Interference around COP 10 & MOP 3

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Background

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is an international treaty that aims to reduce the supply and demand of tobacco. The WHO FCTC includes a specific obligation, Article 5.3, requiring Parties to protect public health policies from commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry.1

The Parties to the WHO FCTC usually meet every two years at the Conference of the Parties (COP). In 2023, the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) was due to take place from 20 to 25 November in Panama, immediately followed by the third Meeting of the Parties (MOP 3) from 27 to 30 November, to oversee the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. This treaty was adopted at COP 5 and addresses means of countering the illicit tobacco trade. However, both events were postponed to February 2024.

COP 10 and MOP 3 provisional agendas are available on the website of the Convention Secretariat of the WHO FCTC.

In August 2023, the WHO released a statement indicating its concern that the tobacco industry and others working in its interest have approached some Parties.  Accordingly, the statement calls for Parties to “remain vigilant” in preparation for COP 10 and MOP 3.2

This page summarises activities and interference by the tobacco industry and its allies in relation to COP 10 and MOP 3, as well as highlighting criticism aimed at  the WHO and COP.

See History of Interference by the Tobacco Industry and its Allies During COP and MOP for incidents of documented interference at previous COPs.

Tobacco Industry Activities

Discussion of COP 10 by the tobacco industry, industry associates, and industry media, began several months before the conference was due to take place. It focused largely on the topic of tobacco harm reduction, in addition to some lobbying activities documented in tobacco growing countries. Some examples are detailed below.

British American Tobacco

In April 2023 (during the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum GTNF’s ‘In Focus’ online series), James Murphy, director of research and science at British American Tobacco (BAT), highlighted COP as an opportunity to discuss tobacco harm reduction.3

In May 2023 (at industry event TabExpo), Flora Okereke, head of global regulatory insights and foresights at BAT,  reportedly said that the nicotine industry should work together to fight for harm reduction and send a single message to governments ahead of COP 10: that newer nicotine and tobacco products have a role to play in smoking cessation.4 She added:

I think it is time for you to use your access to your government …Remember, the parties are the ones mandated to make decisions at this meeting. Countries have the mandate to raise their voice and their opinion.”4

Philip Morris International

In October 2023, The Guardian newspaper published an article based on a leaked internal email, sent the previous month by Philip Morris International (PMI) senior vice-president of external affairs Grégoire Verdeaux.5 The article points to a widespread PMI lobbying campaign against stronger regulation of “smoke-free”  products ahead of the COP. Verdeaux said that for the previous 18 months his company had worked to “leverage the right support” at the meeting but added: “At this stage we are not where we would like to be – in terms of intelligence, positions and delegations”.5

Verdeaux described the COP 10 agenda as “nothing short of a systematic, methodical, prohibitionist attack on smoke-free products”. He said that PMI would be at the event in Panama and intended to protest its exclusion, adding that it could be “the most helpful private partner the WHO could have in the fight against smoking”.5

Tobacco industry associations meet with government in Brazil

In June, a public hearing was held at the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s lower house of Congress, to clarify the country’s position at COP 10.6 It was attended by representatives from various government departments, as well as representatives of the Tobacco Growers’ Association of Brazil (AFUBRA), the Brazilian Tobacco Industry Association (ABIFUMO) and the Interstate Tobacco Industry Union (SindiTabaco).7 The Ministry of Health reportedly declined to attend.8

During the meeting, the president of SindiTabaco described the WHO FCTC as “the worst dictatorship” for not allowing the “the parties with the greatest interest to take part in the debates”. “We should monitor Brazil’s position in the next COP and warn of the consequences of a misguided approach”, he added.8

In July, representatives from several industry associations including SindiTabaco met with the Minister of Agriculture to ask for his support ahead of COP 10.9 A similar meeting was held with the Minister of Agrarian Development a few days later, in which the minister reportedly criticised initiatives to replace tobacco as a cash crop.10

In October there was a further meeting between industry associations and representatives of various government departments.11 In the meeting, industry representatives called for transparency on the Brazilian position at the COP and the inclusion of tobacco growers at every stage of the discussions.12

Tobacco Industry Media and Events

Filter magazine

In July and August 2023, Filter magazine published articles on COP 10. Filter is owned by The Influence Foundation, which receives direct and indirect tobacco industry funding, from tobacco companies and the PMI-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW).

