Statement: Testimony for the Hearing on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Geneva, Switzerland (Oct. 12-13, 2000)

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Aug. 30 2000

Washington, DC — The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is an organization with 135 member groups, including many of the United States' major public health organizations and other groups concerned about the health and welfare of our nation's children. The Campaign was created in 1996 to protect children from tobacco by raising awareness that tobacco use is a pediatric disease; by working to achieve public policies that promote a reduction in tobacco use, particularly among children; by altering the environment in which tobacco use and tobacco policy decisions are made; and by actively countering the tobacco industry and its special interests. Current funding for the Campaign comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Thoracic Foundation and others. We receive no money from tobacco companies or the United States government.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids requests the right to present our testimony during the hearings.

Since its founding, the Campaign has been interested in the issues that prompted the effort to develop a Framework Convention. This interest arises out of our recognition that tobacco affects people of all ages in every country. The tobacco industry sees the whole world as its market. Thus, action to control the scourge of tobacco must not stop at any one country's borders, nor should tobacco be regarded as an issue that can or should be treated by each country in isolation.

Last year, the Campaign co-sponsored the International Policy Conference on Children and Tobacco that was attended by more than 60 health ministers, legislators and other senior policymakers from 30 countries and 6 international organizations. Speaker after speaker highlighted the growing presence of U.S. and other multinational tobacco companies in their countries and the harmful impact that presence was having on public health and public policy. They described the sustained, active resistance by these multinational companies towards government and private efforts to implement sound and sensible public health measures. From these speakers it also became clear that the tobacco industry uses the same tactics, the same strategies, and the same arguments in country after country. The message from these speakers was two-fold: 1) even the most well-designed and implemented national tobacco control policies will never be completely successful unless multilateral action is also taken; and 2) individual nations need international support when confronted with the well-funded, carefully coordinated efforts of multinational tobacco companies to block meaningful reform. Speakers at the conference also demonstrated that all nations and peoples share the economic burden caused by the tobacco epidemic, and that only by working in concert can we hope to bring an end to this epidemic.

Over the past two years the Campaign has been working to educate the American public, NGOs and policymakers in the United States about the need for international action and the possible role of the Framework Convention for both domestic and worldwide tobacco use prevention and cessation efforts. We have been working to increase and strengthen coordination among U.S. organizations on behalf of a strong, effective FCTC. We have also been working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world to help give people from as many nations as possible an opportunity to learn about the Framework Convention and express their views on its importance to their nation.

The Scope of the Problem

The global scope of the tobacco epidemic is truly horrifying. Based on current smoking trends, tobacco will soon become the leading cause of death worldwide, causing more deaths than HIV, maternal mortality, automobile accidents, homicide and suicide combined. Globally, around 4 million people die from tobacco-related illness each year. That means that tobacco kills one person every eight seconds. If current trends continue, by the year 2030, 10 million people will die each year from tobacco use. What's more, the burden of death and disease from tobacco is rapidly shifting to developing countries. Already, approximately 50 percent of tobacco related deaths occur in developing countries. By 2030, that will increase to 70 percent. Many of tomorrow's tobacco victims are today's children. According to World Bank estimates, approximately 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco each and every day. If current trends continue, 250 million children alive today will die from tobacco-related disease. This is simply unacceptable.

What makes the tobacco epidemic so different from other non-communicable diseases is that it is caused and promoted by a powerful industry which is international in its vision and scope. For more than 40 years, the tobacco industry in the United States and elsewhere has done everything it can to keep the dangers of smoking hidden from the public. Big Tobacco has misrepresented the facts about nicotine addiction, tried to minimize the enormous toll tobacco takes in lives and money and even lied under oath to the United States Congress. Tragically, as smoking rates in wealthier nations such as the United States have stabilized or fallen, the tobacco industry is devoting even more of its marketing and political might to poorer nations in search of increasing profit. To the tobacco industry, nations with low tobacco use rates and nations where women and children have traditionally not smoked are nothing more than untapped markets waiting to be exploited. In this respect, the tobacco industry and its executives are nothing more than malicious vectors of disease who do not care whom they hurt.

Taking full advantage of the global trend towards the liberalization of trade, these companies have been engaged in an aggressive global expansion, establishing manufacturing and distribution networks and insinuating themselves into the economic and political life of country after country. The tobacco industry has also managed to export its sophisticated lobbying and public relations operations. Again and again, the industry has used its money and its power to try to defeat sound and sensible regulation, divert the public debate from tobacco, and convince governments that tobacco prevention will destroy their economies. Employing an army of lobbyists, public relations experts and lawyers, the industry hopes to scare the world into the misguided belief that tobacco control spells economic disaster in order to prevent the enactment of measures that are necessary to reduce tobacco use.

