Saturday, 20 November 2010

Uruguay Conference (COP-4) fails to gain concensus: Philippines gets the blame

Although claiming success, the fourth Conference of the Parties, held this week in Uruguay, gained agreement in only limited areas of its agenda. According to this report, it agreed only on getting smoking cessation and training for relevant personnel to be funded by governments (and voted for support for the state of Uruguay against legal action brought against it by Philip Morris International). On the issue of government funding of smoking cessation, this is a huge diversion from existing health problems. It cannot be said to be high on the agenda of countries with major burdens in transferable disease. But now it is mandated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The conference failed to get agreement on the banning of ingredients, or further control of the illicit trade.

Afterwards the Framework Convention Alliance took it out on the Philippines:
According to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance, Philippines (FCAP), the COP-4 delegation of the Philippines served as the tobacco industry's mouthpiece in criticizing the draft guidelines on regulating the contents of tobacco products and requiring disclosure of tobacco products contents.
"Despite existing scientific evidence and international experience, the delegation decided to protect the interests of tobacco manufacturers, whose sole objective is to profit from the harms on the people’s health caused by tobacco use," said Dr. Maricar Limpin, FCAP executive director.    
They didn't have a consensus and so rounded on the rebels. I can't comment on the delegation in detail, however, it was headed by a delegate from the Trade & Industry department, with one Health department representative, one from Agriculture and one from the College of  Law. This was felt by  some to be 'unfair' as the Department of Health was under-represented. However since the conference was about global tobacco rules, this seems a fair enough mix to me. Law, Agriculture and Health all got a seat, and the DTI got three.

The problem of course is that the FCTC has sought to create consensus by excluding the opposition to its agenda from any meeting. Any opposition is construed as being orchestrated by the tobacco industry – even the composition of the delegation comes under criticism: '"Considering that the WHO FCTC is a public health treaty, it is inexcusable that the public health sector is severely underrepresented at this important conference." said Emer Rojas, a cancer victim and president of [New Voice Association of the Philippines].' Only domination by health department delegates will satisfy. The Philippines delegation was 'the tobacco industry's mouthpiece', and actual farmers assumed to have been organised by the tobacco industry as well.

It is good to know that there is significant disagreement even within this self-censoring organisation.


The COP-4 bulletin #108 (available here, foot of page) tells of Tanzania, where farmers have extricated themselves from the tobacco market: a brutal regime where sometimes they were not paid months after delivering their crops to market. Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum advised farmers to transfer to alternative crops, and enough of them did to create a glut by the end of the season. The reporter even admits that 'sesame has a market, although buyers cheat farmers by using fake scales'. (Ah: so exploitation and dailylight robbery of small farmers isn't limited to the tobacco market? Good that you picked that up!) The TTCF has arranged warehousing and advance payments for farmers, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture. This may have removed those farmers from a very tight situation, but their analysis that tobacco is what hurts farmers is false. All small farmers and producers are vulnerable to exploitation, late payment and consequential debt problems, whatever their crop. The work of  TTCF would be valued more if it didn't limit its beneficiaries to tobacco farmers.

Edit: According to a more recent report, COP-4 recommended that 'additives used to make cigarettes more appealing to new smokers should be restricted or banned', and that governments pass legislation accordingly. Being a BBC report, it tells us that the agreement was 'adopted by consensus'. But clearly, gatekeeping is so robust at this conference (all conceivable opposition left at the door and even the composition of delegations condemned if not dominated by health interests) that consensus was inevitable.

No comments: