The groups urge African countries not to back down on agreed anti-tobacco protocols.
The Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) has issued a warning to African governments to be wary of ‘front groups’ used by the tobacco industry to ‘blackmail’ governments.
NATT, a network of over 50 nongovernmental organizations spread across 100 countries, also debunked claims of likely job losses if parties go ahead with the adoption and strict enforcement of the relevant Articles of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Parties to the FCTC plan to agree on a strict enforcement of Articles 17 and 18 of the FCTC at the fifth session of the Conference of Parties (COP5), billed for Seoul, South Korea from November 12 to 17.
Under Article 17 of the FCTC, parties agreed to promote, as appropriate, economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and, as the case may be, individual sellers. Such promotion is to be undertaken by parties in cooperation with each other and with competent international and regional intergovernmental organizations.
On Article 18, it stated that, in carrying out their obligations under the FCTC, they will have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories.
‘Big tobacco’s antics’
During the commemoration of its inaugural World Tobacco Growers Day on October 29, members of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) noted that adopting the two articles would lead to a loss of about 30 million farm jobs.
While urging farmers and African governments to oppose the proposals, the group stated that the proposals are attempts to reduce the supply of tobacco without providing growers any viable alternatives to support their families.
In Nigeria, the Independent Tobacco Association, an ITGA partner, sent a letter to the Nigerian government urging it to oppose the elements of the proposals that would be voted on at COP5.
In Zambia, where participants at a recent African Regional Meeting of ITGA asked governments to reject the draft recommendations on Articles 17 & 18, a tobacco industry-funded institute also released a “biased” study which concluded that tobacco supports 20 per cent of the Zambian population.
The Campaign Director, Challenge Big Tobacco, Corporate Accountability International, John Stewart, said that such “outright lies and disputable studies” that have emanated from ITGA and other tobacco front groups have reinforced the need for governments in Africa to stand firm against attempts to derail the upcoming talks in Seoul.
“Such misinformation as we have seen promoted by these groups and their local buddies are a distraction from the real issue at hand,” Mr. Stewart said.”Governments have the right to protect the health of their people from tobacco’s highly addictive and deadly effects.
“African governments and indeed governments around the globe must collaborate and deepen research to switch farmers from cultivating a crop that kills its consumers, impoverishes farmers and destroys the environment, to one that nourishes and is sustainable,” he added.
Philip Jakpor, NATT’s Africa Spokesperson, said that groups like ITGA and others across the continent are acting out a script provided by Big Tobacco.
“These groups neither speak for true farmers that are living in the perpetual bondage of slavery on the tobacco farms nor those that are daily exposed to serious health hazards, especially respiratory illness from the curing process and inhaling of cancer-causing fumes,” Mr. Jakpor said.
Mr. Jakpor urged African governments to be resolute in their support for the proposals on Articles 17 and 18 of the global treaty.
“We are convinced that African governments are not swayed by the media spin evidently sponsored by the tobacco industry in the lead to the COP,” said Mr. Jakpor.
The Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA) described the attempts by ITGA to get African governments to soften efforts on implementation of the FCTC as “cheap blackmail.”
“It is our strong belief that African governments will not be deterred by the tobacco industry spin on livelihood losses especially among farmers in Zambia and other countries known for tobacco growing,” said Muyunda Ililonga, Executive Director of ZACA.
“The treaty meeting in Seoul is another opportunity for them to re-emphasise and insist on strong provisions that guarantee health is prioritized over business,” he added.