CLOSE to 300 concerned civil society groups around the world, including Nigeria's Environmental Rights Action (ERA) are currently mobilising against a tobacco giant, the British American Tobacco (BAT) over its alleged threat to sur the government of Namibia for standing up on the issue of public health.
AkanimoReports gathered on Tuesday in Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from more than 50 countries are already pressing on the government to prioritize public health and stand strong in the face of industry bullying.
The NGOs, which together form the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) sent a letter to Dr. Richard Kwemi, the Minister of Health and Social Services, communicating support for Namibia’s government in protecting current and future generations from tobacco addiction, disease and death.
The letter urges Dr. Kwemi to use Article 5.3 of the global tobacco treaty (formally known as the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), which obligates ratifying countries to protect their health policies from tobacco industry interference, as a tool to stand up to BAT.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death around the world, killing nearly six million people each year. The WHO projects that the death toll will rise to more than eight million by 2030, with 80% of these deaths in developing countries.
With tobacco control efforts advancing globally, including the adoption and entry into force of the global tobacco treaty, of which Namibia is a Party, governments are putting a dent in Big Tobacco’s ability to spread this preventable epidemic through comprehensive tobacco control laws, like Namibia’s Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010.
Namibia is not alone in facing Big Tobacco’s bullying tactics. The industry, led by BAT and Philip Morris International (PMI), is currently challenging policies in Australia, Uruguay, Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom for implementing policies aimed at protecting the public from the deadly effects of smoking. Challenges to effective public health measures are a clear attempt to intimidate countries from pursuing effective policies. However, governments like Australia, which just passed a law last Monday, November 21st that requires plain packaging for cigarettes, are starting to stand up to industry intimidation.
“The primary challenge to the global tobacco treaty is a defiant, invasive, and ultimately deadly industry. Ending tobacco industry interference is paramount to protecting the lifesaving provisions of the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty,” said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International, chair of NATT. “We congratulate the government of Namibia for its commitment to enforce one of the key provisions of the treaty, and encourage the government of Namibia and all Parties to stand strong against similar assaults.”
Effective packaging and labeling measures, like graphic health warnings, are a critical element of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control and a key way to counter tobacco marketing to children and youth. Implementing strong graphic health information labels communicate the risks of tobacco addiction, disease and death.
NATT is urging the Namibian government to recognize its obligations under the global tobacco treaty, which stipulates that public health should be prioritized over trade, and its Article 5.3 Guidelines that governments should refuse to 1) treat tobacco corporations as “stakeholders” in public health policy, 2) invest in the tobacco industry, 3) partner with them to achieve health outcomes, or 4) accept their so-called corporate social responsibility schemes.
ERA has also voiced its support for the resistance of Namibian NGos and other groups resisting the suit instituted by BAT.
“Having experienced how agents of BAT attempted to frustrate the passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill in Nigeria which we resisted with facts, we stand by Namibians in their decision to resist BAT’s bullying through the suit it instituted,” said Philip Jakpor of ERA and NATT spokesperson in Nigeria.
“BAT is aggressively working to expand the sales of its deadly product here in Southern Africa despite advances in tobacco control policy, but countries, large and small, refuse to be intimidated; they are standing up to the industry’s bullying,” said Muyunda Ililonga of the Zambian NGO, Zambia Consumer Association. “Namibia should set an example for the rest of the region by refusing to give in to these underhanded tactics and stand strong against BAT’s bullying''. ENDS