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.

Sources:
Announcing the Global Tobacco Control Progress Hub
https://www.globaltobaccocontrol.org/en/announcing-global-tobacco-control-progress-hub

Global Progress Hub Coming Soon
https://www.globaltobaccocontrol.org/en/announcing-global-tobacco-control-progress-hub

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: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2287 (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.

FCTC Secretariat uses Australian propaganda to influence COP NGO observers

Following on from our last post highlighting how the WHO has been cherry-picking countries to discuss the future of tobacco control in a secret meeting, we now find the anti-smoking anti-nicotine arm of the WHO cherry-picking information to manipulate the NGO observers to the COP. 

Last week,the FCTC Secretariat sent out the email below emphasising a highly dubious review by the Australian National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH).


Date: Mon, Jun 20, 2022 at 7:15 PM
Subject: Research on e-cigarette use and public health assessment in Australia
To:

Dear NGOs observers to the COP,

The Convention Secretariat and WHO has recently received the visit of Professor Emily Banks, one of Australia’s leading researchers in e-cigarettes and tobacco control. Professor Banks is the Head of the Centre for Public Health Data and Policy, at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH), based at the Australian National University. We would like to share with you information on the last research project she has led in Australia.

 The NCEPH conducted a review of the health outcomes in relation to e-cigarette use and a public health assessment of e-cigarettes for Australia, as commissioned by the Australian Department of Health on 27 February 2019. This global systematic review is the most comprehensive review of vaping-related health impacts to date.

 To date, at least 32 countries ban the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes, 79 countries – including Australia – allow them to be sold while fully or partially regulating them and the remaining 84 countries do not regulate them at all. In Australia, nicotine e-cigarettes are legal only on prescription, for the purpose of smoking cessation.

 In Australia, however, as of 2019, the majority of e-cigarette use is not for smoking cessation, particularly at young ages.

 The systematic review of e-cigarettes and health outcomes (Review) published by NCEPH on 7 April 2022 is one of a series of reports produced as part of this project. The Review concludes that:

  • There is strong or conclusive evidence that nicotine e-cigarettes can be harmful to health and uncertainty regarding their impacts on a range of important health and disease outcomes.
  • The use of nicotine e-cigarettes increases the risk of a range of adverse health outcomes, including: poisoning; toxicity from inhalation (such as seizures); addiction; trauma and burns; lung injury; and smoking uptake, particularly in youth.
  • Nicotine e-cigarettes are highly addictive, underpinning increasing and widespread use among children and adolescents in many settings.
  • The most common pattern of e-cigarette use is dual e-cigarette use and tobacco smoking, which is generally considered an adverse outcome.
  • There is strong evidence that non-smokers who use e-cigarettes are three times as likely to go on to smoke combustible tobacco cigarettes as non-smokers who do not use e-cigarettes, supportive of a “gateway” effect.
  • There is limited evidence of efficacy of freebase nicotine e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation in the clinical setting.

 The summary brief of the review can be found through this link and the full global systematic review is available here. Additional information about the project and resources from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health are available in this website.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Best regards,
Secretariat of the WHO FCTC


The email repeats conclusions of the review without any objective assessment of the evidence behind them. However, Dr Colin Mendelsohn – member of the Australian Smoking Cessation Guideline Expert Advisory Group who has worked in tobacco treatment for 35 years – has cast a more critical eye on the claims and has noted many debatable, or even false, assertions. 

The review claims that there is “conclusive evidence that the use of e-cigarettes can cause respiratory disease (EVALI) among smokers” which is simply not true. Conversely, it declares that there is “limited evidence of efficacy of freebase nicotine e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation” despite the Cochrane living review – the highest quality of scientific evidence – finding that vaping is twice as effective as using NRT for smoking cessation.

The review also carefully picks research suggesting that vaping leads youth to smoking, ignoring real world evidence that the opposite is true. In all states where vaping has been able to compete with combustible products, youth smoking rates have declined considerably since vaping products have been available and are at historically low levels in the UK and USA. Perhaps the FCTC is not aware of what is happening in the world, which would be quite a failing for a global institution, if true. 

One wonders why, if Colin Mendelsohn can find so many flaws in the NCEPH evidence, the FCTC Secretariat is incapable of doing the same. Or, if they have done, why the FCTC Secretariat is enthusiastically emphasising the review without a note of caution. 

Forgive us for being cynical, but we doubt the FCTC Secretariat sends similar emails to highlight research which shows vaping in a positive light. 

To remind you why this is deeply wrong from the Secretariat, please revisit one of our earlier posts – What’s wrong with FCTC COP? The Secretariat should be impartial, but behaviour such as this reveals that it is working to manipulate the Parties according to its own agenda: 

It is therefore irresponsible, and arguably ethically wrong, to foment doubt on vaping amongst NGOs and Observers via an official email, without balancing the clearly biased Australian review with the increasingly weighty body of evidence which points to major public health benefits in countries where vaping is leading to impressive declines in smoking. 

The FCTC treaty preamble defines its purpose as being to “improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke”. Smoke, not nicotine. It seems that the Secretariat has forgotten that.

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 https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-07-05/27101/

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

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