José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union, spoke at the first Global Forum on Human Rights and a Tobacco-Free World, on the ongoing tobacco epidemic and what is needed to create an actionable plan to end it.
The following speech was given by José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union, at the first Global Forum on Human Rights and a Tobacco-Free World, on 26 March in the Cotroceni Palace, Bucharest, Romania. Global leaders in public health and human rights came together to focus on the ongoing tobacco epidemic and to determine what is needed to create an actionable plan to end it.
“A year ago this month, at the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in South Africa, delegates endorsed the “Cape Town Declaration on Human Rights and a Tobacco-free World.” The declaration includes a phrase I want to highlight. It states:
“We agree that the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco are incompatible with the human right to health.”
“In the spirit of the Cape Town Declaration, I want to call on all of us working to fulfil the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to utilise human rights mechanisms to advance the objectives of the FCTC. At the same time, I want to urge all of us to work together to see that the United Nations Human Rights Council includes support for the implementation of the FCTC within its objectives.
Implementing the FCTC is a way for the tobacco control community to advance human rights objectives. And the human rights community must see tobacco control as an important human rights issue. These two goals reinforce each other.
“I’m encouraged that the UN intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect for human rights is paying close attention to the FCTC. As many of you know, this body is working to advance an internationally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and business enterprises within human rights law. And the FCTC Secretariat is actively participating in those negotiations.
“All of us have the right to achieve the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. And when it comes to protecting that right, there might be no other area of public policy as important as tobacco control.
“For tens of millions of people around the world, who have become addicted to tobacco products by using those products as intended, the tobacco industry remains one of the main obstacles to improving their standard of health.
“The rhetoric of the tobacco industry has always been intended to confuse and mislead governments and the public. Nothing has changed. Even though the industry has begun to speak the language of public health, we all know their goal is to weaken the adoption and implementation of the Framework Convention.
“Their interference is more than rhetorical, however. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, founded with an enormous investment from Philip Morris International (PMI), is working to secure a seat at the table with public health policymakers around the world. They have stated that their company strategy is to phase out the sale of traditional cigarettes. We saw the headlines, saying that PMI was “giving up cigarettes.”
“Yet PMI has not set any kind of timeline for stopping its sale of cigarettes. In fact, the company continues to make new investments in its capacity to produce traditional cigarettes. In January, for example, it was reported that PMI was in negotiations to buy a large stake in Mastermind Tobacco, Kenya’s second-largest cigarette producer. And last year, PMI opened a new cigarette factory in that country, which was inaugurated by Tanzania’s president. While PMI is making new investments in cigarettes, its parent company recently acquired a 35-percent stake in e-cigarette maker Juul.
“It appears that their objective is to maximise the sale and profit from cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and e-cigarettes… all at the expense of people’s right to health.
“The truth still holds: what is good for the tobacco industry is bad for public health.
“If we want to reach SDG 3.4, which is to reduce premature death from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030 and to promote mental health and wellbeing. If we want to reach SDG 3.3, which is to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases.
“Then we know that we need countries to fully implement the Framework Convention. And we know that, despite its new rhetoric that uses the language of public health, the tobacco industry would have governments to move in the opposite direction.
“This is why it’s so important that we continue to work together to persuade governments to place our human right to health well above the interests of the tobacco industry. Governments must fulfil their binding obligations and implement all measures of the Framework Convention, and they must do so urgently.
“Implementing the Framework Convention is the minimum of what we should expect governments to do. We know that the treaty actually encourages States Parties to implement measures beyond those required by the Convention and its protocols.
“Jeff Collin, a professor of global health policy at the University of Edinburgh, and others have been making the argument that the Sustainable Development Goals do not do enough to address the commercial determinants of health. And because of that, we need new approaches to governing the commercial determinants of health.
“One important way that we can fight back against the commercial determinants of poor health is to work more within a human rights framework. This includes advocating for human rights bodies to champion the cause of tobacco control as a human rights issue. I would like to see the UN Human Rights Council adopt a resolution on tobacco control. This would provide a valuable tool for advocates to influence public policy at the national level.
“Among other things, it would establish closer working relationships between the Human Rights Council and the Convention Secretariat. It would help us to embed support for the FCTC within national human rights plans. It would help us clarify, for policymakers, exactly where tobacco control and human rights intersect.
“I would also like to see us successfully secure a human rights decision at the upcoming COP9. We were close to securing this at the last COP and fell short. I very much hope we are successful next time.
“And I would like to see the human rights community work with us to hold the tobacco industry accountable for phasing out the commercial sale of traditional cigarettes. PMI has stated that this is its strategy, and we need to do everything we can to hold them accountable for doing so along a clear timeline. If they will not set a timeline, then perhaps it is up to us to set a deadline and campaign around it together.
“There is so much progress to be made by putting human rights at the centre of our work, and by becoming true partners with human rights advocates. I am confident that this forum is the start of something new and important for tobacco control, and for the millions of people whose right to health continues to be attacked by the tobacco industry.”