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Monday, October 2, 2023

Industry infiltration dominates debate as tobacco treaty talks begin

Nigeria and 180 other countries meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP8) of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) have expressed worry about tobacco industry influencing the talks.

Nigerian delegation at COP8
Dr, Nnenna Ezeigwe, National Coordinator, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) of the Federal Ministry of Health (left); with Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Director-General of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), at a plenary session at the COP8 of the WHO-FCTC in Geneva, Switzerland

At the conference which began on Monday, October 1, 2018 (and is billed to end October 6), calls for live-streaming of the discussions to supposedly guarantee transparency met stiff resistance from countries that felt such a move would backfire and instead open the talks to interference of tobacco industry.

The African bloc stood firmly in support of live-streaming on the condition that it is only the opening and closing plenaries while the technical deliberations remain closed to avoid pressure from the tobacco industry, which had in the past slowed or caused stalemates in talks.

A member of the Nigerian delegation, Dr. Nnenna Ezeigwe, Director/National Coordinator, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) of the Federal Ministry of Health, said that, like other African countries, Nigeria supported only live-streaming of the opening and closing deliberations but keeping the technical sessions insulated.

Initially, Canada introduced a decision that called for webcasting all sections and relaying them after a negligible three-minute delay, But, after Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the other African countries spoke during the deliberations and stood firmly behind the stronger African bloc’s position, all the Parties – including Canada – supported the stronger position.

Among a host of issues, this week Parties will advance a provision that prohibits the tobacco industry from exploiting public badges, which are primarily used by tobacco industry representatives to delay, block and weaken the treaty.

“The number one barrier to fully implementing this life-saving treaty is industry interference,” said Michéel Legendre, associate campaign director with Corporate Accountability. “With Big Tobacco on the defensive, and governments poised to give it the boot, the outcomes of this year’s Conference of the Parties will mark a turning point for public health.”

“We support consensus on insulating the talks from Big Tobacco promoted by the African bloc today. We anticipate that similar bonding will shut out Big Tobacco which has exploited the Public Badges policy to swarm the talks with their foot soldiers,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

The global tobacco treaty, known formally as the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), entered into force in 2005. To date, 181 countries and the European Union have become Parties to the treaty. It contains the world’s most effective tobacco control and corporate accountability measures – estimated to save more than 200 million lives by 2050 when fully implemented.

Earlier, Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeseus, said the treaty talks has witnessed progress in previous years which the ongoing talks will build upon.

Ghebreyeseus expressed worry about low- and middle-income countries that bear the brunt of the tobacco burden in terms of healthcare costs and deaths.

He urged Parties to do more in three critical areas: Increase tobacco taxes to save lives and raise revenue, initiate comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorships, and commit to universal health coverage for citizens.

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