The Guardian 26 October, 2005

Big tobacco tries to undermine treaty

The major tobacco companies have been accused of attempts to manipulate and undermine the world’s first treaty to reduce the growing tobacco epidemic worldwide — particularly in developing countries where deaths will reach seven million a year by 2025.

The treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), has the potential to save millions of lives if successfully implemented.

The report, Big Tobacco’s Attempts to Derail the Global Tobacco Treaty: Cases from Battleground Countries, accuses major companies of meddling in health policy around the world — including in many developing countries — by aggressively using their economic muscle to derail the treaty process.

The report was produced by Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a membership organisation instrumental in the World Health Organisation’s initiative. The report names corporations like Philip Morris (now Altria), British American Tobacco (BAT), and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) among the corporations seeking to undermine the treaty in the eleventh hour.

Health advocates are urging governments to meet the November 8 deadline for treaty ratification in order to vote at the first Conference of the Parties — where governments will make major decisions about the enforcement and implementation of the treaty. So far, 86 countries have ratified.

The report says tobacco corporations attempt to craft a "socially responsible" image and claim publicly to support the treaty, while encouraging policymakers to draft legislation that would fail to fulfil the treaty’s central obligations — notably the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The report also points out that in some countries — including the USA — that have not yet ratified the treaty, Big Tobacco is aggressively increasing political interference and expanding operations.

"Tobacco companies are actively promoting themselves as ‘socially responsible’ corporations whilst behind the scenes they are undermining health policies — particularly in poorer countries", Anne Jones, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health Australia, stated.

"Although Australia has ratified the treaty, it is not immune to such tactics", she warned — pointing out that tobacco companies are promoting themselves widely at expert forums as "socially responsible" corporations; they have also gained further delays to new health warnings for consumers as well as a partial ban only on their use of misleading and deceptive terms "light" and "mild" on tobacco products.

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