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The Union welcomes the approval of a Bill by Brazil’s Federal Senate on Tuesday 12 November extending measures to fight the tobacco epidemic in the country. The Bill will now go before the Chair of Deputies for final approval, which is expected in 2020. Once approved, the Bill will take effect in 90 days.

The Bill includes major tobacco control advances including a ban of tobacco product displays at point of sale, a ban on importing and marketing of flavoured tobacco products, strengthened graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging, and a ban on smoking in cars with children present, with tough fines for drivers who are caught breaking this law.

The Bill was approved by the Federal Senate despite opposition by tobacco industry allies and front groups such as ABRASEL (Associação Brasileira de Bares e Restaurantes).

“Tobacco causes eight million deaths per year worldwide, and more than 400 deaths per day in Brazil,” said Dr Gustavo Sóñora, Regional Director of The Union Latin America. “The Union celebrates this achievement as a major step forwards in the fight against tobacco use, and an example for other countries to follow.

“We also urge Brazil – as one of the world leaders in implementing evidence-based tobacco control policies – to continue its leadership by reconsidering the introduction of plain packaging, which was originally proposed but left out of the final Bill.”

The Union has been supporting Brazil's tobacco control efforts for more than a decade. Our joint work with the National Cancer Institute (INCA) and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) contributed to a sweeping 2011 tobacco tax policy reform, the creation of the first government-run online observatory to monitor tobacco industry interference, and online training of 700 health inspectors to implement and enforce tobacco control legislation across the country.

The Union will continue to work closely with our partners to support Brazil in implementing this Bill, and to encourage the adoption of other evidence-based tobacco control policies such as plain packaging, to further reduce tobacco use and the unnecessary death and suffering it causes.

 

The Union congratulates Mexico for the decision to increase tobacco excise tax in line with the national inflation rate. This measure was approved by the Mexican Parliament in October and was included in the Economic Package proposal for the year 2020. Tobacco tax will be reviewed each year and adjusted according to the inflation rate.

Increasing tobacco tax to ensure that tobacco products become increasingly unaffordable is one of the most effective policies for reducing tobacco use set out in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The Union collaborated with Union grantee, the National Council Against Addictions (CONADIC), to provide technical assistance to the government of Mexico and support the decision to update tobacco excise tax each year based on the inflation rate.

“The Union welcomes this decision as a positive sign that the Mexican government is committed to strengthening tobacco control in the country,” said Dr Gustavo Sóñora, Regional Director of The Union Latin America.

“However, tax on tobacco products in Mexico is still too low. The Union urges Mexico to consider further increasing tobacco tax, one of the most effective policies of the WHO FCTC, to encourage smokers to quit and to make smoking unaffordable for young people.”

The Union has provided technical assistance to further tobacco control policies in Mexico since 2006, and helped establish the first ever smokefree beach in the country; beach San Martin in Cozumel. The Union has supported partners to strengthen the enforcement and evaluation of tobacco policy, and to present scientific evidence for tobacco control subnationally in each of Mexico’s 32 provinces.

Tobacco control efforts in Mexico have shown positive results, with the national smoking rate declining from 28 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2017. However, with over 16 million Mexican people still using tobacco in 2017, The Union will continue to provide support to partners and the government of Mexico to further implement the policies set out in the WHO FCTC, to reduce the preventable diseases and early death caused by tobacco.

 

The Union welcomes the news that China is planning to regulate e-cigarettes to prevent young people and non-smokers from taking up vaping.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday 22 July, Mao Qunan, head of the National Health Commission's (NHC) planning department, said that the NHC "is working with relevant departments to conduct research on electronic cigarette supervision and we plan to regulate electronic cigarettes through legislation."

There is an urgent need for the regulation of e-cigarettes globally because research has shown that vaping is increasing dramatically among young people. The 2018 United States (US) National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Centres for Disease Control showed that the number of US high school students who reported current e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018, and the study authors suggested that this could be due to the recent popularity of certain types of e-cigarettes, such as JUUL.

“Recent evidence has shown that the use of e-cigarettes among adolescents is likely to lead them to go on to smoking tobacco products,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union. “The regulation of e-cigarettes in China is urgently needed to ensure that young people are protected.”

