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 Meeting minutes will not be published and what is discussed will not be revealed to most Parties to the FCTC, let alone the public.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 The latest TobReg report has made references to unpublished GTRF papers in its guidance for COP10.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are not keen on tobacco harm reduction, cherry-picking studies which agree with their preconceived beliefs, and citing unpublished papers from a small selection of WHO members resulting from secret meetings which are not minuted, all funded by a country which is not a Party to the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.