Consumer groups challenging the WHO FCTC – Who will be next?

Now is the time for making our voices heard.

At the beginning of May, Copwatch briefly referenced potential dangers to reduced risk nicotine products at COP10 discussed in recent WHO documents which have been highlighted by the New Nicotine Alliance UK. 

The British consumer organisation launched a call to action in March to encourage “supporters, consumers of reduced risk nicotine products, and others who understand the benefits of harm reduction” to write to their elected representatives and also to the assigned UK focal point to the FCTC Bureau and European region. 

It has started something of a movement. 

In April, four French groups led by consumer association, SoVape, followed suit and began their own similar campaign, declaring that “an offensive against vaping is being prepared ahead of COP10.” A week later, Italian group ANPVU joined the party by inviting Italian consumers to do the same. 

End Cigarette Smoking in Thailand, a consumer association with over 100,000 online followers, also threw their hat in the ring on May 5th, with a press release urging the Thai government and focal point to object to WHO plans to apply bans and restrictions to vaping products at the COP10 meeting in Panama in November. 

Prior to previous COP meetings, the FCTC Secretariat has enjoyed a comfortable ride in producing biassed materials to guide national delegations into hostility towards harm reduction. 

WHO appointees to the FCTC Bureau and Secretariat have always thrived under the cloak of secrecy they cleverly weaved around preparations for COP conferences. They have been mostly unchallenged when ignoring evidence on the effectiveness of safer nicotine and peddling their anti-harm reduction agenda to member delegations. But it appears consumer groups all around the world are alive to their antics this year. 

We are sure that there will be policymakers in the above-mentioned countries finding out for the first time that the WHO is riding roughshod over the concerns of their citizens. With another month or so before delegations form their country positions, messages from the public could be crucial.  

The agenda for COP10 will not be produced until September so there is still time for many other consumer groups to start their own campaigns and we are sure they will. It is becoming quite trendy. 

Speaking truth to power is widely regarded as a virtuous action, but the WHO has been at pains to minimise the risk of this happening with their COP preparations over the years. Engagement with the WHO and their appointed FCTC administrative bureaucracies has been made deliberately impossible, but it is national governments who make the decisions at COP meetings and, unless they are set up as a dictatorship like the WHO, they are beholden to their electorate. 

Copwatch is keen to see which national consumer group will be next out of the blocks to urge their followers to get involved in the COP10 process via the democratic process. Could it be yours? 

If so, time is of the essence. The registration process for submitting national delegations opened on 8 May, so governments will already be thinking about who to send to COP10. The sooner they hear our voices, the better. 

We will be adding the current initiatives to our campaigns tab and look forward to adding more in the near future.

April – victory month for harm reduction

For those valuing a non-dogmatic stance on health issues, one which is rooted in considering the real-life effects of science, and open to contributions from the people most affected – April presented a major success for harm reduction advocates.

For the first time in UN history the notion of harm reduction appeared in the politically negotiated UN resolution on drug policy. Until then harm reduction had only been mentioned in the context of HIV/AIDS. The resolution adopted at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council mentions a harm reduction approach among other health responses and underlines that support for harm reduction is not qualified as being subject to national legislation.

Furthermore, it seems that including harm reduction in drug control policies is even approved of by the mighty WHO. In a recently published publication the WHO points to the fact that “harm reduction is one of the key elements of a public health promotion framework (or response) that has been proven highly effective in reducing and mitigating the harms of injecting drug use for individuals and communities”.

There is more and more evidence that the so-called “war on drugs” is failing and that new approaches, such as harm reduction, need to be considered. Experts who gathered at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Melbourne in mid-April said that the evidence is in and that it is time for the world to adopt a new approach, one which includes harm reduction solutions. Examples of harm reduction solutions include medically supervised settings for people who inject drugs and decriminalizing drug use.

In the context of the above we would like to point to the fact that the UN resolution, the WHO publication and the experts gathered in Melbourne all recognize the crucial role of civil society and affected communities. Also, that work must be done to involve and engage meaningfully with a diverse representation of civil society and affected communities in their efforts to address all aspects of the world drug problem.

[Hearing this, we allow ourselves a hollow laugh at the recent decisions to reject the participation of nicotine consumer associations in FCTC COP proceedings.]

