In response to my call for all parties interested
in providing their views about the Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control ( FCTC), WHO received over 500 written submissions which were
immediately made accessible for public scrutiny on WHO’s website.
Representatives of over 160 organisations are currently providing oral
testimony in Geneva. They represent most major tobacco multinationals
and state tobacco companies, as well as several tobacco farming groups
along with a diverse range of public health agencies, women’s
groups, community based organisations and academic institutions.
All groups with a commitment to public health
expressed extreme concern about the impact of tobacco use on the
current and future health of populations, especially in developing
countries. They urge rapid and decisive action. In contrast, most
tobacco companies concentrated on what they believe to be the
boundaries of 'reasonable' and 'appropriate' actions. Some questioned
the role of WHO and the FCTC process in promoting action and making
progress to reduce the public health impact of tobacco. Further,
several tobacco companies continued to deny that passive smoking
constitutes a threat to health.
In general, the tobacco companies have indicated
support for policies and measures that are known to have a very
limited impact on youth and adult consumption of tobacco. They appear
to be against the interventions that WHO, the World Bank and public
health experts have identified as having a measurable and sustained
impact on tobacco use.
These are a combination of
- increased excise taxes,
- bans on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and marketing,
- controls on smoking in public places,
- expanded access to effective means of quitting,
- tough counter-advertising and
- tight controls on smuggling.
I hope that Member States will focus on these
interventions as they deliberate about the measures to be included
both in the FCTC and in their national laws and policies.
In much of their testimony, companies that are part
of the tobacco industry focus on political, financial and human rights
issues. They re-state well known predictions that international action
to reduce tobacco use will lead to sudden and massive job losses,
people driven further into poverty and threats to the sovereignty of
nations. As we heard from other groups, these predictions do lead to
genuine concern among decision makers: however, careful research has
also shown that in most cases the predictions have no evidence base.
It thus seems likely that the companies are trying to confuse the
negotiating process that will be taken forward by delegates from WHO’s
191 Member States. They seek to do this just before the FCTC
Intergovernmental Negotiating Body which starts Monday the 16th
A diverse group of organisations from developing
countries provided different views of the impact of tobacco on farmers
in rural communities. Some groups described the fears of tobacco
farmers about the certainty of their future livelihood. While these
fears are understandable, there is no evidence to suggest that they
However there is a need for careful study of the
way in which long-term reductions in tobacco demand impacts on the
supply of tobacco products in the long term. This would help with the
identification of communities and countries that may have legitimate
concerns about their vulnerability. It would indicate the options that
exist to minimise potential hardship over the next few decades. Such
work is underway - and being carried out in collaboration between FAO,
the World Bank, US Department of Agriculture, Canada’s IDRC, Sweden’s
SIDA and WHO.
During the hearings several tobacco companies have
indicated that they are shifting their marketing policies - towards a
"middle ground". Some spoke of wanting a "reasonable
dialogue", and desiring to work towards "practical and
realistic solutions". WHO takes the view that Governments must be
cautious about what this means in practice. There is one underlying
reality which we must all keep in mind - tobacco remains the only
legal consumer product that kills half of its regular users.
The WHO position, based on available evidence, is
that there are four ways to reduce the