to ratify the FCTC Protocol.

Highlighting the rising problem of smokeless tobacco consumption in Sri Lanka and in the region, Sirisena said: “I would urge the FCTC to address the issue of smokeless tobacco also very seriously in the years to come. Cost of neglect can be very high.”