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Dirty Ashtray and WHO FCTC Article 5.3 infuriate the tobacco industry

Despite tobacco industry efforts to criticize, undermine and frustrate the recent tenth session of the WHO FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP10) in Panama, the meeting ended with several good decisions.

The tobacco industry and its representatives published criticisms and heaped insults on the COP10 process and tobacco control advocates.  But Parties serious about tobacco control, the Convention Secretariat, who facilitated the COP proceedings, and accredited civil society groups who watched over the process, passed the industry scream test.

The industry screams came in various ways. Several pro-industry groups such as the Taxpayers Protection Alliance,International Tobacco Growers Association, and industry-sympathizers ran live streaming services, organized side events, and provided misleading commentaries with the sole aim of criticizing the COP, the WHO and international tobacco control organizations.

The Global Alliance for Tobacco Control (GATC)’s iconic ‘Dirty Ashtray’ awards given to countries that undermine, delay or block good decision making at the COP particularly infuriated the tobacco/ nicotine industry and those who further their interests.

Pro-industry machinery in the Philippines for example went to work to address the Philippines who picked up their fifth Dirty Ashtray for brazen use of tobacco industry tactics to dispute and delay throughout COP10.

A Filipino PR consultant, Jena Fetalino, who lists pro-vaping groups as clients and who has appeared on pro-industry event, retweeted a post vilifying GATC’s awards as “how corrupt & evil the well-funded NGOs who award the Dirty Ashtray” because the Philippines received the Dirty Ashtray. This PR consultant was reportedly seen with Philip Morris executive in Switzerlandaccording to social media post. Earlier, a regular pro-industry voice in media tried to poo-poo the Dirty Ashtray award describing it as absurd.

But the Philippines’ disappointing performance at COP10 and receiving the Dirty Ashtray award was followed-up by Senator Pia Cayetano who used her privileged speech to express dismay that the Philippines delegation, “stood before a global audience of mostly health advocates, and they advocated for the tobacco industry.”

Meanwhile former Secretary of Health, Esperanza Cabral, responded to the Philippines’ dishonour of receiving the fifth Dirty Ashtray saying, “It is every government’s mandate to protect the right of its population to utmost health and well-being. I hope that our delegates at the COP10 will take this dishonor as a wake-up call that they must stand for public health rather than the vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

The Industry’s misinformation about the COP was displayed through its allies and front groups. The American Vaper Associationprovided misinformation claiming media was not allowed when in fact the COP was open to media. 

The industry’s attempts to undermine the COP is evidenced through Philip Morris International (PMI)-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) who had given grants to groups to specifically influence the COP on harm reduction issues.

Table 1: FSFW grants to influence the COP

Grantees Reach Influence on COP
Alternative Research Initiative (Pakistan)
Feb 2020 – Nov 2021
Countries of Eastern Mediterranean Garner support for COP9 to consider harm reduction as integral to tobacco control
Asociacion Argentina de Servicios y Estudios Medicos de Avanzada (Argentina)
Mar 2020 – Jan 2021
Argentina Garner support for COP9 to consider harm reduction as integral to tobacco control
International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations (INNCO) (Denmark)
Jan 2020 – Nov 2021
International Provide support to INNCO to assist the organization in its work to garner consensus and support for COP9 to consider harm reduction as integral to tobacco control

Between November 2018 to March 2023, the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations (INNCO) had received four grants from the FSFW. According to University of Bath’s TobaccoTactics, INNCO was set up in 2016 to influence the COP. An expose by TobaccoTactics in the Medicus Mundi reveals, in 2018, after being denied access to COP8 as an observer, INNCO had set up an industry-friendly side event, and a small-scale protest outside the conference meeting space.

While INNCO says it no longer accepts any grant from FSFW, several of its members are listed as experts in TPA’s Good Cop/Bad Cop that criticized COP10. These experts include:

  • Tomas O’Gorman (Mexico) Presides over the Governing Board of INNCO 
  • Jeffrey Zamora (Costa Rica), Director of Social Media and Audiovisual Producer for INNCO
  • Riccardo Polosa (Italy) is a member of INNCO

INNCO’s application for observer status to the COP was rejected.

On a positive note, COP10 adopted several good decisions including protecting the environment, holding the tobacco industry liable for the harm it causes, and the Panama Declaration that reminded Parties about FCTC Article 5.3:

“[T]o strengthen implementation of measures and further enhance policy coherence within governments to prevent tobacco industry interference in public health policies, in accordance with Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC and its Guidelines for implementation, and to continue to monitor technological developments in respect of novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco product”

When the industry screams, rest assured tobacco control is on the right track.