Setting appropriate, science-based drug policies is extremely important for the affected populations. We can only dream of one day posting a COPWATCH article announcing that FCTC COP recognizes a harm reduction approach in tobacco control, one which includes recognition of the potential of products which reduce harm for people who smoke. 20 years ago the WHO Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation stated that “the major acceptable public health rationale for development of new or modified tobacco products is the potential for a reduction in the harm caused by existing tobacco products”. There is now a portfolio of such products, so why have they abandoned harm reduction?

Introducing the authors of the COP10 agenda – the FCTC Bureau

The New Nicotine Alliance in the UK has done a good job of highlighting the threats to harm reduction which could materialise at COP10 in this document. Their call to action lists them as being:

  • A ban on all open system vaping products
  • A ban of all flavours except tobacco
  • A ban on nicotine salts in vaping products
  • Regulating products so that they are all exactly the same and restrict delivery of nicotine
  • Demanding that countries around the world treat vaping and heated tobacco products the same as combustible tobacco
  • Taxation at the same rate as cigarettes, banning use where smoking is prohibited, large graphic health warnings, plain packaging, and a ban on all advertising, promotion and sponsorship

The nature of these may seem far-fetched to the casual reader, so how realistic is it that what seems to be a full-on assault on vaping will make it onto the COP10 agenda? 

Copwatch decided to investigate by looking at the make-up of the FCTC Bureau, the body which will be writing the agenda. It would be preferable if they published their November and March meeting minutes so we could read the plans first-hand but, as Copwatch reported previously, it seems their typewriter is still at the repairers. 

The Bureau comprises six representatives, one from each of the WHO’s regions, and its role is to make policy proposals which are then circulated to regional coordinators. Surely they will reject the outlandish attacks on vaping and other products contained in WHO reports circulated to the Parties, won’t they? 

The five Vice-Presidents come from Uruguay, Netherlands, Australia, Sri Lanka and Oman. Each of their country policies on vaping are listed below:
Uruguay, vaping products are banned.
Sri Lanka, vaping products are banned.
Oman, vaping products are banned.
Australia, vaping products are banned without a prescription (which are hard to come by).

Netherlands, vaping products are allowed but, from July, e-liquid will be restricted to contain just 16 ingredients which make it impossible to form any flavour at all, including tobacco. The Presidency of the Bureau is held by Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) which has no specific law regarding vaping products, though we are sure it will have soon judging by the company its Bureau representative keeps.

We suppose there is a chance that these fine, upstanding, Bureau-crats will take heed of the increasing evidence that vaping is a huge potential prize for public health around the globe and set a sensible agenda for COP10. Probably about the same chance that we at Copwatch have of flying to the moon.

The WHO meetings that never are or were

You may think this stinks like a week old fish. There is a WHO meeting taking place this week for three days which you will not have heard of. That’s because you are not meant to. It is the intention of the WHO and FCTC Secretariat that the meeting takes place in secret and those present do not report its discussions. Ever. 

Copwatch alerted readers to the Global Tobacco Regulators Forum (GTRF) last year. We described it as a “WHO meeting organised behind closed doors” which excludes key stakeholders including “sovereign nations who are signatories to the FCTC.”

Say what you like about the COP meetings but at least there are documents published, eventually, to let the public know what happened. COP10, like previous meetings, will also allow all 182 signatories to the treaty (national governments) to have their say before making legally binding decisions. Neither is true of the GTRF, which conducts its affairs like a beast in the attic, totally unseen. It also comprises just 10 to 15 carefully selected countries. So, not really a ‘global’ meeting at all. 

Thanks to the Indian Ministry of Health’s list of international events, we know that the latest meeting of this shadowy group is taking place from 25 to 27 April. Meeting minutes will not be published and what is discussed will not be revealed to most Parties to the FCTC, let alone the public. 

The USA’s Food and Drug Administration has been funding the GTRF meetings for a decade since 2013, and has already planned further grants for the next five years which will bring the total up to $9.25 million. Ironic considering that the United States is not even a Party to the FCTC treaty yet FDA officials are part of the GTRF steering committee.

Maybe it is just an innocent chit-chat, right? No. 
The WHO study group on tobacco product regulation, known as TobReg (a group of nine so-called experts) collates evidence to inform Parties to the treaty in advance of COP meetings. The latest TobReg report has made references to unpublished GTRF papers in its guidance for COP10.