“We would recommend that e-cigarettes be regulated in China as pharmaceutical products, which would require manufacturers to provide evidence that the sale of the product will bring public health benefits. It is also important that the use of e-cigarettes is banned in public places; that all e-cigarette advertisements are banned; and that health warnings are printed on packages.”

The Union has made further recommendations on the regulation of e-cigarettes to protect public health in a summary position statement on e-cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems.

Over the past decade, substantial progress has been made in China, which has the highest rate of tobacco use in the world, in protecting non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke. A relaxed regulation on e-cigarettes, or a lack of regulation altogether, could potentially roll back the progress made in social norm change on smoking, and endanger the effectiveness and efficiency of smoke-free law enforcement.

The unique situation of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA) being part of the government in China warrants the need for the STMA to be distanced from tobacco control policy making, as it poses a conflict of interest and a violation of Article 5.3 (on tobacco industry interference) of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This principle should also be applied to the development of e-cigarette regulation.

Dr Gan Quan said: “It is crucial that the regulatory authority over e-cigarettes reside with the China Food and Drug Administration, and that STMA is not involved in the regulation of e-cigarettes or any discussions about it.”

 

The STOP global tobacco industry watchdog, of which The Union is a partner, has launched a new database revealing close to 100 groups which are aiding the tobacco industry in its efforts to undermine public health policies worldwide.

The tobacco industry has a long history of interfering in polices proven to reduce tobacco use and save lives, such as smoke-free laws, tobacco tax increases and graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging, as set out in the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

One of the tactics that tobacco companies use to derail these policies is by channeling funding, expertise and messaging to other organisations that can carry out their agenda with perceived legitimacy. Some of these organisations are easy to identify, such as tobacco trade associations or public-relations firms working for tobacco companies. Some, however, attempt to disguise themselves by claiming independence, such as the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

“The tobacco industry is the single greatest barrier to reducing disease related to tobacco use,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union and partner in STOP. “STOP is wholly dedicated to providing information and tools that make it easier to sort the truth from the lies.”

The Tobacco Industry Allies database, which is now accessible on the new STOP website, contains details of 92 organisations in 27 countries that promote the industry’s agenda while appearing to be independent. The largest concentration of tobacco industry allies in this initial research was in the United States and the United Kingdom, but groups were identified across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, highlighting the global effort to interfere with tobacco control policies.

Dozens more groups are still under investigation by STOP, and it is estimated that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of other organisations working to advance tobacco industry interests.

Contact STOP if you have information relating to a possible tobacco industry ally.

Visit STOP’s new website at exposetobacco.org to access tools and resources including the latest analyses, reports, and information on the industry’s tactics.

A note on information sources

STOP researchers used academic sources and journals, government reports, financial filings, news articles, legal documents and organisations’ own material to compile the Tobacco Industry Allies database. To help assess financial transparency, STOP used the Transparify rating. All organisations listed are rooted in evidence available on Tobacco Tactics.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union and  Vital Strategies. Learn more at exposetobacco.org.

 

In an official note to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Michael Møller, outgoing Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, called for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system. Møller argued a case for improved partnerships with the private sector, which he said “plays a key role in creating economic prosperity, as an essential mechanism for sustainable development.”

In the note, Møller also stated that: “businesses which are legitimate enough to pay taxes to governments should also be legitimate enough to participate in discussions concerning joint efforts to minimise health risks and address other problems of a common nature. This is particularly true for those that have highly advanced research efforts to minimise the harmful effects of their own products.”

This alarming line of argument echoes the tobacco industry itself – in particular, the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which claims that it is committed to “reducing harm” through the promotion of alternative tobacco products, whilst Philip Morris continues to sell cigarettes around the world and actively interferes in evidence-based public health policies.

In response to this, a Union backed letter has been sent to UN Secretary-General Guterres, urging him to reject Møller’s note in its entirety, on the grounds that it poses a direct threat to progress towards the sustainable development goals and directly conflicts with international law.

