23 May 2019, Bangkok – The State of Kerala in India has adopted a comprehensive policy to protect its policies against the tobacco industry’s commercial and vested interests. The policy is to be overseen by an intergovernmental committee which involves civil society, and requires all public servants to report on any interactions with the industry and to remove any perceptions of partnership with it. Public officials are also required to declare and divest interests in the industry. Along with the policy is a protocol on holding public meetings with the industry, should such a meeting be “strictly necessary for public interest.” Meeting details will be posted on government website. The intergovernmental committee comprises of the leadership from a variety of sectors affected by tobacco control such as law, tax, revenue, education, information, food safety, and involves two members of civil society.
India is one of 181 Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is now embedded in the health goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The move is consistent with the global treaty obligation (under FCTC Article 5.3) to protect governments against vested and commercial interests of the industry. Treaty guidelines recommend adopting measures to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure transparency; reject partnerships with or contributions from the tobacco industry and require information from it; and, not to give incentives for tobacco business. In 2010, India banned foreign investment in tobacco, and has been reportedly considering stopping tobacco companies from going around such bans to safeguard public health interest.
Just a few weeks ago, the Canadian government devoted a special page on its official website for information relating to meetings with the tobacco industry. The move is part of government efforts to promote open and transparent governance, and is aligned with the WHO FCTC’s Article 5.3 Guidelines, which calls for recommending any meeting with the industry to be transparent.
The Philippines has a similar policy that covers all public servants and is overseen by the Civil Service Commission, a constitutional body that is in charge of ensuring public officers’ compliance with codes of conduct and anti-corruption laws.
The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) lauds the State of Kerala for this milestone and for its whole-of-government approach in protecting public interest from tobacco industry interference. The effort to protect policies against industry interference becomes more important as the tobacco industry becomes more aggressive in promoting itself as a “solution to public health,” and in using / funding third parties to represent its interests.
About 21.4% of adults use tobacco in the State of Kerala where tobacco use imposes a significant economic burden estimated at 1514 Crores in 2011. In 2014, the 34-million population state was declared as the first state in India that banned point-of-sale advertising.
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