Tobacco company giants expelled from conference to negotiate a protocol on illicit tobacco products trade..

July 4, 2009 - More than 130 countries agreed late Wednesday, July 1st to expel the tobacco industry from the rest of the weeklong meeting of parties to the 2005 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The U.N. backed eight-day conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland (June 28th - July 5th) to draft and negotiate a protocol on illicit trade in tobacco products. Governments are considering a range of measures to crack down on contraband cigarettes, including a ban on Internet sale of tobacco products and a crackdown on smuggling through duty free zones. The multinational tobacco giants such as Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco (JT) have a strong presence.

In contrast to the previous two negotiating sessions, this week the public gallery has been packed full of tobacco industry lobbyists. On Monday, June 29th there were more than forty people in the gallery. Twenty-three of the twenty-eight people willing to identify themselves were from the tobacco industry, including twelve from BAT, seven from JT, one from Imperial Tobacco, and one from the Tobacco Institute of South Africa.

The FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines instruct ratifying countries to “Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur” (Recommendation 2).

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"We (the governments) decided not to permit the tobacco industry to enter the meeting because they could interfere in the negotiations," said Justino Regalado Pineda, the head of Mexico's National Office for Tobacco Control. "We have to protect people from their commercial interest to poison the population."

Philip Morris International, whose representatives sat in on meetings earlier in the week, said it was "disappointed" by the decision. "It sets a dangerous precedent for the United Nations in what should be a democratic and transparent process," PMI spokesman Greg Prager said.

British American Tobacco, too, opposed the decision. "We strongly believe that a successful fight against illicit trade can only come from direct co-operation between regulators, law enforcement authorities and the tobacco industry," BAT spokesman David Betteridge said. He said the debate leading to the exclusion was "instigated" by Corporate Accountability International.

The U.S.-based watchdog group said the decision was a victory for public health. "This action sends a clear message from customs, health and law enforcement officials that it's not business as usual for the tobacco companies," the group's international policy director Kathy Mulvey said.

References: Cigarette companies kicked out of tobacco meeting by Frank Jordans, Associated Press (AP) -, 7/2/2009.

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