In November the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will meet in Panama, with the fate of safer nicotine products hanging in the balance. Harry Shapiro joins us to shed some light on these closed-door proceedings, and how these meetings will inevitably impact tobacco harm reduction efforts around the globe.
Chapters:0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak 1:07 - COP10 explained with Harry Shapiro 5:36 - FCTC avoids mentioning THR 8:14 - Whose side are the WHO on? 13:43 - Closing remarks
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Joanna Junak: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.tv. The 10th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is taking place next month in Panama. Discussions and decisions at these meetings influence tobacco control policies at the national level. These decisions will be significant in determining the future of safer nicotine products such as nicotine vapes, snus, nicotine punches and heated tobacco products, which all play a key role in tobacco harm reduction. The recently issued briefing paper titled "The FCTC COP10 Agenda and Supporting Documents Implications for the Future of Tobacco Harm Reduction" provides an analysis of the published COP10 Meeting Papers and Implications for Tobacco Harm Reduction. Joining us today to discuss the paper is Harry Shapiro, the author and executive editor of the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction Reports. Hello, Harry. First, what was the reason for creating the latest briefing paper?
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Harry Shapiro: OK, so in April, we published a background paper to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, trying to explain what the conference of the parties was all about. You know, the meeting that meets every two years to discuss the Framework Convention and also how the conference was going to say operate, but I think it'd be more likely to say stage managed by the FCTC Secretariat. So that's really a background paper to explain what the hell goes on, what the convention is, what's in it, and the meeting that is every two years to discuss it, which is coming up next month in Panama. So, but what we don't know and didn't know back then in April was exactly what was going to be on the agenda and what the papers that were going to be presented there. And the general rule is that 60 days before the actual meeting starts, all the papers and the agenda are supposed to be posted online so everyone can see them. By and large, I think that's true, although I think I have heard that maybe not everything that's going to be discussed necessarily is available online at that point, but pretty much all of it, all of it is. So therefore, we needed to do an update paper so that people can see what's coming up in the discussion. But I think it's very fair to say that having looked at the agenda and the papers, I think anybody who's done that from the tobacco harm reduction community will realize straight away that the WHO completely rejects the idea of tobacco harm reduction and denies any potential benefit of safer nicotine products in helping to try and reduce the appalling death and disease from smoking. In fact, rather than seeing these new products as potentially helpful, they actually see them as a threat. Now, they would say the threat is to, for example, young people, and they've kind of fashioned this myth of some kind of global teen vaping epidemic, which is in fact kind of nonsense. Yes, the one or two countries where young people have been experimenting, the USA is obviously the best example. Although even there, the numbers appear to be coming down quite dramatically. But you have countries in various parts of the world which really have no teen vaping incidents worthy of a mention. But everyone goes on about protecting the youth. Personally, I think that some of these countries and the WHO, certainly the parties to this convention would see safer nicotine products as a threat, yes. but as a threat to their financial and political interests, particularly those countries that have state monopolies or a heavy stake in the tobacco industry. And the best example of that is China, which is the biggest tobacco company in the world, and India also. And there are other countries as well. And they've all got a place around the table, which is a bit ironic when you come to think of the fact anyone else associated with the industry is absolutely excluded from taking part. So that's kind of the big takeaway from that new report.
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Joanna Junak: So why is the paper so important from the perspective of tobacco harm reduction?
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Harry Shapiro: Well, I think I think the paper is important because if you look at particularly because if you look at you think back to The last COP meeting, which was in 2021, it was online only because of COVID. So any kind of major debates and decisions were deferred until the next one, which is the one that's coming up shortly. And there was supposed to be a debate on tobacco harm reduction. That was one of the things that came out of the last meeting. But the very last thing that the FCTC Secretariat want is to have a debate on tobacco harm reduction. They really don't want to get into this at all. So looking at all those papers, you won't find any reference to tobacco harm reduction at all in terms of having any kind of debate. I mean, it's worth bearing in mind, of course, that I mentioned before about everything being stage managed. I mean, most of the delegates who come to this are just, you know, middle level civil servants, everything's really sorted out before the meeting even starts. So most of this is just rubber stamped from prior whole bevy of prior meetings and discussions and seminars and God only knows what reports. But I think that again, if you look at the papers, the way that the WHO and the FCTC and its allies have kind of engineered this, is by encouraging the parties to treat safer nicotine products as tobacco products. So, you know, you tax them the same. If possible, you ban everything you can, including flavors and all the rest of it, sales to minors. So if you treat safer nicotine products exactly as you would treat tobacco products, you don't have to have a debate because it's already kind of covered in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. And if the parties, any members of the COP, want to do more than the basics in terms of safer nicotine products, well you've got Article 19. And Article 19 says don't be tied up by what the Convention says. If you want to be even more prohibitionist, and have even more controls, fine, that's okay, that's all covered in the convention.