Written by the pro-tobacco blogger Martin Cullip, one article, titled “Time Short to Stop the WHO’s Assault on Tobacco Harm Reduction”, he described “threats” which could be posed by the COP 10 meeting, including prohibition of non-tobacco e-liquid flavours, and the extension of regulations on tobacco products to newer nicotine and tobacco products. He called upon “the public, the safer nicotine trade and tobacco harm reduction advocates” to petition key policymakers and national delegates.13

In another article, he stated that the WHO was “dishonestly railroading delegates toward a preordained outcome of heavy restrictions and prohibition” and that parties “make their decisions based on robust evidence, rather than a steady stream of propaganda”.14

Tobacco Reporter

Industry publication Tobacco Reporter, which is owned by the Tobacco Merchants Association (TMA), has a dedicated section on its website called ‘Special Report: COP 10’. The stated aim was to examine COP 10 closely, arguing that the decisions to be made at the COP could have far reaching implications for the tobacco industry, suppliers, tobacco farmers, smokers and users of e-cigarettes.15

Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum 2023

The Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) is an annual tobacco industry-funded event, sponsored by major transnational tobacco companies including PMI, BAT and Imperial Brands.1617

On the final day of the 2023 conference, a session titled ‘Talking about COP 10’ was led by Derek Yach, former FSFW president and board director, and Flora Okereke of BAT.18 The discussion focused on the topic of tobacco harm reduction.19

Tobacco Industry Allies’ Activities

Knowledge-Action-Change

In April 2023, Knowledge-Action-Change (KAC), a FSFW grantee, published a COP briefing paper on the website of its Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) project. The brief stated that the COP lacked transparency and accountability, and included instructions for how to engage with the COP and lobby officials.20

In October 2023, KAC published a further briefing on the COP 10 agenda, which described “[t]he principal threats to THR [tobacco harm reduction] and consumer access to SNP [safer nicotine products]”. 21

The following month, KAC published another briefing paper focused on tobacco harm reduction consumer advocacy groups, criticising their exclusion from COP 10.2223 This briefing has been referred to in industry media.242526

Institute of Economic Affairs

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a “free market” UK think tank, has a history of collaboration with the tobacco industry, including receiving financial support from tobacco companies.

The Director of the IEA’s “Lifestyle Economics” unit, Christopher Snowdon, authored an article published by The Sun criticising the WHO’s stance on e-cigarettes as “unscientific and fanatical”, described it as a threat to global health, and said the UK had an opportunity to oppose proposals relating to e-cigarettes during COP 10. He also described the WHO as a “fundamentally corrupt and incompetent organisation”.27

Snowdon is confirmed as one of the attendees of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s ‘Good COP’ event (see below for more information).28

International Tobacco Growers Association

The International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) is a front group set up and run by the major cigarette manufacturers.

In March 2023, its Americas Regional Meeting was attended by representatives from tobacco-growing countries: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and the USA. The opening session was led by the Minister of Production and Sustainable Development of Argentina.29

According to Mercedes Vázquez, ITGA CEO, the organisation applied for observer status at COP 10, though as of early November, it had received no reply.3031 ITGA’s applications to observe previous COPs were refused.30

Tobacco Institute of India

The Tobacco Institute of India (TII) was founded in 1992 by ITC Limited, Godfrey Phillips India and VST Industries Ltd. All three companies have affiliations with either BAT or PMI.32

At an awards ceremony for tobacco farmers, Sharad Tandan, TII director, said that he hoped that COP 10 would not take “ill-conceived policy measures on issues like tobacco crop diversification etc, which will have a devastating impact on India’s export performance and on the livelihood of millions of farmers, farm workers, and their families”.33

World Vapers Alliance

The World Vapers Alliance (WVA) is a US-based organisation funded by the Consumer Choice Center, which in turn receives funding from tobacco industry, and by BAT directly.3435

In September 2023, WVA published an article, arguing that “the WHO has neglected evidence” for the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid because “it has already taken a side in the vaping debate”. It also argued that prohibition would lead to “irreversible illicit trade”.36

Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction

In October 2023, the Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR), a FSFW grantee, sent a letter to the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides. It stated:

Our hope is that, in light of scientific evidence, the FCTC and the European Union conduct a careful, balanced, and transparent review of the available scientific evidence regarding non-combustible products, compared to conventional cigarettes, to provide indispensable information for making decisions in the interest of millions of smokers.”37

We Vape

We Vape was founded in 2020 by Mark Oates, a fellow at Adam Smith Institute, a UK think tank that has a history of collaboration with the tobacco industry, including accepting funding.

