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Czech Position on Tobacco Trade Raises Questions

The consumption of tobacco is estimated to produce six million deaths a year in the world. Based on data of the Framework Convention Alliance, the ‘habit’ has killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Influencing directly the health of 1 in 10 adults, over the next 100 years smoking would probably be behind the death of 1 billion people.

Global public health leaders responded to this epidemic by drafting the world’s first public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which came into force in 2005.

In fact, 176 world governments (meaning almost 90 percent of the world’s population) have ratified the treaty, meeting up every 2 years to discuss development and implementation of the treaty.

cigarette smoking

The international agreement endeavours to set prices and taxes, regulate the contents, packaging and labelling of tobacco products and educate, train and raise public awareness.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control also intends to generate bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and stop illicit trade and sales of tobacco to minors.

Adoption of the FCTC by the different national governments generates positive results as, for example, the case of

a. South Africa – Between 1993 and 2005, total taxes on cigarettes (including excise and sales taxes) in South Africa increased from 32 percent of retail price to 52 percent—increasing real retail price by over 150 percent. During the same period, cigarette consumption declined by 30 percent, government excise revenue increased by 150 percent, and smoking prevalence among adults decreased by 25 percent

b. Ukraine – Between 2008 and 2010, Ukraine’s total tobacco tax increased from 36 percent to 60 percent of the retail price—increasing the real price per pack by 120 percent. During the same period, tobacco sales decreased 25 percent and the government collected an additional UAH 9.5 billion in tobacco taxes. Cigarette price increases were estimated to reduce the number of smokers by 2.7 million, by preventing smoking initiation and increased cessation among current smokers.

In this scenario of governmental and Non Governmental Organisations throughout the world, **are try to support the FCTC and the WHO round-table in order to enforce this important international legal frame so to have it adopted all over the world.

The only government (among the 176 participants to the treaty) to hold a differing position to the FCTC is the government of the Czech Republic.

In fact, the Czech Republic has acceded to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control stating the following interpretative declaration to the Convention:

The Czech Republic declares that it does not consider guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties as instruments directly establishing legal obligations under the Convention.

Humphrey Bogart smoking

Humphrey Bogart smoking

The Czech Republic declares that it will not support any future proposals amending the Convention or relating to its Protocols which would be in contradiction with the constitutional principles of the Czech Republic as well as commitments arising from its membership in the European Union and from international agreements on free trade to which the Czech Republic has acceded.

The Czech Republic also declares that it considers a main article of the convention as a provision not affecting the right to non-discriminatory treatment of the tobacco industry by the Parties and thus permitting the necessary extent of cooperation with the tobacco industry as regards tobacco control.

This institutional position is generating some serious implications that should be of concern to Parties and the general public:

  1. The “interpretive declaration,” amounts to a reservation that, in the legal analysis produced by Corporate Accountability International (www.stopcorporateabuse.org) is not allowed by Parties to the FCTC.
  2. The declaration claims that an article of the FCTC discriminates against the tobacco industry as compared to other industries and reserves rights to the county to collaborate with the tobacco industry in the formulation of public health policies.
  3. The declaration claims that the Czech Republic will not accept any future amendments to the FCTC that go against international free trade agreements.
  4. The declaration claims that the guidelines of the Articles of the FCTC are not legally binding.

The position of the Czech Government is not justifiable by any means considering that, according to the World Health Organization, smoking causes approximately 18,000 premature deaths per year in the Czech Republic alone – equivalent to 50 deaths per day. Overall, 26 percent of all male deaths and 10 percent of all female deaths are attributable to tobacco use1.

Tobacco control has remained extremely weak in the Czech Republic, with the country’s policies recently being ranked the fourth least effective in Europe2

The friendly attitude of the Czech Government toward tobacco companies (which begun with Privatization in 1991 when Philip Morris and British American Tobacco entered the market that was to become the Czech Republic) is not only setting a very dangerous precedent that could undermine the future of the WHO FCTC treaty, but is also projecting a suspicious shadow on possible interference of an economical lobbyist on Czech police makers, which appears to be among the most corrupted in Europe.

Our extensive report on this issue (which has been produced in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of Washington (www.icij.org), Corporate Accountability International (www.stopcorporateabuse.org), Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) for Tobacco Control (http://www.fctc.org/) and Slovak National Television (www.stv.sk), tries to explain and expose the reasons, consequences and final outcomes of the unorthodox Czech interpretative ratification of the FCTC.

As the regional partner in this investigative case, in the coming weeks TheDaily.CZ and LaVoce.CZ will be looking further into the background of the Czech Republic’s position and its clearly favourable position for the tobacco industry, and what the incentives might be. Media wishing to syndicate the news with us should contact us directly.

TonyPapaleo@LaVoce.sk  & John.Boyd@TheDaily.SK

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