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Joanna Junak: And looking at the coming conference of the parties, what are your expectations for the convention?
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Harry Shapiro: And I think that as far as, you know, so therefore when we talk about what's going to come out of the COP, I don't, I think that there will be this continued encouragement of the WHO and the FCTC and its NGO allies and its main funder to encourage because WHO got no legislative clout here, they talk about the convention being legally binding but it doesn't mean to say anyone's going to get dragged into court if they do something that WHO doesn't like it's a kind of moral obligation really a framework convention But I think it's a supreme irony here. And the supreme irony is rather than being focused on trying to deal with death and disease from smoking. And if you look at the WHO's own evaluation of policy, the weakest bit of the policy is stop smoking services and offering help to smokers. So they like to tick all the boxes about education campaigns and taxation and public vaping bans and all the rest of it. But the stuff that really would make a difference is very poor. The smokers are very poorly served globally. What they all focus on is interference by the tobacco industry. This is their big thing. Like we have to stop the industry influencing domestic policy. But that's exactly what the WHO and everyone else involved in this is what they're trying to do. They're trying to influence domestic policy to ban, over-regulate, prohibit safer nicotine products. And if that is an interference with domestic policy, I don't know what is. But the other important thing to bear in mind is that ultimately tobacco control policies are a domestic issue. Apart from cross-border smuggling, it is a domestic issue. What I would like to see come out of the COP, but I don't think it's going to happen, is the countries who are taking a more proportionate approach and a pragmatic approach actually put their hand up and say, hang on a minute, you know, this is this is not right. Yes, everyone can do what they want, but it's wrong for the WHO to insist that these products have got no benefit whatsoever when there's a huge body of independent evidence that says completely the opposite. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen. I mean, the UK in an answer to a parliamentary question said that they're not going to go down the banning route that the WHO want them to go down. Well, we knew that already because that's not what we do. But nobody, whether it's maybe Japan or Australia or the Scandinavian countries or New Zealand, appear to be prepared to take that extra step and challenge what the WHO and others want to happen. So that would be a nice outcome if even if somebody put their hand up and say, hang on a minute, let's have a proper debate about this. But I'm pretty certain that's not going to happen. And I think ultimately, you know, you can prohibit as much as you like. But as we know from the illegal drugs world, it essentially doesn't work. You just hand this over to organized crime. Plus the fact that these safer nicotine products are not going away. You know, we have increasing numbers of people. The last time KAC did a survey, we came up with 82 million vapors. I think if you threw in heated tobacco product and snus as well, you'd probably be approaching a hundred million people from nothing in 2006, from just a handful in a few countries. I don't think that momentum is gonna be stopped, but it could be dramatically slowed by bad legislation based on misinformation and propaganda, which ultimately, I have to say, is only going to benefit the tobacco industry, who are still making millions or even billions from selling cigarettes. So I have to say, in conclusion, whose side are the WHO on? What do they actually want to happen? What do they think this policy is going to result in? Certainly not going to meet any goals about reducing smoking and non-communicable disease targets, sustainable gold targets. None of it is going to work. You're not even going to get close unless you take a different approach to tobacco harm reduction, as the WHO have traditionally done with drug and HIV harm reduction. This is no different. Tobacco harm reduction is a human right. It's not a question of consumer choice. Or not just a question of consumer choice. And the WHO gonna wake up to that pretty damn soon.
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Joanna Junak: Thank you Harry. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN TV website. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.