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April 11th, 2016:

Liability: untapped potential in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

The history of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is filled with one unprecedented victory after another (see page 21). The next milestone for the treaty can—and should— tap the potential of Article 19 to hold the industry liable. Though the implementation of measures in line with Articles 5.3 and 13 has dramatically shifted the way the tobacco industry can operate globally, Article 19 has similar—if not greater—potential to curb the operations of the industry, and therefore the tobacco epidemic. As we look to the next Conference of the Parties (COP) in November, Parties should be looking to make sure that Article 19 achieves its potential.

For many who participated in the drafting of the FCTC, Article 5.3 (protecting public health policies from the tobacco industry) and Article 13 (banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) seemed too visionary. Many thought these articles would be politically and technically impossible to implement. But a decade later, Parties are prioritizing these articles— and the effects are startling. Today, tobacco industry marketing is being rolled back across the globe. And dozens of countries have barred the industry from the policymaking table, creating space for effective policies to take hold.

But still the industry continues to be enormously profitable, with the top six corporations raking in $44 billion of profits in 2013. This, in part, because it breaks national laws and is not held accountable for what its products cost society. Governments pay billions of dollars in healthcare costs due to the tobacco epidemic. And evidence continues to mount of the tobacco industry’s illegal activities, which it currently appears to engage in with relative impunity—from illicit trade to widespread and systematic bribery.

To take the next big step in reducing the industry-driven tobacco epidemic, we must be able to hold the industry civilly and criminally liable. We must appreciate the visionary potential in Article 19. And we must take bold, courageous action to realize the world that Article 19 can make possible.

A vast ocean of possibility

Successful civil liability litigation in the U.S. and Canada has proven this tactic has great, global potential. It can provide an avenue for governments to hold the industry accountable for breaking laws, whether it be illegal marketing practices or illicit trade. Financially, it can shift the cost of the tobacco epidemic to the industry, where it belongs, raise the price of tobacco products (which reduces consumption), and provide funds for tobacco control campaigns. And finally, civil liability suits can expose internal industry documents, which provide invaluable insight into the industry’s tactics and help pave the way for even more effective legislation and litigation.

Holding the tobacco industry criminally liable, on the other hand, is admittedly venturing into less tested waters. But the ocean of possibility is vast.

Research on criminal liability provides cause for hope. A successful criminal prosecution would dramatically change the landscape for the tobacco industry. Tobacco executives could face potential prison time for violating tobacco control laws or for misleading people about the lethality of their products. The negative publicity generated with such charges would go far in denormalizing the tobacco industry and would chill the recruitment of talent.

Moral and financial imperative

To be sure, successful implementation of liability measures will prove to be challenging. And it will look different in each country given the range of legal systems across Parties. But the moral and financial imperatives are clear. Parties in the Global South, such as those recently targeted by British American Tobacco’s bribery, are now calling for tools to advance Article 19. These are some of the same Parties who championed Articles 5.3 and 13 during the FCTC negotiations.

We can and must follow these Parties’ visionary lead once again. During COP7, Parties should adopt strong guiding principles to advance implementation of Article 19. These include principles for developing and reforming legislation, and best practices for litigating in civil and criminal liability regimes in both civil and common law jurisdictions and systems.

Without a doubt, litigating against the tobacco industry is costly and intimidating. But many governments are already locked in defensive legal battles with the industry as it turns to litigation more and more to undermine strong tobacco control policies around the world. If governments are going to be in court with the industry, they should be doing it on their terms, proactively holding the industry liable for its myriad of abuses. And to do so, they need tools and guidance for implementation of Article 19 from the treaty, the Secretariat, and the COP. We have the ability to bring the untapped potential of Article 19 into fruition and to rein in the tobacco industry as we have never seen before. We have no time to lose. We must act, as a global community, now.

Chris Bostic is Deputy Director for Policy at Action on Smoking and Health (Twitter: @AshOrg). Richard Daynard is University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University and President of the Public Health Advocacy Institute . Tamar Lawrence-Samuel is Associate Research Director at Corporate Accountability International. (Twitter: @StopCorpAbuse)

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How To Quit Smoking? Science Unravels Best Strategy For Smokers

Many smokers have grappled with one rather perturbing question for years: How to call it quits once and for all? Finally, a new study on smoking habits seems to have addressed the question compellingly. The study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine has brought to light some revealing findings in this regard.

Smokers are usually quite happy to contend that gradually cutting down the number of sticks each day over a period of time as opposed to quitting instantly or using the so-called “cold turkey” approach is perhaps the most effective strategy for quitting the habit. New findings from the Oxford University study based on a compelling survey of smokers has suggested that the latter could, in fact, be the best possible way to purge away the habit.

The study observed nearly 700 regular smokers in the UK who had demonstrated the inclination to quit the habit over the subsequent two weeks. Fifty percent of these smokers were encouraged to continue smoking the usual way until the end of the two-week period followed by a period of immediate abstinence. The other 50 percent were asked to gradually curb their number of cigarettes each day over the same period until the quitting day. Subsequently, smoking habits of both the groups were examined a month after quitting followed by another six-month follow-up survey.

The results revealed that the success rates after four weeks for smokers who had refrained from smoking altogether had been up to 25 percent higher than those using a gradual cessation approach. An almost similar success rate was documented between the two groups after the designated six months as well.

According to contributing researcher Nicola Lindson-Hawley, although these findings contradict the long-held common-sense way thought by many smokers as the best strategy to curb the tendency, attempting to quit gradually is still better than making no attempt at all.

“Health care workers should offer abrupt quitting first, but if that is not an option, gradual quitting can be a second-line approach. We understand that people might be dead set against quitting abruptly so if the only way they would consider quitting is gradually then the results of this trial suggest it shouldn’t be ruled out.”

Many smokers experience continuous cycles of recurring abstinence and relapse time and again. For most, quitting smoking can become an excruciatingly lengthy battle owing to the many nicotine withdrawal symptoms that follow within days and sometimes even hours after the last cigarette. However, studies have shown that these symptoms are most agonizing during the first three to five days and are likely to subside and even vanish after two to three weeks.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, many smokers are tempted to resort to smoking once again owing to the highly unpleasant nicotine withdrawal symptoms oftentimes leading to stress and weight gain. These symptoms are known to include irritability, anger, anxiety, distraction, and sometimes erratic appetite.

The success rate of smokers who choose to cease the habit abruptly compared to those who prefer the gradual cessation approach may be explained by the first group’s early exposure to and, more importantly, success during the withdrawal phase. Similarly, the reduced success rate documented in the smoking habits of the second group in the study may be attributed to a delay in the onset of the same symptoms.

According to experts, few population-based studies have comprehensively studied relapse among former smokers. Researchers have historically maintained that the quantification of the relationship between the duration of abstinence and the likelihood of continued abstinence is critical for the understanding of ongoing public health interventions and the formulation of smoking-cessation initiatives