The letter was signed by Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco control at The Union on behalf of the STOP global tobacco industry watchdog, of which The Union is a partner – along with Francis Thompson, Framework Convention Alliance Executive Director; Laurent Huber, Action on Smoking and Health Executive Director; and Matthew L Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Secretary General Guterres,

RE: The role of the tobacco industry in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

We are writing to you regarding a note on the role of the tobacco industry in the United Nation’s (UN) 2030 Agenda you received from the outgoing Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Michael Møller.

Mr Møller’s call for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system represents a threat to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals but also stands in direct conflict with international law, in particular Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which states that “Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.” It is alarming that an outgoing UN official of Mr Møller’s status would feel the need to suggest softening the stance of the global community toward an industry whose products claim eight million lives and cost between one and two percent of global GDP annually.

The consensus within the UN system to exclude the tobacco industry from policymaking was not created lightly. As the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines note, “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” Tobacco companies have a long-standing history of interfering with the implementation of tobacco control policies through lobbying, legal action and intimidation. It is impossible to produce, market and sell tobacco products in a way that is compatible with public health or the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

Accordingly, tobacco companies have been excluded from the UN Global Compact, and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSCO) passed resolution E/2017/L.21, which calls upon all UN agencies to “implement their own policies on preventing tobacco industry interference.

We cannot help but wonder why Mr Møller has chosen to wait until the end of his tenure to raise such a controversial proposal that would be detrimental to global health but beneficial to the tobacco industry. In order to prevent any doubt about the UN’s commitment to global tobacco control, the WHO FCTC and the 2030 Agenda, we respectfully ask you to reject Mr Møller’s note in its entirety and instruct all staff with whom the note was shared to disregard its content.

We count on your continued support in this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

[Signed by]:

Francis Thompson, FCA Executive Director

Laurent Huber, ASH Executive Director

Matthew L. Myers, CTFK President

Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, partner in STOP

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose tobacco industry strategies and tactics to undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union and Vital Strategies.

 

The Union supports a campaign launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) against the Philip Morris International (PMI) funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW).

SEATCA’s campaign centres around the FSFW’S attempt to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” for its new tool, which is intended to evaluate the actions of 15 tobacco companies as they move from promoting conventional cigarettes to alternative “smoke-free” products.

SEATCA had already developed a tool by the exact same name three years ago, to assess the implementation of smoke-free policies in southeast Asian countries in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The FSFW announced the plans to develop what it termed “the first ever Smoke-Free Index” in March 2019. Three months earlier, the foundation filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for ownership of the mark “[Smoke-Free Index]”; and filed similar applications in the EU, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, China and Canada.

“Considering that SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index was first published in 2016, FSFW’s use and trademarking of the term ‘Smoke-Free Index’ is misleading, potentially confusing, and tantamount to wrongful appropriation of SEATCA’s intellectual property,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

Dr Dorotheo has also highlighted a 2014 PMI Corporate Affairs presentation made public by a Reuters investigative report in 2017, which said: “We’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO [anti-tobacco organization] in Asia.” This evidence suggests that PMI has been actively monitoring the activities of SEATCA, and implies that its move to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to undermine SEATCA’s tobacco control efforts in the region.

“The FSFW-funded ‘smoke-free index’ is yet another obvious marketing ploy intended to undermine tobacco control policy and promote the business interests of PMI,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union.

“PMI claims a commitment to reducing harm, but at the same time is continuing to promote the sale of cigarettes around the world, whilst actively interfering in public health policies which are proven to reduce tobacco use.”

The FSFW has been reaching out to research organisations, NGOs and academics in search of partners to legitimise its attempts to promote smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products like IQOS, which PMI aggressively markets in low- and middle-income countries.

The public health community remains sceptical of the FSFW’s agenda, however, and The Union has joined high profile organisations like WHO and hundreds of others to publicly reject any form of collaboration with foundation.

In the past month, two regional meetings organised by the FSFW to inform the development of its “Smoke-Free Index” tool, scheduled to be held in Bangkok and Istanbul, have been cancelled due to a lack of confirmed attendees, following urgent calls by the public health community to boycott such events.

Dr Gan Quan said: “The public health community has been strong and vocal in its refusal to partner with the FSFW, and it is encouraging to see that this is working. It is important that we continue to stand against big tobacco, and support campaigns like SEATCA’s which expose the industry’s manipulative and deceitful tactics.”

 

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