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A life-saving precedent: protecting public health policy against Big Tobacco
  1. Kathy Mulvey
  1. Corporate Accountability International, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Kathy Mulvey, Corporate Accountability International, 10 Milk Street, Suite 610, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; mulveykathy{at}

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A landmark achievement of the third Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in Durban, South Africa, in November 2008, was the unanimous adoption of specific guidelines to safeguard public health policies against tobacco industry interference (full text available online: The FCTC, in Article 5.3, obligates ratifying countries to “act to protect [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”.1

The Article 5.3 implementation guidelines recognise in Guiding Principle #1 that, “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's interests and public health policy interests.”2 What's good for tobacco industry profits—hooking kids, manipulating nicotine to keep people addicted, targeting the Global South for expansion of its deadly business—is by definition bad for public health.

Negotiators of the FCTC included Article 5.3 because they understood that Big Tobacco was bound to use its economic and political power to undermine every proven public health measure prescribed by the treaty—from comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, to effective warning labels, to smoke-free environments, to combating illicit trade.

Even today, with the FCTC in force in 168 countries, interference by tobacco corporations like Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco poses the single greatest threat to implementation of the treaty's life-saving measures.

The third round of negotiations toward an illicit trade protocol to the FCTC (INB3-ITP), in Geneva in July 2009, was the first worldwide meeting of ratifying countries after Durban. An innovative international application of Article 5.3 and its guidelines at INB3-ITP merits examination for its actual and potential impact on the protocol negotiations, and as an example of the broad implications of Article 5.3 for FCTC implementation and enforcement.

The tobacco lobby at INB3-ITP

Big money is at stake …

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  • Funding Other Funders: Corporate Accountability International members.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.