Has the Tobacco Industry Changed its Ways?

As a recent WHO inquiry makes clear, the tobacco companies are now employing on a global scale the same tactics they have used for 40 years to block and undermine public health policies in the United States and elsewhere. The report, "Tobacco Company Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at the World Health Organization," details how tobacco industry executives at the highest levels conspired to divert attention away from tobacco as a global public health issue, distort scientific studies on tobacco, reduce budgets for scientific and policy activities, and pit other United Nations agencies against the WHO. The goal was to discredit tobacco as an issue and the WHO as an institution. The study identifies current Philip Morris Companies Inc. Chairman Geoffrey C. Bible as a leader in the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine the WHO. According to the report, Bible, while president of Philip Morris International, wrote a December 1988 memorandum called the "Boca Raton Action Plan" that lays out a detailed, systematic plan to thwart the WHO's tobacco control efforts.

In recent months however, the tobacco industry has engaged in an expensive public relations offensive designed to portray itself as a reformed industry. Geoff Bible and his associates in the industry have begun to argue that that the industry has changed and should not be judged by its past actions. Leaving aside the fact that the tobacco industry wishes to be absolved for 50 years of lies and deceptions without being held accountable for its behavior, how much has the industry really changed? In the United States, sadly, the answer is virtually not at all. In the rest of the world, the answer is not at all.

Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies have a long history of making grand announcements when faced with political or legal challenges that turn out to be empty public relations gestures.

In October 1999 for example, Philip Morris posted on its website a statement seemingly accepting the medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking is addictive and causes lung cancer and other diseases. However, after the statement garnered significant publicity, Philip Morris executives and attorneys repeatedly stated that the company still does not accept these scientific conclusions. In fact, only a month after posting its "new" position, Philip Morris stated, in sworn court documents in New York, that "nicotine in cigarettes is not ‘addictive' under objective, scientifically verifiable pharmacological criteria used to define that term." The company went on to say that while it admitted that cigarette smoking is a "risk factor for, and may in fact cause, certain kinds of diseases in humans… it has not be scientifically established whether cigarette smoking causes any of these diseases in humans." Does this sound like a reformed industry that can be trusted?

Contrary to its statements, Philip Morris has known for years that the scientific evidence proves conclusively that its products are lethal, but the company has chosen to engage in a systematic, concerted effort to deceive the public.

This is not the only example of Philip Morris' continued duplicity. Following a 1998 settlement between the tobacco companies and 46 U.S. states, Philip Morris stated that it had made a fundamental change in its marketing practices so that children would not be targeted. Yet, three separate studies released in recent months have found that that since the settlement, the companies have actually substantially increased advertising in retail outlets frequented by large numbers of children and increased advertising and promotions in youth-oriented magazines. A full report of these studies can be found on our website, at http://tobaccofreekids.org/reports/addicting/.

In recent months, Philip Morris has also sought to prove that it had changed by claiming that it supports "reasonable regulation" of the tobacco industry. Yet in the United States, Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies have continued their staunch opposition to meaningful regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Philip Morris also points to its youth tobacco prevention programs as evidence of its sincerity that it does not want kids to smoke. Yet, when the American Legacy Foundation recently introduced two hard hitting ads designed to discouraged youth tobacco use, Philip Morris brought its corporate muscle to bear in censoring these ads. In addition, the "youth smoking prevention programs" that the industry sponsors are completely disingenuous. Research in the United States among young people has found industry-sponsored anti-smoking ads to be the least effective in discouraging young people from smoking, in part because they conveniently neglect to mention that smoking can and does cause cancer and other serious diseases. What's more, ads which have been run not only the United States but in Ukraine, Oman and other countries, paint tobacco use as a taboo for children, but an acceptable matter of "free choice" for adults.

The public relations offensive is not limited to Philip Morris. On August 29, 2000, British American Tobacco (BAT) released a statement detailing what it called a "quantum leap" for tobacco regulation. Upon close examination, however, its "radical" proposals are in fact another attempt to divert governments from the necessary task of putting in place strong national and international measures to rein in the tobacco companies. BAT's call for voluntary agreements, and its continued resistance to binding regulation and legislation, is consistent with the industry's efforts not to be held accountable for the death and disease that its products cause. Experience in country after country has shown that voluntary codes, whether on advertising or disclosure, simply do not work. The industry favors voluntary codes because they can be subverted and violated without any risk of sanction. BAT also claims that it supports "sensible regulation," yet its subsidiary in the United States sued to abrogate FDA regulation and it has opposed evidence-based regulation concerning warning labels, advertising and taxation in Canada and elsewhere. BAT also claims that it is a responsible industry member. However this does not square with recent revelations, from the company's own internal documents, that it has been an active participant in international tobacco smuggling.

