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Health Officials Gather In Uruguay To Discuss WHO Anti-Smoking Treaty

“As sales to developing nations become ever more important to giant tobacco companies, they are stepping up efforts around the world to fight tough restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes,” the New York Times reports in an article ahead of a conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, which began on Monday. At the conference health officials are debating guidelines to enforce a global anti-smoking treaty known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) (Wilson, 11/13).

The FCTC “was negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and adopted in 2003. It entered into force in early 2005 and now has 171 parties,” Inter Press Service reports. “In Latin America and the Caribbean, 26 countries have signed and ratified the convention and are applying it by means of legislation and decrees,” according to the article (Valente, 11/16).

The New York Times reports that the treaty “would eventually oblige its parties to impose tighter controls on tobacco ingredients, packaging and marketing, expand cessation programs and smoke-free spaces and raise taxes – proven tactics against smoking” (Wilson, 11/13). According to Reuters, the treaty also addresses “cigarette smuggling” (Hornos, 11/15).

“President George W. Bush signed the treaty in 2004 but did not send it to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is needed for ratification. President Obama hopes to submit it to the Senate next year, a White House spokesman said on Thursday,” according to the New York Times (11/13).

Over the course of the conference experts will debate the inclusion of language in the treaty that would “force farmers to disclose more about their products and a gradual reduction in tobacco farming,” Reuters continues. “Tobacco growers’ groups say such measures would strip some 3.6 million African farmers of their livelihoods,” the news service adds. The article includes comments by Antonio Abrunhosa, head of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA), who warns of the effects such measures could have on farmers, and Argentina’s Nobleza Piccardo, part of British American Tobacco, which questions whether some recommendations will improve public health.

In Uruguay, “[f]ormer President Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, banned smoking in public buildings four years ago. Tobacco advertising and the sale of products branded as ‘light’ is banned, and cigarette packets must carry large, jarring health warnings,” according to Reuters (Hornos, 11/15).

Such efforts led “Philip Morris International [to] su[e] the government of Uruguay, saying its tobacco regulations were excessive. World Health Organization officials say the suit represents an effort by the industry to intimidate the country, as well as other nations attending the conference, that are considering strict marketing requirements for tobacco,” the New York Times reports (11/13).

During the opening of the summit Monday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica responded to Philip Morris Internationals’ claim before the World Bank “alleging that Uruguay is violating its trade agreement with Switzerland by requiring that anti-smoking warnings cover 80 percent of cigarette packages” by saying the claim “seeks to ‘complicate the life and sovereignty of a small nation that has the boldness to defend itself and try to defend the health of its people,’” the Associated Press/Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Mujica “said Uruguay will maintain its anti-smoking laws despite the pressure,” the news service adds (Garces, 11/15).

Meanwhile, “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York telephoned the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica on Monday morning to pledge his financial assistance to that nation’s fight against the world’s leading cigarette company,” the New York Times’ “Prescriptions” blog reports. During a news conference Monday afternoon Bloomberg “announced …  that he would direct to Uruguay’s legal defense some of the $375 million he has set aside in a philanthropy to fight smoking. In a news release, he did not name a precise figure,” according to the blog (Wilson, 11/15).

The New York Times mentions additional lawsuits brought by Philip Morris International against other countries, who the company argues “were intended to combat what it felt were ‘excessive’ regulations, and to protect its trademark and commercial property rights,” as well as other efforts to scale back tobacco restrictions.

The article includes comments by Douglas Bettcher, head of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Peter Nixon, a vice president and spokesman for Philip Morris International, and Roger Quarles, president of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (11/13).

Efforts To Fight WHO’s Anti-Tobacco Treaty Unite Farmers In Zimbabwe

The Wall Street Journal, in a piece that describes the fractured history between Zimbabwe’s white and black farmers, examines the potential impacts of the FCTC on the country, writing, “Zimbabwe officials and farmers – white and black – are banding together to explore how to respond to a treaty that could derail the country’s fragile recovery after a decade of economic and political tumult.”

The newspaper continues, “[t]obacco is Zimbabwe’s biggest agricultural employer, providing jobs for 350,000 people; an additional 500,000 work in related industries, such as cigarette manufacturing, according to the government and farmer unions. In September, Zimbabwe’s finance minister raised projections for full-year economic growth to slightly over 8% from its July forecast of 4.5%, largely because of resurgent tobacco sales. The industry earns much-needed foreign currency from its overseas sales of Burley tobacco, a product blended into such famous cigarette brands as Altria Group Inc.’s Marlboro.”

The article examines the argument by some groups that the WHO has pushed ahead on tobacco regulation plan without accurately assessing the possible impacts such efforts could have on farmers around the world. According to an “ITGA [study] released Thursday, [an] estimated 3.6 million jobs in the tobacco-growing sector in five African countries were at risk because of the WHO proposals. The report warned another 12 million people would be affected by developments in the countries’ tobacco sectors,” the Wall Street Journal writes.

The article includes quotes by Kevin Cooke, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made, President of the Commercial Farmers Union Deon Theron and ITGA’s Abrunhosa (Mutsaka, 11/13).