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Effective tobacco control policies in Nepal shaping up

New Delhi, Fri, 21 Nov 2008 Bobby Ramakant

Government delegation from Nepal is among those 160 countries' delegations currently meeting in Durban, South Africa, to negotiate guidelines for provisions of the global tobacco treaty (17-22 November 2008).

The negotiations centre on the implementation of Article 5.3, which protects the treaty and related public health policies from tobacco industry interference.

The global tobacco treaty, formally called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), took effect in 2005 and now protects more than 85 percent of the world's population. But efforts to implement the treaty are being systematically stymied by tobacco transnationals, reinforcing the importance of this week's third Conference of the Parties (COP3) in Durban, South Africa.

Dr Dirgh Singh Bam, Secretary for Ministry of Health and Population, Government of Nepal, heads the Nepalese delegation at the COP3 negotiations.

"Tobacco industry is very strong" said Dr Bam, sharing his personal opinion. He further adds that "we will continue to need increasingly more amount of money to support tobacco control interventions if we don't put a check on the tobacco industry".

"There is no partnership with the tobacco industry in Nepal" said Dr Bam. The revenue which the tobacco provides the government is much less than the amount of money spent on treatment of tobacco-related diseases, says Dr Bam. This amount can be two or three times of the tobacco revenue, says Dr Bam.

"The civil society in Nepal played an active role in drafting the comprehensive tobacco control parliamentary bill which is still in the parliament" says a noted anti-tobacco activist Shanta Mulmi.

"Industry interference is the number one obstacle to the implementation and enforcement of the global tobacco treaty," said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director of Corporate Accountability International. "Article 5.3 is the lynchpin of the treaty, determining whether or not countries will be able to reverse this preventable epidemic without the tobacco industry standing in their way."

To prevent abuses reported in several countries, the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) activists insist that the following provisions of the draft Article 5.3 guidelines would help prevent abuses:

- Prohibiting government partnership or collaboration with the tobacco industry. - Protecting against conflicts of interest for those involved in setting and implementing tobacco control policies.

They are calling for the draft Article 5.3 guidelines to be strengthened, in order to:
- Avoid government interaction with the tobacco industry, and set strict rules of engagement for any meetings deemed to be necessary. - Ensure transparency in government interaction with the tobacco industry and in tobacco industry activities and operations. - Emphasize the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict with public health.

Since negotiations on the global tobacco treaty began in 1999, the tobacco industry has used its political and economic influence in an attempt to undermine, delay and water down public health measures.

If the government representatives of the 160 countries draft strong guidelines for Article 5.3 at the ongoing COP-3 meeting in Durban, South Africa (17-22 November), it will not only go a long way in stopping all forms of tobacco industry interference at all levels but also increase the effectiveness of other tobacco control interventions around the world.

Bobby Ramakant

(The author is a World Health Organization (WHO)’s WNTD Awardee (2008) and writes extensively on health and development. He can be contacted at: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

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