The reality is that the tobacco industry has not changed; it has only geared up its public relations machinery. The tobacco industry continues to aggressively promote tobacco use in every corner of the globe. If the industry were sincere about changing its ways it would stop advertising and promotional activities that make its products appealing to children and would support legislation giving governments authority to regulate tobacco products just as they do other products. If history has taught us anything about the tobacco industry, it is that it will only change if it is forced to change.

So what is the truth about the tobacco industry's current actions? Rather than reducing youth smoking, these activities only serve as a public relations gesture designed to make the tobacco companies look reformed, and stave off the legislative and regulatory changes that are needed to effect real change.

The tobacco companies' response to the idea of the Framework Convention is another example of how the rhetoric may have changed but the ultimate goal has not. Predictably, some members of the tobacco industry have come out strongly against the Framework Convention even before the formal negotiations have begun. The Chairman of BAT has called the FCTC a "developed world obsession being foisted on the developing world," despite the fact that all 191-member countries of the World Health Assembly voted to endorse the negotiations. He also claims that tobacco is not a priority for developing countries which face much more pressing problems like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Through surrogates in academia and the media, the tobacco industry has attacked WHO for focusing on tobacco, despite the fact that tobacco will kill 4 million people this year and WHO estimates that by 2030 70% of all tobacco caused deaths will occur in developing nations. Perhaps these naysayers should go to India and speak with the families of the 670,000 people who will die this year from tobacco-related disease and explain to them just exactly how tobacco is solely a concern of "health nazis" in the United States and other developed countries.

Elements of a Strong Framework Convention

If the FCTC negotiations are successful and produce a strong Convention, it will make an enormous contribution to stemming the growth of the tobacco epidemic. The negotiation process and the Convention itself could raise national and international awareness of the problem, provide technical and financial resources for effective national tobacco control measures, and foster multilateral cooperation on aspects of tobacco control that transcend national boundaries, such as the global marketing and promotion of tobacco products, product labeling and regulation, smuggling, and a universal commitment to protecting the world's children from tobacco. It will also help to serve as a counterweight to an increasingly powerful industry that seems to have no qualms about selling an addictive product that kills one-half of its regular users.

In order to ensure that the Framework Convention and its protocols provide the best opportunity to address the global tobacco epidemic, the Campaign, together with a growing number of public health groups and other organizations, has prepared a Statement of Core Principles that will help us to evaluate whether the Framework Convention that emerges from the upcoming negotiations will truly benefit public health. Let me just briefly highlight some of these principles.

First, above all else, the protection and promotion of public health must drive the Framework Convention process. Commercial and trade interests must not supersede health concerns.

Second, the Convention should recognize that there is no single policy that will solve the problems caused by tobacco. In order to be effective, tobacco control efforts must be comprehensive and multi-faceted.

Third, nothing in the Framework Convention or related protocols should reduce, relax or in any other way diminish existing national tobacco control initiatives, regulations, laws or practices. Countries must be able to implement the most far-reaching tobacco control policies achievable. Simply put, the FCTC should set a floor – not a ceiling.

Fourth, tobacco companies, their subsidiaries, agents and consultants should not be treated as equal partners during the negotiations. Given their history of impeding sound public health policy, including the recent revelations about their attempts to subvert the work of WHO, tobacco companies simply cannot be trusted to participate in a constructive manner. In addition, these firms do not have public health concerns as their key priority, putting them directly in conflict with the primary aim of the Framework Convention.

Fifth, because of the vital contribution that civil society can make in assisting and monitoring the Convention negotiations, NGOs should be fully integrated into the Framework Convention process. NGOs have played critical roles in international agreements to protect public health and human life, such as the passage of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, the Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. NGOs have helped strengthen government resolve in addressing these issues, have provided technical expertise, and have helped provide important information to the public and the media during debates on these agreements.

Perhaps most importantly, NGOs both reflect and shape public opinion and concerns. It is therefore imperative that NGOs be involved in the Framework Convention process to the greatest extent possible. WHO should do all that is feasible and possible to facilitate NGO involvement. Rules for NGO participation should rely on the precedents set at other recent UN conferences and treaty negotiations. Moreover, since it is developing countries that will increasingly shoulder the burden of tobacco-related disease, it is essential that NGOs from developing countries be adequately represented at the negotiations.

Sixth, provisions of the Framework Convention and its related protocols should be made legally binding on the tobacco companies and therefore be implemented by legislation or regulation within member countries.

Conclusion

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds and supports the member states of the World Health Organization in choosing tobacco as the subject of its first health treaty. It is our sincere hope that the delegates who are entrusted with the delicate and necessary task of negotiating the Framework Convention and its protocols do not squander this opportunity to protect the health of the people they represent. It is their duty to ensure that this rogue industry does not profit at the expense of the health of their citizens.

 

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