In an article published in August 2023, Mark Oates highlighted what he called “big issues” with the WHO’s recommendations approaching COP 10, and stated that We Vape was running its “Back Vaping Save Lives campaign, to educate and embolden the millions of vapers in the UK whose freedom to use a life-saving tool is under attack”.38 He called upon “the vaping community and beyond” to write to their local MPand provided a template letter.39

In October 2023, Oates called for readers to oppose tax increases on e-cigarettes during COP 10.40

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is a lobby group which has previously received funding from BAT.41 It ran a campaign entitled “Clear The Air” to promote newer nicotine and tobacco products, and has repeatedly opposed tobacco control measures, including plain packaging.414243

In January 2024, it called upon New Zealand’s delegates to COP 10 to reject the WHO’s call to action on e-cigarettes which called for strong regulation and enforcement.44.45

Other Criticism of the WHO and COP

Taxpayers Protection Alliance

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is a US not-for-profit which lobbies on tobacco related topics, including outside the US.

TPA announced that they would be running a parallel meeting called “Good COP” to counter the WHO’s “Bad COP”.28 Individuals listed as taking part in the event include Jeannie Cameron, Managing Director at JCIC International Consultancy and a former head of International Advocacy and International Regulatory Affairs at BAT; Guy Bentley, Director of Consumer Freedom at the Reason Foundation; Mark Oates, founder and director of We Vape; Christopher Snowdon of the IEA; Lindsey Stroud, Director of the TPA’s Consumer Center, and formerly of the Heritage Foundation, which has received funding from Altria;46 and Martin Cullip, International Fellow of the TPA.28 Other attendees are listed here.

On 10 November, Cullip published an article in CAPX, the media outlet of the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think tank with a history of receiving tobacco industry funding. He argued that the European Commission planned  to “exploit” COP 10 for “the promotion of anti-vaping measures”, and attacked the WHO’s “relentless endeavour to impose its extreme views on national governments”.47

Global Britain

Campaigns ‘Say No To WHO’ and ‘Save My Vape’ have similar objectives. Their websites invite visitors to sign a petition, though the websites and associated Facebook pages contain no details about the organisations or their funders.4849 Both campaigns have been linked to Global Britain Ltd, run by PR consultant Brian Monteith. Monteith has a long history of opposition to tobacco control.50

Smoke Free Sweden 2023

Health Diplomats, a health consulting company set up by Delon Human, a South African doctor with a history of collaboration with BAT, set up the Smoke Free Sweden 2023 campaign. Human is described as the “leader of the Smoke Free Sweden movement”.51

In November 2023, following the postponement of COP 10, Smoke Free Sweden published a press release, urging the FCTC to use the delay “to consider smoke-free success stories like that of Sweden.”51

UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping

UK Member of Parliament Adam Afriyie, vice chair of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping, spoke at the industry-sponsored Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) in South Korea in September 2023, where he warned against handing over control of UK policy to the WHO.52 Afriyie was a member of a panel moderated by David Bertram from EUK Consulting, which has worked for BAT since 2000.5354

Afriyie’s expenses were paid, as in 2022, by the GTNF trust.5556 Afriyie has been accused of having a conflict of interest because of his connections to Elite Growth, a firm that sells disposable vapes, of which his wife is a shareholder.56 He has been closely associated with the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) while the Big Four transnational tobacco companies were members (UKVIA stated in September 2023 that it no longer has tobacco company members).575859 For more information see the UKVIA page.

Afriyie has argued in Parliament that the UK should work more closely with the tobacco industry,60 and has lobbied for the legalisation of snus in the UK, on behalf of Swedish Match.

Other APPG members have also been critical of COP.6162 Mary Glindon MP, another vice chair of the APPG, called COP 10 “the biggest threat to the U.K.’s world-beating harm reduction strategy” with its “singular mission focused on actively encouraging countries to ban vaping as part of its tobacco control approach, purposefully flouting the evidence of vaping’s success.”3 Glindon was speaking at the GTNF’s In Focus webinar in April 2023. Other keynote speakers included Delon Human, James Murphy of BAT, and Derek Yach, former FSFW president.363

The APPG for Vaping closed down in November 2023, reportedly because no-one was able to take over Mark Pawsey’s position as chair.64

Relevant Links

Tobacco Tactics Resources

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References

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