According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco use is set to cause an epidemic of heart disease and cancer in developing countries. Currently, 4 million people die each year from tobacco use, but that number is set to rise to 10 million a year by 2030. In addition to premature death, smokers suffer from an ongoing degradation of their health due to smoking. Yet few countries are taking concrete actions to stem this epidemic. This is in part because of the political and economic power of multinational tobacco companies which have tried to define tobacco control as solely an issue for rich countries in order to protect their enormous profits from the developing world.
Tobacco Transnationals Target Developing Countries
The aggressive marketing tactics of the multinational tobacco companies have greatly contributed to the tremendous increases in smoking in developing countries, particularly amongst women. These companies use their enormous political and financial power to influence governments and promote their products in every corner of the globe. The expansion of these companies into the developing world has meant that in the near future it is developing countries which will carry the majority of the burden of disease due to tobacco use.
The Rich get Richer and the Poor get Poorer
Currently, approximately 80% of the worlds smokers live in developing countries where smoking rates have risen dramatically in the past few decades. Yet it is the poor who can least afford to waste money on the purchase of tobacco products. Much of the tobacco industry is dominated by multinationals, so profits flow from poor to rich countries. Since most poor countries are net importers of tobacco, precious foreign exchange is being wasted. In addition poor countries are less able to afford the medical and other costs attributable to tobacco use.
A Pariah Industry
The tobacco industry has become a pariah industry. For decades it has denied the truth about the harmful effects of tobacco addiction in order to protect its profits. However whilst it has come under attack in the courts and the parliaments of some countries, the majority of countries have felt powerless to restrain the industry with effective legislation and litigation. In fact, many continue to offer the industry tax breaks and other incentives.
Jobs--But at What Price?
Whilst some jobs are created by the tobacco industry those which are offered to people in developing countries are usually dangerous and badly paid. Tobacco farm workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other chemicals and small farmers are often chained to a cycle of debt by a tobacco industry system whereby loan schemes are run to help farmers start farming tobacco, but then low prices are offered for the tobacco. In a number of countries the tobacco industry exploits the poor and powerless, employing children and paying starvation wages.
Framework Convention for Tobacco Control
What is the FCTC?
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a global treaty currently being negotiated by governments which will address transnational and trans-border issues, such as global advertising, smuggling and trade. Yet the FCTC will also serve as an important catalyst in strengthening national tobacco legislation and control programmes. The process of negotiating and implementing the FCTC will also help to mobilise technical and financial support for tobacco control and raise awareness among many government ministries about tobacco issues.
What could the FCTC achieve?
If properly negotiated, the FCTC could help turn the tide against the tobacco industry by weakening its political power and helping to end its reckless behavior through regulation and legislation. But this will only occur if the voices of the people are heard.
What will happen next?
The next FCTC negotiation is scheduled for April 30th to May 5th 2001 in Geneva, Switzerland. At this meeting, WHO member states will debate the draft treaty. It is paramount that NGOs from around the world lobby their governments and mobilise public support for a strong FCTC.
How can NGOs get involved?
To ensure the success of the WHO FCTC in combating the global tobacco epidemic, non-governmental organizations must play a key role in the development and negotiation of the treaty.
- Join the Framework Convention Alliance;
- Educate yourself and your constituencies about global tobacco issues and the FCTC the Alliance Website (www.fctc.org) has links to many good resources;
- Inform and get the support of the media in your country;
- Get resolutions passed in support of the FCTC;
- Find out what your countrys delegates to the FCTC have said so far and meet with them in order to influence their future positions.
The Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a coalition of over 90 organizations and networks from over 36 countries, serves as an umbrella for networks and individual organizations working on the FCTC. The Alliance facilitates communication between NGOs already engaged in the FCTC process and reaches out to NGOs not yet engaged in the process (especially those in developing countries) who could both benefit from and contribute to the creation of a strong FCTC.
- 109 Tobacco