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“Governments are concentrating all their efforts on COVID-19, neglecting priorities such as tobacco control”

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Cristiane Vianna is The Union’s Technical Advisor for tobacco control in Brazil.

cristiane vianna

Cristiane Vianna is The Union’s Technical Advisor for tobacco control in Brazil. In 1998, at the age of 22, she was introduced to tobacco control when her first boss, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva – formerly the Head of the Convention Secretariat of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – trusted her to become involved with the international negotiation of the WHO FCTC treaty, making tobacco control a lifelong passion for Cristiane.

Cristiane is a lawyer with a master’s degree in public health. She has always worked in human rights and health, but after working at the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA) for more than a decade, she revisited her career aspirations and decided it was time to acquire other skills: “I joined The Union’s Latin America team in 2012 with the remit to reconcile national and international tobacco control work. Since then I have been happy and proud to be part of the Union team, particularly since we share very similar values.

“In 2004, long before I worked for The Union, I was invited to participate in the 35th Union World Conference on Lung Health as a speaker in a symposium titled Women, tobacco, lung health and economic consequences. My involvement gave me the unique opportunity to learn all about The Union, an experience which made me want to be part of the team.”

The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative (BI) to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program which awards funds to projects delivering high-impact tobacco control interventions in low- and middle-income countries. Through this programme The Union has funded several projects on tobacco control in Brazil since 2007. The work supports INCA through its National Commission for FCTC Implementation in Brazil, known as CONICQ, to: promote stronger tobacco taxation; adopt plain packaging of tobacco products; introduce effective bans on tobacco additives and point-of-sale displays; and designate tobacco control funds to compensate for smoking-related healthcare costs at federal and subnational levels. The Union also supports the first government-run tobacco industry observatory in the Latin America-Caribbean region, managed by the Center for Studies on Tobacco and Health (CETAB) at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, known as Fiocruz, a renowned health research agency linked to Brazil's Ministry of Health.

Cristiane is proud of having personally participated in the approval of important tobacco control legislation in Brazil, including the national law prohibiting print and broadcast advertising, point-of-sale advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products, the first set of graphic health warnings with images on tobacco packages, the ban of misleading terms such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ from cigarette packages, and the latest comprehensive national smokefree legislation.

“My involvement started from drafting the legislation texts, discussing them and working on their approval. I was involved in the entire FCTC negotiation, from the first WHO meeting about the Convention in Canada in 1998, through various working group meetings, then the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body sessions, culminating in the 56th World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland on 21 May 2003, the moment at which the FCTC became the first WHO treaty adopted under article 19 of the constitution.”

More recently, Cristiane has been monitoring the relationship between tobacco control and the coronavirus, and the impact this is having in Brazil.

“Any pandemic has an impact on public health priorities, and this is no different for tobacco control. Aside from the fact that there might be new opportunities to include tobacco control measures in the COVID-19 agenda, especially on cessation policies, the issue of real concern is that governments are concentrating all their efforts on curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, neglecting priorities such as tobacco control. Of additional concern is the tobacco industry, which is taking advantage of the current scenario to promote their agenda through ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities.”

Cristiane is aware that international events and conferences are being postponed, and she looks forward to tobacco control being brought back as a global priority. At the national level, additional efforts should also reignite the tobacco control agenda, not only as part of the COVID-19/health agenda but also as a multi-sectoral priority in line with a country’s legally binding obligations under the WHO FCTC.

COVID-19 is having an impact at the global and national level, but also at a personal level. As a mother of three, Cristiane juggles the need to support her children with their online classes and the work she undertakes from home for The Union. The nature of the work is also changing, with a need to organise and participate in many webinars, and to monitor grantees remotely, through online meetings. Despite these changes to working life, Cristiane remains pragmatic: “during these challenging moments, I think it is very important to use our emotional competence to help us interact constructively with other people. It is also important to remember that the problems we are experiencing will pass.” 

Looking ahead, Cristiane is very excited about the filing of the lawsuit by the Government of Brazil against British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International, which aims to recover the costs that were paid by the public health system to treat all smoking-related illnesses over the previous five years: “This litigation is the missing component in Brazil’s tobacco control efforts. This step will set a further precedent and a call to all countries in the Americas and worldwide to sue tobacco companies.”

Cristiane’s obvious dedication to tobacco control is perhaps only equalled by her devotion to animals: “If I weren’t a lawyer, I would probably be a vet. I have a deep love for domestic animals, particularly dogs and cats.” Although working in tobacco control is demanding in terms of time, as is rearing three children, Cristiane still finds time to nurture her love of animals by helping her sister in a charitable programme that rescues stray animals.