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The government of Brazil, in partnership with The Union, has launched an online observatory to protect and strengthen tobacco control policies by monitoring tobacco industry interference -- the first such government-run initiative in the region.

The centre-piece of the observatory is an online database that will be available to governments, civil society stakeholders, academic researchers, and the public at large. The observatory will collect and analyse documents and virtual data on tobacco industry strategies that seek to undermine tobacco control policies in Brazil and the region. It will also produce and disseminate information to government officials, legislators, and decision makers in general. The new platform will provide a model for similar efforts aimed at monitoring the food and alcohol industries.

The observatory was developed by the Centre for Studies on Tobacco and Health (CETAB) at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, known as Fiocruz, a renowned health research agency linked to Brazil's Ministry of Health. The Union supports this pioneering effort through technical assistance and a Bloomberg Initiative (BI) grant with Fiocruz.

The launch took place at Fiocruz's National School of Public Health and was attended by Vera Luiza Da Costa e Silva, head of the Secretariat of the WHO-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC); Tânia Cavalcante, executive secretary of Brazil's National Commission for WHO FCTC Implementation (CONICQ); Paulo Gadella, president of Fiocruz; and representatives from The Union, government agencies, and civil society organisations.

A technical workshop on industry interference and WHO FCTC Article 5.3 is also taking place as part of this event. The workshop is sponsored by The Union and jointly organized with Fiocruz. Government officials from Brazil's federal government and subnational jurisdictions are in attendance.

The newly launched observatory is a timely contribution at a crucial juncture marked by industry challenges to Brazil's landmark 2012 ban on all flavours and additives in tobacco products. The tobacco industry challenged this regulation before the Federal Supreme Court, which temporarily suspended Anvisa's (National Health Surveillance Agency of Brazil) ban in late 2013, pending a final pronouncement. The Union has been fully supportive of Brazil's position. Ehsan Latif, director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control, signed a letter urging the Supreme Court to uphold Anvisa's comprehensive ban on additives.

Brazil provides an outstanding public health success story in reducing tobacco prevalence and deaths from smoking, and serves as a model for other low and middle income nations. In 2000, before the WHO FCTC, it required pictorial warnings covering at least 100% of one of the two main sides of a cigarette pack. In 2001, it became the first country to ban misleading adjectives such as “light” and “mild” from packages. In 2011, it banned e-cigarettes.

As a result of these and other measures, such as price increases, marketing restrictions, smoke-free laws, and cessation programs, Brazil nearly halved smoking prevalence from 35% in 1989 to 18% in 2008. Almost 420,000 Brazilians were saved from premature deaths. In 2013, the smoking rate was at 14.7% countrywide, among adults 18 years and older.

In 2003, Brazil became the first country in the Americas to establish an intergovernmental body to manage WHO FCTC implementation. In 2012, it was also the first to enact WHO FCTC-based ethical guidelines for all participating member agencies.

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