Global Activists Raise Concerns About Tobacco Industry Political Influence In Tobacco Treaty Discussions
BOSTON, Jan. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- This week, leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) meet in Geneva to discuss the WHO's proposed tobacco control treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
A network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world, including US-based corporate watchdog organization INFACT, are organizing around the meeting to prevent the powerful Big Tobacco lobby from obstructing or watering down the treaty. As US-based tobacco corporations increasingly look abroad for new, lucrative, and less regulated markets, the tendency toward marketing abuses and influence-peddling also increases, say public health and corporate accountability advocates pushing for stronger global tobacco control measures.
``Through lobbyists, political contributions, and other means, tobacco transnationals have enormous influence in the countries in which they operate. They use this political clout to safeguard their access to new customers,'' said Lucinda Wykle-Rosenberg, Research Director of INFACT, which has sent representatives to this and other recent WHO meetings. According to data compiled by INFACT, tobacco giant Philip Morris has a federal lobbying force that outnumbers the US Senate, plus over 200 state-level lobbyists across the country. ``Big Tobacco is using the same tactics at the global level. It is critical that the Framework Convention restrict the ability of the tobacco corporations to interfere in public policy,'' said Wykle-Rosenberg.
A poll released by INFACT last month shows strong support among the US public for the WHO's new treaty: 68% of US adults agree there is a need for independent regulation of the tobacco corporations in the US and around the world, and 67% do not believe that corporations should expand internationally in order to escape limitations on marketing dangerous products in the US.
INFACT and groups such as the Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia) and World Vision International have formed a Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) to oppose the tobacco industry's political influence-peddling on the world stage. NATT members argue that the FCTC must address the political activities of tobacco corporations in order to effectively halt the growth of the tobacco epidemic. At a recent WHO meeting, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease called for the FCTC to require ``detailed national reporting on the operations and political activities of tobacco companies, both foreign and domestic.'' Delegations from countries including Iceland, India, Maldives, Malta, Papua New Guinea, and Peru sounded similar themes at an October meeting to begin drafting the treaty.
NATT members also warn that tobacco industry influence poses a threat to the outcome of the treaty itself. ``We can expect that the tobacco transnationals, led by industry giant Philip Morris, will use every resource at their disposal to block or weaken the WHO's proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,'' says Wykle-Rosenberg. Recognizing this threat, the WHO launched an investigation last November into tobacco industry efforts to influence or undermine WHO programs.
Philip Morris internal documents brought to light through a US lawsuit suggest an intention on the part of the corporation to disrupt the WHO's tobacco control work. In a 1989 Philip Morris document, a detailed action plan designed by the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller suggested that the corporation prepare ``countermeasures to contain/neutralize/re-orient the WHO'' and develop ``specific strategies and plans to blunt their programme initiatives.'' The document noted that Philip Morris's Kraft Foods subsidiary could serve as a ``neutral ground from which [to] network around the periphery of WHO'' to influence WHO. The plan included using Philip Morris's anti-hunger philanthropy as leverage against WHO. Urging an increase in the use of ``third party business groups'' to lobby World Health Assembly delegates around issues of concern to Philip Morris, the document called on Philip Morris to ``allocate the resources necessary to stop them in their tracks.''
Kraft is the target of a growing consumer boycott organized by INFACT, pressuring Philip Morris to stop spreading tobacco addiction around the world. ``Philip Morris has threatened legislators in at least one US state that a tobacco tax increase could affect decisions concerning expansions of its Kraft Foods facilities in their districts,'' says INFACT Executive Director Kathryn Mulvey. ``A similar threat in a poor country could be decisive in stopping tobacco regulations. More and more consumers are savvy to Philip Morris's efforts to use Kraft's wholesome image as a cover, and they're soundly rejecting such deceptive tactics.''
For further information or to request interviews with INFACT representatives in the US and on-site at the WHO meeting in Geneva, call Kathryn Mulvey at (617) 695-2525.
INFACT's purpose is to stop life-threatening abuses of transnational corporations and increase their accountability to people around the world. Founded in 1977, INFACT is known for its successful Nestle and GE Boycotts. For more information about INFACT, please visit our web site at www.infact.org.