This is what delegations to COP10 are being presented with before this year’s meeting. A small group of researchers, who are not keen on tobacco harm reduction, cherry-picking studies which agree with their preconceived beliefs, and citing unpublished papers from a small selection of WHO members resulting from secret meetings which are not minuted, all funded by a country which is not a Party to the Convention. 

Many of you, like us, will be of the view that this whiffs like a sea bass well past its prime. But for the FCTC Secretariat, it’s just another day in the office, manipulating signatories to the treaty and abusing its position and purpose. 

Although we know that this GTRF meeting is taking place in India this week, that is all we will ever know. It seems that the WHO has only two rules on the matter. The first rule is that they do not talk about GTRF. The second rule is: they DO NOT talk about GTRF!

It appears that, when it comes to the FCTC treaty, some signatories are more equal than others.

Who is the new WHO French guy?

The World Health Organization’s Director General has appointed a new leadership team following his re-election last year. Naturally, we are interested in who has been handed the brief of overseeing the WHO’s future efforts towards smoking and nicotine. 

According to Health Policy Watch, the appointee is Dr Jérôme Salomon from France, who will act as Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage, Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases. Copwatch believes it prudent that his credentials be checked for suitability in such an important role so we have investigated his track record.

Firstly, it appears that he finds mathematics challenging. In 2019, in his position as director of the General Directorate for Health (DGS) he appeared on French TV confidently stating that half of all French high school students were vaping and that one in six were doing so every day. Embarrassingly for Jérôme, this merely highlighted his confusion. 

As explained by Vapolitique, Jérôme’s statement misunderstood not one, but two, different surveys. 50.3% of students in just one city, Saint-Etienne not France, had said they experimented with vaping, but Jérôme failed to mention that the study also recorded only 3.6% were doing so daily. The Saint-Etienne survey was also not consistent with national data which showed lower vaping use nationally. 

His claim that one in six were vaping daily is arguably more embarrassing. Although the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT) study applied across France, the percentage of adolescents Jérôme cited were only recorded as vaping once or more, not daily. We are certain that this was a compound error brought about by a misunderstanding of data and he was not lying to the public, of course.  

Jérôme later generated controversy with his role in France’s COVID-19 efforts. In 2018, he had ordered destruction of face masks to save money which meant, when the virus struck, the country suffered a shortage of supplies. The administrative court of Paris found that, instead of admitting the mistake, Jérôme ordered a scientific report be changed to justify his decision. This led one Senator to remark that “faced with the shortage of masks, instead of speaking the truth, the government masked the shortage.”

Having survived that scandal, Jérôme set about to further his work extinguishing vaping products as a means of quitting smoking. Between 2016 and 2019, smoking rates plummeted in France due to the advent of vaping. The government reacted to this by including vaping in their annual stop smoking event, Mois Sans Tabac (Month Without Tobacco). Consumer organisations were recruited to give expert advice on how vaping can help smokers quit, understandable considering vaping had become the most popular cessation method. 

Jérôme took office as head of DGS in 2018 and proceeded to reverse this progress. He set up a committee to discuss tobacco control in France and personally opposed the participation of consumer groups in the process without giving any justification. In 2022, Mois Sans Tabac went ahead without any mention of vaping products, effectively eradicated over time by Jérôme. As consumer group La Vape Du Coeur remarked, “How is it that the most popular (and most effective) means of risk reduction was so hidden during this emblematic month of the fight against tobacco?” having been embraced from 2016 previously. 

To sum up, the WHO’s new head of policy on tobacco and nicotine has shown he is incapable of understanding quantitative research, is willing to massage scientific data to hide inconvenient facts, refuses to listen to consumers, and is ideologically opposed to vaping despite its track record of reducing smoking rates in his country. 

Jérôme is a perfect fit for the WHO. But for the good of global public health, not so much.

Panamanian party poopers?

Past COP events have occasionally been somewhat embarrassing for the WHO. Could COP10 follow this trend? 

Who can forget when an outbreak of Ebola in Africa in the run-up to COP6 in 2014 presented then WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, with a dilemma? Should she travel to Africa, where a lethal disease was brutally killing citizens, or to the COP6 Moscow venue to chat about tobacco over tea with Vladimir Putin? She chose the latter, naturally. 

