As the World Health Organization’s seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7) in India reached its halfway mark on Wednesday, the WHO was busy pushing for all loopholes to be closed in article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The article states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”
The WHO believes this should be given a broad interpretation, meaning that tobacco companies should be excluded entirely from discussions of policy and from events such as COP7.
Meanwhile, the WHO’s hostile tone continued unabated, with Big Tobacco and all pro-tobacco advocates being labelled bullies and trolls on Twitter.
Also at the conference, discussion of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) – terms in which the WHO includes e-cigarettes – and water pipe tobacco products continued.
The WHO has been highly critical of vaping and has also attacked the tradition of inhaling tobacco through the water pipe as extremely harmful.
Down on the farm
But agriculture remained a major focus, illustrating how the WHO may have to balance health ideals with economic realities.
Tobacco farms have become major employers across the world, and one of the stumbling blocks in the WHO’s drive toward a tobacco-free world is the loss of livelihood for millions of people involved in the growing industry.
As a result, one of the subjects being discussed at the event in Noida, near New Delhi, is economically-sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing.
In a report by the FCTC earlier this year, alternative pilot projects and new and better practices were outlined and their implementation urged. With pro-tobacco lobbies warning of reduced employment and damaged economies, the convention secretariat said: “In reality, annual consumption usually decreases by fractions of percentage points, thus allowing growers to gradually diversify into other activities as government adjustment programmes are implemented.”
Yet fewer than a quarter of nations that are parties to the treaty have made tobacco-growing alternatives a priority.
“Plenty of crops are available, from vegetables to fruits. Alternate livelihoods should be seriously explored and supported through appropriate marketing interventions which involves multiple markets and agencies,” said one delegate, who refused to be named.
Paying the lawyers
The issue of liability is also under discussion. The WHO has committed itself to provide legal help for civil and criminal litigation against tobacco companies. According to the WHO FCTC, providing tools to the 180 parties that have signed the treaty is giving them an opportunity to “avail themselves of effective means to hold the tobacco industry liable”.
Each party has to submit the progress it has made in building databases of information, engaging lawyers, and so on, and also propose how they should be subsidised.
Reducing global tobacco consumption by 30% by 2025 remains one of the most important agenda items for the WHO FCTC.
– Swati Gupta ECigIntelligence contributing writer
Picture: Arnoud Joris Maaswinkel