Despite the odds, countries adopt illicit trade protocol of global tobacco treaty
In the lead up to the Seoul negotiations the World Health Organization, which administers the treaty, deemed the tobacco industry’s interference in these negotiations and the implementation of the treaty as the single greatest threat to its success. But, despite continued pressure tactics from the industry, it is commendable that illicit tobacco trade protocol was adopted on the first day of the negotiations.
“In the two years since the last treaty meetings, Big Tobacco has taken its fight to new depths. The industry's brazen bullying, its efforts to co-opt governments, and disregard the rule of law has been on full display. But just as countries from Australia to Norway have forcefully rebuked Big Tobacco in recent months, thanks to the treaty and the civil society organized behind it, we are optimistic Seoul's negotiations will further insulate lifesaving progress from attack," said John Stewart, Challenge Big Tobacco Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability International.
John is leading a team of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) on-site in Seoul negotiations. Adoption of a landmark protocol to eliminate the illicit trade of tobacco is indeed a lifesaving step forward. Illicit tobacco trade undermines tobacco control, generates huge profits for smugglers and tobacco manufacturers, and costs governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, law enforcement and health care expenditures, said John Stewart to Citizen News Service – CNS.
“For nearly five years, Big Tobacco has fought tooth and nail throughout these negotiations in an effort to undermine progress, thwart public health policy and police itself with regards to illicit trade,” said Irene Reyes, Human Rights Lawyer for Health Justice in the Philippines, “but the adoption of the final Protocol reflects delegates’ resolve to maintain the spirit and letter of the FCTC to stand together for public health and against Big Tobacco. However, though we may have insulated the negotiations from Big Tobacco, the struggle now will be to protect the Protocol’s implementation.”
The adoption of the protocol to eliminate illicit trade was just one of many other expected outcomes this week including:
- Parties to adopt guidelines on taxation – Big Tobacco is aggressively attempting to block efforts to codify guidelines to promote taxation and it’s no surprise: adding a tax to tobacco products has proven to be the most efficient way to halt addition, particularly for youth and low-income communities – target markets for Big Tobacco.
- A challenge to the “intimidation by litigation” strategy pushed by Big Tobacco – Since the last treaty meetings, the tobacco industry has launched a global litigation strategy, using obscure trade agreements as its staging ground, to undermine countries’ efforts to implement the public health policies.
At the last meetings, the Punta del Este Declaration was unanimously adopted in solidarity of Uruguay who is being sued by Big Tobacco for its attempts to implement the strongest graphic health warnings on cigarette packs in the world. Civil society is calling to protect the right to health over Big Tobacco’s profits.
- A recommitment to holding the tobacco industry liable for its abuses – A key article of the treaty requires Parties to do everything in their power to share legal strategies and resources to bring the industry to account, much like the Master Settlement Agreement in the US, where the state attorneys general sued tobacco corporations for their harms to public health by willful deception.
This marked a sea change for lawmakers who had previously avoided direct confrontation with Big Tobacco. This week, delegates are expected to lay the groundwork to build a roadmap for how governments can collaborate to hold the tobacco industry liable for its abuses, generate much-needed revenue to treat tobacco-related disease, and expose decades of deception.
- Voicing a challenge to the Czech Republic – the Czech Republic became the latest country to ratify the treaty in June 2012. However, they did so with a caveat – they want to reserve the right to include Big Tobacco in public health policy – a direct challenge to the treaty, which recognizes the fundamental conflict of interest between the industry’s profits and public health and excludes Big Tobacco from public health policymaking. This week, countries are expected to challenge their ratification on the grounds that cherry picking what a country wants to ratify sets a deadly precedent for the success of the treaty.