Or COP7 in New Delhi where delegates from all over the world convened to discuss exaggerated health threats from vaping just as one of the worst smogs in living memory descended on the city. The New York Times reported that over 1,800 schools were closed and the public exposed to pollution equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, as if to remind the WHO what a real public health crisis looks like on the eve of their flagship tobacco control event.  

The last Copwatch post reported on Dr. Reina Roa, who has accepted an award from Bloomberg Philanthropies and is now being investigated by Panamanian authorities for “administrative irregularities” over what is a clear conflict of interest in her role as an “independent” adviser to the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Roa would appear to be an odd choice for an independent adviser considering she has been a Ministry of Health employee since 1986, with latest filings showing she is paid $4,294 per month, roughly five times the average Panamanian salary.  

As well as being feted by Bloomberg acolytes, Dr. Roa is extremely close to the WHO, having led ratification of the FCTC treaty and having served as Representative at the FCTC Bureau Conference of the Parties for the Americas Region (AMRO). She is also so embedded in the Panamanian establishment that her former husband was one of the closest advisers to notorious Panama dictator, Manuel Noriega (see below). 

Surprising as it is that she was appointed to the role, the perceived bias that acceptance of a Bloomberg award would suggest may not have worked out very well for the enemies of harm reduction. The investigation of Dr. Roa seems to have opened up a wider debate. 

All alternative nicotine products are currently prohibited in Panama but this is now being revisited. According to the gloriously-named Mr Cigarruista, of the Association for the Reduction of Harm from Smoking in Panama, a bill has been presented to the National Assembly that proposes regulating vaping products to replace the current ban. 

The November jamboree is fast approaching and delegates are starting to book their accommodation for a COP10 meeting which carries many threats for vaping and other harm reduction products. The WHO’s FCTC Secretariat has been working hard to guide delegations into agreeing decisions at COP10 to ban or heavily restrict reduced risk nicotine products all over the world. It will be somewhat embarrassing for the WHO if, at the same time, their host country is discussing proposals to implement common sense over vaping products and reverse prohibition.

How unfortunate that would be for the WHO. Our hearts bleed for them.

Where’s Bloomby? Check the atlas

You have to hand it to Bloomberg Philanthropies. They are very good at finding public servants willing to exchange their statutory obligation to be impartial for a pat on the back and a pretty bauble. Like the Where’s Wally books, you never know where they may turn up next.

The latest target of Bloomberg’s ongoing programme to influence government policies in low and middle income countries is Panama. Yes, the Panama where COP10 will be held later this year. That Panama. 

The country’s National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (ANTAI) has accepted a complaint against Dr. Reina Roa, Coordinator of the National Tobacco Control Commission of the Ministry of Health (MINSA).

The charge is that the Panamanian Coalition Against Tabaquismo (COPACET), of which she is founder, has accepted a Bloomberg Philanthropies Award for Global Tobacco Control as a reward for successfully designing public policies favoured by the world’s biggest privately-owned anti-harm reduction lobbyist.

Dr. Roa is now being investigated by Panamanian authorities for “administrative irregularities” over what is a clear conflict of interest in her role as an “independent” adviser to the Ministry of Health. For it is difficult to imagine Dr. Roa being particularly eager to present both sides of the debate on harm reduction to her government while being celebrated in this way, is it not?

For those who may believe they have read this story before, you may be thinking of The Philippines. In 2021, Bloomberg Philanthropies were caught red-handed giving grants to the Philippines FDA to not only influence its future policy, but to physically draft and file a parliamentary bill to be presented to the country’s legislature.

Or perhaps you may be thinking of any number of other countries where Bloomberg front groups have been attempting to meddle in government policymaking, such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia, Ukraine, Bosnia, and Vietnam. Take your pick.

One must wonder why Bloomberg’s acolytes are going to such lengths to interfere in government affairs in so many countries, often putting the reputations of public officials at risk and leading them to break their constitutional and legal obligations. Is it not a waste of their time and resources if truth and objective science is on their side?

Or maybe, just maybe, this colonialist manipulation of smaller countries is precisely because Bloomberg Philanthropies are worried that the little guys on the world stage might see through the propaganda and act in the public health interests of their citizens, and that just would not do, especially in advance of COP10.

We trust that Dr. Roa will keep that award polished while she is being questioned on perceived lack of due impartiality by Panama’s authorities. In the meantime, we will watch out for the next far-flung government to be visited by Bloomby’s minions and their fistful of dollars.

