Plenary exposes industry interference and highlights tobacco control victories to build upon

“We can make the tobacco industry run! We are on the right side and we have the victory.”

This morning’s plenary shone a light on the corrupt and deadly dealings of the tobacco industry, focussing on their operations across the African continent. It also explored how industry interference in public health policy can be prevented through implementation of the WHO FCTC and concluded with a success story from Uganda – illustrating how governments can prevail for public health with the support of civil society.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' President Matt Myers opened the session providing historical context for the creation of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC. He emphasised the need to keep re-telling the story of how and why this provision came about – to ensure that all future generations understand why the tobacco industry cannot be treated like any other.

“The tobacco industry depends upon us having amnesia, no long term memory. People need to understand what led the nations of the world to decide that the Article 5.3 provision was necessary,” said Matt Myers. “We think the world changed when the WHO FCTC came into force. And it did. But the tobacco industry didn’t. The tobacco industry will still use all means possible, legal and illegal, to expand the sales of its deadly products. That’s why 5.3 is as important today as when it was introduced 13 years ago.”

Dr Anna Gilmore detailed recent tobacco industry operations in Africa, with a focus on British American Tobacco, bribery and smuggling. Evidence collected by her team at the University of Bath, UK, with the help of industry whistle-blowers reveal a complex and systematic process designed to manipulate public health policy, discredit competitors, control government efforts to track illicit trade, and to build influential relationships in government. She said the tobacco control community had reached a pivotal moment.

“The Serious Fraud Office in the UK launched an investigation into BAT’s operations two years ago. This is a significant opportunity and I appeal to you all, if you have evidence from your own country, submit this to the SFO -- this is a global investigation. It’s an opportunity to change behaviours and to de-normalise the tobacco industry.”

Dr Stella Bialous, University of California, went on to look at how governments can prevent tobacco industry interference – through greater implementation of Article 5.3. She said it required significant political will to ensure all levels of government support this provision of the treaty, and called for civil society and non-governmental organisations to support and stand with the champions of Article 5.3 in government.

Uganda’s Principal Medical Officer, Sheila Ndyanabangi concluded the session with an inspirational presentation on her country’s eight-year struggle to secure a strong national tobacco control law. She recounted battles with the tobacco industry and its representatives in court rooms, government meetings, and in the media.

She described her team’s approach when faced with a legal challenge from the tobacco industry: “We filled the courts. We filled the corridors. We had six lawyers. We must show our force. We are many; they are few. They have lies, deception and blood money to give out. We can make the tobacco industry run! We are on the right side and we have the victory.”