COP8 adopts measures to address tobacco industry interference

15 October 2018:

At the recent eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the WHO FCTC, Parties adopted measures to further protect health policies from tobacco industry interference. While Article 5.3 guidelines have provisions to assist governments to address industry interference, these additional measures will enhance those efforts and tackle some tactics used by the tobacco industry to undermine both national and international tobacco control efforts. These measures will also halt the industry from exploiting UN agencies, inter-governmental bodies and the UNDP’s Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) to its own end.

The COP8 decided:

“[T]o foster international cooperation by requiring the tobacco industry to provide information on its activities such as research, marketing, lobbying including policy submissions, funding of third parties/nongovernmental organizations, and by making such information publicly accessible;”

Currently in the ASEAN region, Thailand is the only country that requires the tobacco industry to provide information about its business including its marketing expenses, volume of production or importation, market share, income and expenses in its annual report for the benefit of tobacco control.

While many countries have already banned tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship (TAPS), the industry continues to engage in marketing its products, however details of these activities are not reported and not made available to governments. Hence TAPS ban may be undermined or sabotaged and governments need the information to address this.

The COP also decided:

[T]o further enhance policy coherence within governments and require that all government sectors comply with the requirements of Article 5.3 and reflect the same in positions put forward in different governing bodies of the United Nations system;

While ministries of health are vigilant about industry interference, findings in SEATCA’s 2018 Asian Tobacco Industry Interference Index show the tobacco industry interferes in policy decision by approaching ad engaging with non-health sectors, especially departments of Trade, Commerce, Finance and Agriculture.

Among the UN Agencies, the ILO still has collaboration with the tobacco industry by accepting corporate social responsibility (CSR) grants through its public-private partnership programme. This COP decision should provide the rationale and guidance for the ILO to end its ties with the industry when the governing body meets between 25 October – 8 November.

Tobacco companies have also hijacked the SDGs and are associating their so-called CSR activities with the various SDG targets. Although the UNDP has a clear policy of non-engagement with the tobacco industry, the tobacco companies have snubbed this important policy and have attached their charity programmes to the SDGs.

In the Philippines, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC) annual report claimed to “helping the Philippine Government adhere to its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)” through its sustainable agricultural programme. This is one example how PMI hooks itself to the high-profile UN programme.

To prevent this type of exploitation of the SDGs, the COP decided:

[T]o promote, in international and regional organizations in which they are represented, particularly those working on SDGs and NCDs, the adoption of policies to prevent tobacco industry interference.

Thumbs up to the Parties that fought hard to support this COP decision!

Full decision: “Protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry” [Pages 3-5]

SEATCA handout on Exposé: Tobacco industry hijacks the SDGs