We had a dream….

WHO loves harm reduction – but not for smokers

We had a dream… We had a dream about a comprehensive publication that would highlight best examples of risk reduction policies and approaches in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and how they could influence tobacco control.

In this dream about NCD  best-buys was this recently published WHO report on sodium, which does not call for a ban on salt, even though excessive salt intake causes raised blood pressure and increases risk of cardiovascular disease and is associated with 1.89 million deaths each year. This publication provides policymakers with science-based alternative actions that avoid a prohibitionist approach.

There was another new WHO report in our dream. This one is about road safety. Around 1.3 million people die and millions more are injured or disabled because of road traffic accidents every year. Instead of banning cars, motorcycles, buses, and other vehicles, WHO with partners is calling to adopt policies aiming at increasing use of seatbelts and child restraints. WHO is calling for harm reduction, in other words. In the publication they reminded us of other measures aimed at reducing risks,  such as the introduction of speed limits, the creation of safer infrastructure, the enforcement of limits on blood alcohol concentration while driving, and improvements in vehicle safety.

Then our imagination, boosted by R.E.M., moved to publications that would encourage people to drop the most toxic risk factors and replace them with better alternatives. And then this WHO report on the replacement of trans-fatty acids with healthier oils and fats appeared. This provides guidance on finding the best replacement oils for industrially produced Trans Fatty Acids, and on designing and implementing strategies to promote the use of alternatives.

And then we were rudely awakened by a Twitter notification from the FCTC account inviting us to a launch of their new publication. And the spell was broken. Because we already know that we cannot expect a similar harm reduction approach when it comes to tobacco. Yet again, we will hear whining that there are no safer alternatives to smoking, and that tobacco and nicotine products should be banned. Just not the cigarettes.

Why can’t WHO just look at their own examples, as in our dream, and see that their stubborn stance on tobacco just doesn’t make sense?

In the words of Martin Luther King “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”.

Where are the FCTC Bureau meeting minutes?

It seems that the long march towards a triumphant COP10 later this year must surely have encountered a hitch. The second meeting of the FCTC Bureau took place at the end of November 2022, but here we are at the start of March and the minutes of their last meeting have still not been published. Has their typewriter broken?

The role of the Bureau is to make proposals which are then circulated to regional coordinators. Considering the next Bureau meeting is scheduled for 27-28 March, it does not leave much time to enable the regions to digest what has gone before.

Items at the November meeting would have likely included discussions about the provisional COP10 agenda, requests from parties for elements to be included and maybe details for delegates of the hosting arrangements in Panama. Quite important information.

It is difficult to believe that the regions will not be eager to learn about these matters, so the delay is inconvenient, to say the least.

Or is it that the Bureau is communicating with regions behind the scenes and are reluctant to publish their minutes for the public to see just yet?

We look forward to the typewriter engineers being available to fix this problem soon, and look forward to the belated publication of the Bureau minutes so that the famous WHO FCTC reputation for openness and transparency is protected.

Key milestones for COP10

The Tenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will be held in Panama from 20 – 25 November.

Below we provide a graphic of the key milestones leading up to COP10, and opportunities for engagement.

A note on the deferred agenda items: Due to COP9 being held virtually, it was decided that substantive discussions of and decisions on several items on the agenda would be deferred until COP10. Two of the items which were deferred were item 4.1; “Implementation of Articles 9 and 10 of the WHO FCTC (Regulation of contents and disclosure of tobacco products: reports by the expert group, and by WHO and the Convention Secretariat),and item 4.2; “Novel and emerging tobacco products”.

Access the pdf version here.

Is the FCTC’s website now a Bloomboard?

Is the FCTC’s website now a Bloomboard?

Yet another day, yet another connection of Bloomberg with the Secretariat of the Framework Convention. Surprisingly, (or maybe at this point we should get rid of any illusions that they do not serve as a lobbying company for Mr. Bloomberg) the official FCTC website provides information about the possibility to apply for Bloomberg-funded grants (Round 33 of the Bloomberg Initiative To Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program | WHO FCTC).

The announcement board where the information on grants can be found, serves as a newsfeed of “events and initiatives organized by the Convention Secretariat and/or its partners”. Has Bloomberg recently become an official partner of the FCTC? Let’s have a look: Donors and partners ( Nope. Maybe Bloomberg Philanthropies has official COP Observer status? Check it out: Nongovernmental organizations accredited as observers to the COP ( No, still not the case.

