Singapore: The interference of tobacco firms in public health policy-making around the world is slowing down the UN-backed anti-tobacco campaign and significantly affecting the fight against killer diseases like cancer, a report by a civil-society group said on Tuesday.
   
The report by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) claimed that in most of the countries the tobacco industry has been "very active in a variety of schemes" that can impact public health policy.
   
"Of particular concern are that former tobacco industry officials are serving in health ministries, or acting as official government consultants," said the report.
   
These profit-making companies in many countries continue to run circles around key provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), said the report titled "Tobacco Watch: Monitoring Countries' Performance on the Global Treaty".
     
For example, in many countries, tobacco companies are running so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns -- which World Health Organisation describes as "an inherent contradiction" to the Article 5.3 of FCTC and its Guidelines on tobacco industry interference.
   
The Article 5.3 also calls on signatory states to reject such initiatives as multinational tobacco companies often use CSR activities to circumvent advertising bans, allowing them to positively brand themselves without explicitly promoting a tobacco product.
   
According to the new report, the interference by tobacco industry is currently the single largest threat to the global community in realising the full potential of the FCTC's life-saving measures.

"Now is a critical time to break the tobacco industry's stronghold over public health policy," it said.
   
According to the WHO, tobacco use is responsible for the death of nearly six million people annually, 70 percent of them in the developing world. It also includes over 600,000 non-smokers who die because of exposure to second-hand smoke.
   
If current trends continue, one billion people will die of tobacco-related causes in the 21st century, the WHO has estimated.

"Tobacco industry activities like those reported in Tobacco Watch do more than violate Article 5.3 of the FCTC: they impede progress on implementing all other measures in the Convention, which are proven to be effective and cost-effective," said FCA Director Laurent Huber.
   
"In fact, the Political Declaration of the United Nations Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) recognised the key role of tobacco control in combating NCDs -- which account for 60 percent of the world's deaths -- and specifically recommended accelerating implementation of the FCTC," Huber added.
   
According to Yul Francisco Dorado of Corporate Accountability International: "This year's Tobacco Watch reminds us that the primary challenge the treaty faces is not a lack of political or public will, but a defiant, invasive and ultimately deadly industry. Ending tobacco industry interference is paramount to the success of the treaty at large."
   
With more than 170 Parties, the FCTC is one of the most successful international conventions. It includes a number of specific steps for governments addressing tobacco use, such as adopting tax and price measures, creating smoke-free work and public spaces, putting prominent health warnings on tobacco packages among others.

(Agencies)