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NGOs with tobacco linkages rejected entry in WHO negotiations

Doubtful ‘NGOs’ rejected entry in WHO negotiations

Despite repeated lobbying to be included in international negotiations led by World Health Organization (WHO) involving 180 countries, upto twelve non-governmental organisations that had applied for ‘observer’ status, were disallowed from participating in week-long talks at Greater Noida starting Monday.

Of the twelve NGOs cited to have linkages to tobacco industry, two—All India Bidi Industry Federation (AIBIF) and Federation of All India Farmer Associations (FAIFA) are India-based.

Aman Saulyk, NGO from Kazakhastan was denied entry. The NGO came under the Kazakh government scanner in 2015, after the financial police seized equipments from it’s office in connection with a criminal investigation into allegations of “use of funds obtained through illegal means.” Dr Arun Panda, Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said, “Farmers supposedly brought by the industry are protesting outside the venue at being denied entry.”

Adam Cleave who handles corporate affairs for Imperial Tobacco, in a tweet said the protesting farmers were rounded up by Uttar Pradesh Police and dropped off in a police escort vehicle. The security around the venue had been heavily beefed up to ward off any protest.

Phillipine Tobacco Institute Inc. which claims to be an ngo has members that form the largest tobacco lobby in Asia. The members include some of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the world—Sterling Tobacco Company, Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing, Inc., British American Tobacco etc.

NGOs have been rejected if they have national or sub-national geographical scope, a conflict of interest as in tied to tobacco industry or their front groups, have no tobacco control activities or have deliberately amended declaration of interest in the application form. “WHO is against tobacco growers industry. They exploit the farmers and do not let them out of cultivation as farmers are share-croppers. These NGOs have not been given ‘observer’ status due to conflict of interest,” said Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Convention Secretariat.

Curiously, the array of NGOs include those involved in packaging businesses like Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance from the UK, farmers’groups like US-based Virginia Tobacco Farmers Associations, AIBIF, FAIFA and Pakistan-based Sarhad Chamber of Agriculture. One NGO from Netherlands championing the cause of e-cigarettes—Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, was also rejected permission to attend the negotiations. Also, Italian-based Liga Italiana Anti Fumo are advocates of E-cigarettes and were denied entry.

“We have working groups to assess the impact of E-cigarettes on harm/risk reduction to the users. We have yet not reached a global consensus on if they are safe for use,” said Dr Silva.

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