We can simply conclude that the website for the international Treaty, legally-binding for its signatories, managed by the FCTC Secretariat, serves as a billboard Bloomboard for privately funded grants. So, instead of spending its time and money, derived from the assessed contributions of the Parties (all sovereign states) the Secretariat is now offering its supporting hand to a wealthy private fund.

Of course, another issue is the added value of such projects. Does anyone expect that their results will in any manner differ from the official line of the Secretariat and friendly organisations? An official line which is decidedly against Tobacco Harm Reduction?

All in all, expectation is the mother of all frustration, so why worry?

Bloomberg tentacles tighten around WHO FCTC

Announced recently is the new Global Tobacco Control Progress Hub. Bloomberg Philanthropies is the sole funder and the steering committee is populated by Bloomberg grantees. The Hub is described as an “ambitious new interactive data platform for the tobacco control community”. It will use 12 years worth of data collected by WHO and FCTC.

These unaccountable NGO’s will be measuring the progress of the sovereign nations that are the Parties.

By the tobacco control echo chamber, for the tobacco control echo chamber.

The hub has been developed by ASH Canada. Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) watchers will know that after a promising start, where it looked as though Canada might enact some evidence based legislation around vaping, the nation now performs very poorly on THR. We can only speculate whether ASH Canada receives Bloomberg money, the website is silent on funding.

But ASH Canada is not the only organisation involved.

Bloomberg bingo?

There’s a steering committee guiding the progress of the Hub – something which was not agreed or decided at the last COP. The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC is involved. The other organisations that are part of this steering committee are: ACT Promocao da Saude (Brazil), Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, CDC Foundation, Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Shahid Begeshti University of Medical Sciences (Tehran), ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development (Beijing), University of Illinois at Chicago, Vital Strategies, Voluntary Health Association of India and the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative.

Are all of these organisations receiving Bloombucks? Sadly we lack the resources to find out, but do leave a comment, if you know the answer.

Given the funding and organisations involved in the Hub, we don’t expect the successes of vaping and other THR products to be celebrated on the platform. Availability and adoption of THR products will likely be included as negative metrics. However, as there’s so little information to go on – plus ça change plus c’est la même chose! – we hope to be wrong.

If you want to find out more, you can register for one of the webinars on 29 November. However, unless you are in the cosy tobacco control club you are unlikely to get in – so why not console yourself by watching the World Cup instead.

Announcing the Global Tobacco Control Progress Hub

Global Progress Hub Coming Soon

The FCTC is no longer fit for purpose, say independent experts.

As well as reporting the bad news and awful developments, we also try to bring you encouraging news and reasoned views! In response to an article in the Lancet that argues tobacco control is “far from the finish line,” although its measures had an impact worldwide in deterring people from smoking, the independent experts Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita state that “tobacco control is not working for most of the world”. It’s worth noting that both have previously had senior roles at WHO: Ruth Bonita as a former director of the WHO Department of NCD surveillance, and Robert Beaglehole as a former director of the WHO Department of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

In their article, Beaglehole and Bonita report what many in tobacco control think, but only a few will say:

“The FCTC is no longer fit for purpose, especially for low-income countries. Neither WHO nor the FCTC are grounded in the latest evidence on the role of innovative nicotine delivery devices in assisting the transition from cigarettes to much less harmful products.”

Interesting to see how the authors explained why the FCTC is not making progress at the expected pace by providing a simple answer: the missing strategy in WHO and FCTC policies is harm reduction. This might not be news for most of us, but we will repeat it as many times as possible – apparently there are some people who still do not get it or do not want to get it.

Independent research launched at #GFN22 by Dr Lars Ramström shows the WHO’s tobacco control measures, known as MPOWER, are not reducing tobacco-related mortality in Europe. The study reveals that switching from smoking to Swedish-style snus, a safer nicotine product, is a more effective strategy to reduce tobacco-related deaths.

Dr Ramström’s work shows that the WHO must embrace tobacco harm reduction as part of its global tobacco control response by supporting the use of safer nicotine products to quit smoking.

This all accords with the findings of this 2019 study from Hoffman et al, which found “no evidence to indicate that global progress in reducing cigarette consumption has been accelerated by the FCTC treaty mechanism.”

