A little-known bureaucracy based in Geneva that wields enormous influence over governments across the world has been operating in secret to limit access to new technologies that millions of smokers are using to save their lives. That is according to a new report out today from Reason Foundation, a US-based non-profit think tank.
The report looks at the work of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty created by the World Health Organization in 2004 that seeks “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.” Yet, in the eleven years since the treaty came into force, the number of smokers in the world has increased – mainly in China and other poor countries that were the Convention’s primary target.
Julian Morris, Vice President at Reason Foundation, and co-author of the report, comments: “The FCTC has not so far proven to be a stellar success on its own terms.”
Morris and co-author Deepak Lal, Professor of Economics at UCLA, argue that the problem with the FCTC Secretariat is that it is beholden to the idea that the only way to reduce smoking is for smokers to “quit or die.” It is thus highly sceptical of the potential for new technologies, such as vape devices, to reduce smoking, has raised concerns about the safety of these new products, and has advocated regulations that would restrict access. Just last week, the FCTC Secretariat issued a report, commissioned in secret from unknown authors, which argues that the marketing of vape products should be heavily regulated.
Yet, a recent report from the Royal College of Physicians concluded that vaping is “at least 95% safer” than smoking. Moreover, millions of people have stopped smoking as a result of switching to vaping. And where vape products are legally available, rates of smoking initiation have fallen faster than in locations where they are not available. Thus, paradoxically, if governments follow the FCTC’s advice, vape products would become less readily available and more people will smoke, with far worse health consequences. As the paper notes: “The WHO’s opposition to tobacco harm reduction is dishonest, bordering on the criminal.”
Morris and Lal raise argue that many of the problems with the FCTC stem from the fact that it violates all the precepts of good governance. It is particularly lacking when it comes to transparency. For example, at the fifth Conference of the Parties (COP) in Seoul, Korea, the public gallery and media were excluded. At the sixth COP, the same routine was followed. In each case, everyone in the public gallery was ejected – including all journalists – and the meeting proceeded essentially in secret.
The FCTC is also highly exclusionary. The authors note that it“currently lists only 20 NGOs as Observers on its website. By contrast, the Framework Convention on Climate Change lists over 2,000 NGOs as Observers. Moreover, there is essentially no participation by representatives of many affected groups, including users of tobacco and vape products, vendors, and farmers. Participation by IGOs has also been restricted; even Interpol has been denied Observer status despite its expertise in combating illicit trade in tobacco, a key topic covered by the Convention.”
The primary justification the FCTC Secretariat gives for restricting participation and operating in secret is the avoidance of conflicts of interest. But the real reason is that it doesn’t want to allow anyone into the tent who disagrees with its delusional belief that the only option for smokers is to “quit or die.” As the authors observe: “If the FCTC is genuinely committed to the “right to health” then it must listen to those who are taking control of the things that determine their health – and to those who are helping them to do so. In other words, it should open itself up to participation by groups representing vapers, snus users, and companies producing these and other less harmful nicotine-containing products.”
In terms of reforming procedures, Morris and Lal suggest that “Instead of producing papers in secret and making them available only a few weeks before COPs, it should issue a call for papers and encourage all parties with an interest in the issue to submit materials. It might then allow public scrutiny of those papers and form a committee, the composition of which is determined by votes from a much enlarged group of Observers, who can then review submissions and form conclusions.”
Meanwhile, to address genuine conflicts of interest, the authors suggest that the FCTC should, “open itself up to scrutiny. That means, at the very least, permitting journalists to attend all sessions of COPs and technical committees. Better yet, the FCTC might livestream all its proceedings over the web.”
Distributed by APO on behalf of HWB.
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