Copwatch #COP10 summary

Well – we survived! 
Copwatch has been taking a breather, to digest what happened last month at COP10. Getting confirmation of what had happened took time, because the decisions were slow to arrive on the official website –  presumably written to paint the event in the most positive light possible.

The live coverage on these pages revealed frustration amongst the FCTC ranks which was echoed by the head of the Secretariat, Adriana Blanco Marquizo, remarking at the end of the conference that her organisation had “survived”.

FCTC Pravda hailed “historic decisions” and announced that the meeting was a triumph, as it always does, but articles published by its allies expressed a lot of disappointment

Where were all the delegates? 

Even the FCTC Secretariat’s newsroom couldn’t hide the fact that there were deficiencies with the conference. Over 190 delegations would have been expected to arrive for the original staging in November, but the official record only counted “representatives from 142 Parties” as being in attendance.

Anyone who watched the live streams would have noticed a significant number of empty seats and made that assumption anyway. Copwatch estimates that there were up to 700 delegates missing between FCTC boasts in November and the official count post-event.

All the more amusing, then, that the WHO’s sole anti-vaping holdout in the Philippines, Pia Cayetano, has condemned the “huge” delegation sent by her country. One would have thought that sending a large delegation was a sign of support for the event. Copwatch suspects her objection would not have materialised if the delegates were paid-up members of Cayetano’s anti-harm reduction club rather than selected by the Philippines government to defend its admirable policy of embracing reduced risk products. 

Interesting country statements 

Cayetano was no doubt still seething at the Philippines’ prominent role during country progress statements in the (delayed) opening plenary. The country was one of many which challenged the WHO to consider harm reduction as a valid option to reduce the harms of combustible use. Furthermore, their statement made reference to Article 1(d) of the FCTC treaty which states categorically that harm reduction is one of the pillars of tobacco control, something that the FCTC authorities would rather ignore. 

They were not the only delegation to do so. Disappointed pro-WHO groups moaned that “a number of countries, led by Guatemala and including the Philippines, China, Russia, Antigua and Barbuda, echoed industry talking points.” Translation: They didn’t fall into line with the favoured extremist policies suggested by the WHO.

Copwatch could add New Zealand, Guatemala, Armenia and El Salvador to that list, amongst others, and St Kitts and Nevis who played a starring role. More on that further down. 

What triumphs? 

But firstly, what were the triumphs that Adriana Blanco Marquizo was eager to trumpet?

Article 18
She was most enthused by the consensus achieved over Article 18 on the environment. The decision states that Parties must “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.” It is very vague and will be something which is probably already being considered at national level . 

Article 19
Likewise, the consensus decision on Article 19 which recommends Parties “strengthen their criminal and civil liability regimes, including administrative measures, to ensure accountability and deterrence, improve access to justice, and allow for effective remedies for those affected by tobacco harms.” Copwatch wonders what enthusiasm there will be for the many Parties with nationalised tobacco industries to take themselves to court. 

Article 2.1

Article 2.1 was already a part of the treaty, but was bolstered by being included on the agenda. The decision recommends that Parties “identify and describe forward-looking tobacco control measures and measures that expand or intensify approaches to tobacco control as they apply to tobacco products.” Copwatch has a great idea. How about Parties identify harm reduction and the promotion of reduced risk products as a proven way of reducing the harms of combustible tobacco use? It fits the description perfectly. 

Article 13
There was also a decision on Article 13 on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, mostly concerned with tackling posts on digital and social media channels which, again, is being discussed in many countries already. 

Articles 9 & 10

One agenda item on which Parties could not reach consensus was on Articles 9 & 10 regarding regulation of contents and disclosure of tobacco products. Debate was ongoing for the entire week, taking up so much time that other items had to be shifted to the workload of Committee B for the duration. 

An item in the GATC day 2 bulletin, written by Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society and Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking and Health in the UK, insisted that “Articles 9 and 10 deal with tobacco products, not e-cigarettes or other nicotine products.” Yet the agenda item encouraged delegates to consider report FCTC/COP/10/7 during discussions which, as Copwatch has written before, comments extensively on nicotine pouches and disposable vapes; dishonestly states that there is no evidence vaping can help people quit smoking; that even if they do, it does not constitute smoking cessation; that flavours are only attractive to adolescents; and points delegates to cherry-picked research on reduced risk products in the TobReg9 report. 

Surely that is all wasted work if, as claimed, Articles 9 & 10 are not concerned with novel products? Perhaps this is why St Kitts and Nevis not only argued that the WHO needs to define harm reduction, but also introduced a proposal that Article 1(d) should be taken into account in deliberations over articles 9 & 10. And then the fight started. 

Despite 5 days of debate, no consensus could be reached and they will go through it all again at COP11 next year.

Who wants to host COP11?

All in all, the decisions which reached consensus were rather limp and the conference in general rather underwhelming. Not particularly deserving of the term “historic”.

Finally, Copwatch would have liked to inform our readers where COP11 will be taking place but, sadly, the host country was not announced in the closing plenary. Evidently, there was no interest from any of the Parties and no applications to host were received.  

One wonders what countries don’t find appealing about playing host to a two week opaque talking shop which attracts no tourists or media interest, nor offers infrastructure benefits, but comes with a $5 million price tag.