Impact of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on global cigarette consumption: quasi-experimental evaluations using interrupted time series analysis and in-sample forecast event modelling
BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 19 June 2019)

The last word here goes to Beaglehole and Bonita:

“most people smoke because they are dependent on nicotine. Tobacco harm reduction reduces harm caused by burnt tobacco by replacing cigarettes with much less harmful ways of delivering nicotine; these alternatives have great potential to disrupt the cigarette industry.”

Watch Dr Lars Ramström launching his research here:

Conference of the Parties Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Knowledge hub surprise!

The term “multilateral” describes the very essence of international treaties and agreements between countries around the world. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and COP are no exception and, accordingly, all their discussions and decisions should involve all parties – 182 countries, to be more precise.

On July 5th, the FCTC Secretariat surprised COP watchers by announcing the establishment of a Knowledge Hub, in partnership with Santé Publique France, for education, communication, training and public awareness in tobacco control. This raises some questions! Did the Parties request the establishment of this new Knowledge Hub? Was this discussed at COP9, or at previous COP sessions? Does the FCTC Secretariat have the competence to decide unilaterally when a new KH is needed or with whom it is established – particularly when funding will presumably come from the Parties’ contributions to the FCTC? Was this the wish or commitment of a single Party/Country and is that enough justification to create a new KH? Is this multilateralism?

Once again, the answer to all these questions is NO. In the press release, the FCTC Secretariat vaguely explains that the establishment of this Knowledge Hub “concretizes France’s commitment” to fight against tobacco at the international level. 182 Parties to the FCTC have made this same commitment – but will they all get a Knowledge Hub?

The creation of the KH is also shocking in that it demonstrates that the FCTC Secretariat is using COP to act arbitrarily. The announcement does not accord with the decision taken at COP9 to establish a new Knowledge Hub only upon request (page 43). It also disregards the opinion of one Party that the priority should be a new KH on product regulation (page 15).

FCTC Secretariat is using COP as a facade to act arbitrarily and to take unilateral decisions, without seeking the approval of the Parties.

This unilateral and secretive agreement (publicly announced as a Memorandum of Understanding) also poses questions on how the FCTC is being influenced and driven by the wealthiest countries, to the potential disadvantage of the poorer ones.

Finally, to remind you why this is deeply wrong, we invite you to have a look at the FCTC Secretariat competences, which are clearly very limited and do not authorise the Secretariat to sign agreements with national government agencies, such as Santé Publique France.

We expect the FCTC Parties are also surprised and concerned about this sudden announcement, and that they too will continue to question whether the FCTC is a truly multilateral treaty.

Conference of the Parties Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Intersessional developments – the secrecy continues

We are now in the intersessional period leading up to COP10 and some developments are worth noting. You might recall that elections of the Bureau for COP10 were held during COP9 last year, with Eswatini becoming Chair and Oman, Netherlands, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, and Australia filling the other committee places. The FCTC website reports that this new Bureau met for the first time during the last week of April. What happened there is somewhat of a mystery. What was discussed? What was agreed? Has any information been shared with the Parties? The answer is we just don’t know. This was yet another secret meeting, driven by the FCTC Secretariat and a cherry-picked group of countries.

The next Bureau meeting is scheduled for the autumn – will we have the same uncanny sensation of being left in the dark after that one too?

Conference of the Parties Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Where are the missing verbatim #COP9 reports?

It has been some time since we reported news on #FCTCCOP, but has it been quiet for the FCTC Secretariat?

Silence can mean things are being quietly cooked and indeed, we are back here to report on developments following last year’s secretive COP9. Eventually – almost five months after the meeting – the FCTC Secretariat published the final report of the COP9. The sixty-eight page report reaffirmed the decision taken pre COP that “substantive discussions of and decisions” on some of the agenda items (including articles 9 and 10 and “novel” products) are deferred to COP10, due to be held in Panama in 2023.

However, it is evident there is a lot more in the report than was discussed during the meeting. In particular, FCTC Secretariat has included some suggestions on the regulation of “novel” products – such as the consideration of expanding the definition of “tobacco products” in the Convention to include novel products (page 12) – even though Parties had decided to defer those discussions to COP10.

Last but not least, even the head of the FCTC Secretariat recognised that some discussions literally got lost in translation during COP9 (here). Is this why the verbatim records of the plenary meetings have not been published, as they usually are?

