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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Freedom 2 Choose Newsletter

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of the Parties, fourth session
November 15 - 20, 2010

Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the FWTC Conference of the Parties is a biennial gathering of anti-tobacco delegates from any country (or Party) that has signed or ratified WHO’s international treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

November’s gathering, in Punta del Este, Uruguay, is the fourth such Conference of the Parties - hence COP-4 - and continues its self-appointed task of framing and implementing anti-tobacco measures around the world. Working groups appointed at Conference spend the next 2 years examining specific articles on the Conference agenda and drafting new guidelines in time for the next COP gathering, at which their drafts are amended and/or voted for inclusion within the treaty.

On the agenda at COP-4

Article 6: Price and Tax.

Both are too low, according to the Framework Convention Alliance. Developing countries have most to gain, but even countries long familiar with the notion of Sin Tax could be squeezing more out of their smokers.

Article 9: Regulation of the contents of tobacco products
Article 10: Regulation of tobacco product disclosures

These two articles have triggered widespread opposition from tobacco growers, especially fearful that article 9 (banning additives and flavourings used to enhance the taste of burley tobacco) will damage their livelihoods. The International Tobacco Growers’ Association erected a marquee outside the conference area when denied access to the conference itself. Such is the resentment of Articles 9 and 10 (and to a lesser extent Articles 17 and 18) that Zimbabwean farmers of all hues are uniting in protest.

Article 12: Education and Training

Article 13: Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship

Two ways of drowning out the opposition’s voice: get more people to shout up for your side (art. 12) and legislate the enemy into silence (art. 13). Much emphasis on the global nature of the task in hand; targeting women, youths and other ‘disadvantaged’ populations; advertising bans; warning messages; plain packaging; the force of law and penalties.

Article 14: Cessation

Accepted in full by Conference. These guidelines for making us stop smoking were drafted by a working group that included the UK, which probably explains why the methods outlined are almost all depressingly familiar. Almost - but not quite. Nestled between the need to economise (‘use existing systems’) and a thumbs-up for quangos (‘political collaboration’) is a call for mandatory recording of smoking status on medical records.

Article 17: Viable alternatives to tobacco
Article 18: Protecting the environment

Areas considered much too big for a mere working party. Seventy countries (Parties) have been operating as a study group, researching economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco, since 2006. Their results were brought to COP-4 as a progress report. Government subsidies will be needed to make other crops an attractive alternative for tobacco farmers. No blame to the farmers - all blame to the manufacturers with their helpful start-up packages, efficient marketing schemes, above-average payments, community programmes, sponsorship and political collaboration.
The group will continue its studies, with a further report to COP-5 in 2012.

Article 19: Liability

Great disappointment that so many Parties are failing to sue the tobacco companies.

The Best Laid Plans...

The Framework Alliance is feeling the pinch.

All Parties are required to pay a biennial sub, known as a voluntary assessed contribution (or VAC), set at levels reflecting each country’s financial worth. VACs are the Framework Alliance’s ‘bread and butter’ revenue and fundamental to getting FWCT articles off the page and onto the streets, so the projected US$4, 938, 256 shortfall in VAC payments for the 20010/11 budget means difficult choices ahead.

Pet projects may have to be shelved.

Only 78 out of a total 160 parties were fully subscribed as of November 2010.

Forty-six countries have VACs set at US$113 per biennium, the lowest assessment made.

Top payer is Japan on a whopping US$1,762,925 pb. (Latest subs still unpaid as of October 31st.)

UK ranked 3rd highest contributor at US$752,280 pb. Ireland (US$50,441) is fully paid up.

European countries not only pay their own VAC, but also donate a further US$283,328 through the EU’s contribution (still outstanding as of Oct 31st).

Other Items of Note from Punta del Este

Plain packaging - Theme of lunchtime seminar; part-hosted by Australia who is showing us what Article 13 really means by adopting by this proposal within the next two years. The tobacco companies are complaining.

Meanwhile, back in Britain - Health Minister Andrew Lansley is said to be flexing his elbow to follow suit.

Gender, Women and the Tobacco Epidemic was the title of

Tuesday evening’s side show, a collaborative presentation by the WHO, the Framework Convention Alliance and the International Network of Women Against Tobacco.

Meanwhile, back in Britain - Smoking women are finding themselves, once again, at the sharp end of a public health campaign. Anti-smoking charity Quit is hoping to persuade them that giving up smoking won’t make them stressed or fat. Thankfully for Quit, the Scotsman, the Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail are all on hand with the barely less risible claim that smoking in pregnancy ‘breeds criminals’. Little wonder that most women prioritise giving up smoking 'above improving their career and having a happy relationship'.

A protocol on Illicit Tobacco is being created. Even the Framework Convention Alliance concede that high prices lead to more contraband and weaker tobacco control. However, strong tobacco control comes at a price - around US$3 million a year is the estimated budgetary requirement for this pet project.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland - A quarter of all cigarettes smoked are bought through the black market, depriving the legitimate trade of €692m, a figure that is expected to rise this year.
Smoking Cessation - Debbie Arnott of ASH UK writes of saving more than 180 million lives by 2050 (FCA COP-4 Bulletin 108), through the enactment of Article 14's evidence-based guidelines. (The UK was a 'key facilitator' in drafting the guidelines for Article 14.)

Meanwhile, back in Britain - Imperial Tobacco announce increased UK sales, bucking an international trend in the opposite direction; Cancer Research UK release figures showing that the number of British people attempting to give up smoking has fallen by half since the same period last year; and even though it enjoys one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe, Britain finds itself at the top of the EU's deaths by lung disease chart.

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