In Moscow, the World Health Organization (WHO) is conducting its biennial Conference of the Parties meeting (COP6) between 13th to the 18th October.
Attended by most of the signatories of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), its aim is to restrict and control people who smoke tobacco, “vape” electronic cigarettes, nicotine mouth stimulant, snus, and use Shisha pipes. It has 179 members who are mostly sovereign states plus the European Union.
But things have not been running smoothly. Inconveniently, if not controversially, the Director General Dr. Margaret Chan has seen boycotts from the USA and Canada for President Putin’s involvement in the Ukraine. Many have been perturbed by her cozying up to Putin and praising Russia’s recent tobacco control measures.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, Ian Smith, the Executive Director of the Director-General’s Office is giving a keynote address to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific about the Ebola disease. He says, “The Director-General sends you her best wishes for a productive session. She is fully occupied with coordinating the international response to what is unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times.”
Yes, fully occupied in Moscow talking tobacco in preference to what many would say is the far more pressing need of the Ebola outbreak.
What has really created dissent is the secret nature of the Moscow event. No media is allowed, and the votes taking place – including the one to back a “global tobacco tax”, which is said to have passed – are not being formally recorded.
When the meetings got underway, journalists and the public were entirely excluded. Mohamed Daganee, Libya’s former Health Information Director said, “We don’t know who [the public] are,” while a Ugandan representative proclaimed: “We don’t need the public here!”
Interpol, who coordinate the fight against international crime, were also excluded because they have received funding by tobacco companies to fight cigarette smuggling.
The main reason for the exclusions is that the WHO wants to have a homogenised tax on cigarettes of at least 70 percent of the retail price.
Although unlikely to affect the UK where it is already 83 percent, in America the cost of a pack would rise from $10 to $33 according to the Washington Times. The slippery slope of tobacco could set a precedent of any other product from alcohol, guns to fast food, being taxed by the WHO.
The WHO has long wanted to regulate electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) too. Some cynics allege this is because of the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry.
E-cigs have eaten into “Big Pharma’s” profits on nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), that is patches and gum. For example this year Tobacco Free-Kids has received “Observer Status” at COP6, and has previously been given $400,000 of funding from NRT manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline.
The latest research suggests that a person is six times more likely to quit using an e-cig.
Gerry Stimpson, Visiting Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a tweet: “Reminder to EU groups #cop6 you agree that e-cigs are not covered by #FCTC definition of tobacco product.”
The whole COP6 circus is paid for by Western taxpayers, and so far it has cost $20 million, mainly in flights, security, and five star hotels.
It seems that the WHO has some serious questions to answer: Dr. Chan thinks tobacco is more important than Ebola, but as their paymasters we are not allowed to know what are the proceedings, and the WHO appear to have conflicts of interest.