In addition to being shut out from attending the meeting, it seems we are not permitted to know what was said or discussed.

Conference of the Parties Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

WHO is invited to the Global Tobacco Regulators Forum?

WHO cherry-picks countries to discuss the future of tobacco control in (another) secret meeting

Have you heard of the Global Tobacco Regulators Forum – no? Nor had we. Even more secret than COP, it’s another WHO meeting organised behind closed doors. GTRF makes Davos look positively transparent.

Here are the results of our search for GTRF on the WHO website:

It is only thanks to UK MP Adam Affriyie’s determination to uncover information about the secretive GTRF that we even know the dates of last year’s meeting.  You can see his persistent Parliamentary questioning here.

Here is the reply from Jo Churchill (then a UK health minister) :

The Fifth meeting of Global Tobacco Regulators Forum (GTRF) took place virtually from 7 to 9 July. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) No Tobacco Unit in the Health Promotion Department hosts the GTRF meetings. Papers for the meetings are not publicly available from the WHO.

Officials from the Department’s tobacco control policy team attended to represent the United Kingdom as leads and experts in tobacco control policy. This year’s meeting was attended by civil servants from the Tobacco Control team. Officials will report back to senior officials and Ministers with any key outcomes. The Department holds notes on previous GTRF forums.

Officials updated the GTRF on the UK’s tobacco control work and evidence-based position on harm reduction alternatives to tobacco, such as e-cigarettes. We also presented global evidence about harm reduction alternatives, and tackle any misinformation. We recognise that they play a vital role in helping smokers to quit and we will continue to advocate for their use as part of a comprehensive approach.

Global Tobacco Regulators Forum Question for Department of Health and Social Care
UIN 27101, tabled on 5 July 2021

A little more light is shed in this extract from Clive Bates’ blog, The Counterfactual:  

Prohibitionists at work: how the WHO damages public health through hostility to tobacco harm reduction

Although not a Party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the US Federal and Drugs Administration (FDA) has been paying for the GTRF meetings, through two five-year (2013-2018 and 2018-2023) agreements,  totalling over $7 million. 

As we mentioned above, questions have been raised in the UK about these meetings. We have learned that Australia, Canada, France, India,  and Singapore are also said to attend the meetings.

But, what of the remaining countries of the 182 which have ratified FCTC?

As the extract from Clive Bates’ article states, WHO uses GTRF to influence regulators, via the decisions of the 182 Parties to the FCTC.  

The last WHO Study Group Report (TobReg) (LINK) included a reference to a background paper on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco prepared by GTRF , without providing any background on who mandated the report, nor on which countries or experts had been consulted. 

The WHO and FCTC keep working behind closed doors.  FCTC COP excludes key stakeholders, such as nicotine users, the media, tobacco farmers and industry.  Even more shocking is this discovery that the GTRF, which influences COP, may exclude sovereign nations who are signatories to the FCTC.  

As the last Global Tobacco Regulators Forum was held in July last year,  we think the 2022 meeting must coming up soon.

We will bring you more IF we can find it.   If you have any information, leave a comment or use our Contact Us form




ANPVU issues call to action

Following on from calls to action in the UK and France, Italian consumer association ANPVU launched a similar initiative. Reacting to potential threats to vaping at COP10 they “call on all who have doubts to start mobilizing NOW to protect the most successful alternatives to smoking from the blind, unscientific and ideological hostility of the WHO”.

See the link for more details: CALL TO ACTION: l’Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità sta pianificando un assalto globale allo svapo

New Nicotine Alliance: Call to Action

In March, UK consumer association the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) issued a call to action against what it describes as “significant threats” to tobacco harm reduction planned by the World Health Organization (WHO) at COP10. The NNA are urging supporters, consumers of safer nicotine products, and those that recognize the benefits of harm reduction to contact their elected representatives to voice their concerns.

See the link for more details: CALL TO ACTION: The World Health Organization is planning a global assault on vaping

WHO: threats to vaping – French organizations issue call to action

Consumer associations Sovape and Aiduce have joined forces with La Vape Du Coeur and Sos Addictions to launch a call to action. The groups highlight potential threats to vaping at COP10 and call on “Any person or organization believing that they are concerned by these threats against vaping and the risk reduction approach can contact French or European elected officials now”.

See the link for more details: OMS : menaces sur le vapotage