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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nigeria, others want ban on duty-free tobacco sales

- Law to end business as usual for tobacco industry lobbyists

GENEVA – As delegates from Nigeria and 167 other countries reach the mid-point in their final round of negotiations on a protocol to the global tobacco treaty aiming to curb tobacco smuggling, NGOs from the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals are urging governments to stand firm in their progress toward a ban on duty-free tobacco sales. The message is timed with Corporate Accountability International’s release of a new exposé, Smokescreen for Smuggling: Tobacco Industry Attempts to Derail the Illicit Trade Protocol, highlighting the role of the duty-free lobby in Big Tobacco’s efforts to thwart implementation of the global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

“Many delegates have told us the last negotiating meeting was more productive without the industry present in the room,” says Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action Nigeria. “We hope this will clear the way for Parties to adopt a rigorous protocol at the end of this week.”

“Tobacco corporations have organized a powerful coalition of anti-tax and duty-free trade associations to try and weaken or derail treaty negotiations,” explains Corporate Accountability International’s Tobacco Campaign Director Gigi Kellett. “But governments won’t tolerate business as usual with the tobacco industry anymore.”

At a meeting with the press during the World Health Assembly last spring, Dr. Graciela Gamarra, a delegate from Paraguay, made a prescient observation: For tobacco control there are two eras, before and after FCTC Article 5.3. One month later the intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) for the FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP) made a historic decision. Delegates observed that over 90% of the people at the meeting with “public” badges, lobbying delegates in the hall and watching from the public gallery, worked for the tobacco industry. Legally bound by FCTC Article 5.3’s requirement to protect policy-making from tobacco industry interference, the INB closed the public gallery to exclude the tobacco industry. One of the people kicked out of the meeting as a result was Keith Spinks, a key coordinators of the Big Tobacco/duty-free lobbying effort for the past eight years. This week, Parties reaffirmed this decision.

“The decision demonstrates the strength of the legal obligations of the first corporate accountability treaty,” according Yul Dorado, Corporate Accountability International Latin America Campaign Coordinator.