More nations back calls to make tobacco industry accountable for hazards

CIVIL Society Organisations (CSOs) in several countries have asked the delegates to the ongoing World Health Organisation’s (WHO) biennial tobacco control summit in Panama to consider imposing heavy sanctions on ‘Big Tobacco’ as part of measures to address public health issues. 

The CSOs, in a statement released on Wednesday, February 7, by the media and communications officer of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Robert Egbe, urged the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, (the WHO FCTC) to accept a draft decision strengthening nations’ ability to hold the industry liable.

The proposal is being championed by Oman, Pakistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iran and co-sponsored by Brazil, Djibouti, Ghana, Iraq, Kuwait, Panama, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen.

The call adds to advocacy by the WHO, Brazil, Ireland, Canada and others that more sanctions should be placed on the industry because of the dangers tobacco poses to human health and the environment.

“Abusive corporations from Big Tobacco to Big Oil are selling a deadly product and saddling society with all the costs that come with it. It’s not right, and it is past time for us to end this corporate stranglehold on society,” said CAPPA’s Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi in the statement.

The tobacco industry costs the world more than eight million human lives, 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of CO2 every year, according to a report by WHO.

The global health body also highlighted that tobacco products, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, are the most littered items on the planet.

Roughly five trillion cigarette filters pollute the oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches yearly.

Led by the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and government champions, the CSOs listed the harmful effects of the tobacco industry on the world for decades.

They noted that while it had caused millions of deaths and cases of preventable disease, it had also violated human rights.

According to the statement, cigarette smoking was estimated to cost Nigeria ₦526.45 billion annually in direct treatment, while annual tobacco-related global healthcare costs were estimated at $422 billion and economic costs more broadly at $1.85 trillion.

The CAPPA added that holding the industry liable could help governments recoup billions in such costs.

    “When an individual violates someone’s health or safety, we as a society are supposed to hold them accountable. The same is true of tobacco corporations, which have inflicted enormous harm around the world. We must hold them responsible for their actions – not only to redress past harms but also to prevent them from continuing their abusive behaviour unchecked,” the Tobacco Campaign Director of Corporate Accountability, Daniel Dorado also said.

    The statement added that NATT and its allies submitted a petition to COP10 delegates urging Big Tobacco to be held accountable for its damages.

    The petition was said to have received endorsement from over 85 legal experts and garnered over 30,000 signatures, representing individuals from 95 countries and territories across all six WHO regions.

    “Five member states are proposing a measure that would further strengthen Article 19 of the FCTC, a groundbreaking but underutilised provision that enables parties to pursue liability. Several nations, including Brazil, Ireland, and Canada, have already filed health-related lawsuits against the industry, while the U.S. city of Baltimore launched a first-of-its-kind lawsuit to make tobacco corporations pay for cigarette butt pollution,” the statement added.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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