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Ahead of Global Meeting, Big Tobacco Seeks to Derail Progress on Life-Saving Tobacco Taxes

October 08, 2014

A tobacco industry-funded organization is trying to gut life-saving efforts to raise tobacco taxes as countries prepare to discuss the issue at an upcoming World Health Organization conference on tobacco control, according to an article in the Financial Times (subscription required). The conference kicks off October 13 in Moscow.

The International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC), a Washington, DC-based organization, has asked government representatives from around the world to attend a private meeting shortly before the conference in an effort to undercut progress on tobacco tax increases. According to the Financial Times, “all four of the major international tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International, are sponsors of the ITIC and have representatives on its board of directors.”

The Financial Times reports that an ITIC invitation to ministries of finance stated the meeting would “ensure there is a balanced approach to important excise taxation issues.”

Balanced? Not a chance. The tobacco industry knows that making tobacco products more expensive by raising taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations such as youth, pregnant women and low-income tobacco users. And tobacco taxes are a great way for governments to generate revenue.

The overwhelming evidence about the benefits of increased tobacco taxes is why tobacco companies pull out all the stops in fighting tobacco taxes, and why they are attempting ahead of next week’s conference to keep governments from making strong recommendations on tobacco taxation.

“The meeting comes in spite of rules aimed at banning tobacco companies from interfering with anti-tobacco policies,” according to the Financial Times article. “Signatories of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which provides global guidelines on antismoking policies, are obliged to “protect” legislation from the tobacco industry’s lobbying.”

In an effort to counter Big Tobacco’s latest move, the head of the tobacco treaty’s secretariat, Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, has warned governments that the ITIC is closely associated with the tobacco industry and has reminded them of their obligations under the treaty.

Dr. da Costa e Silva is absolutely right: governments should ignore this invitation from ITIC. This meeting is aimed at muddying the truth about tobacco taxes and helping the tobacco industry sell more of its lethal products, which are the world’s number one cause of preventable death. Instead, governments should focus on implementing proven strategies to reduce tobacco use – including higher tobacco taxes.

(Image source: World Health Organization, 2014)