At the other COP, countries eye an investment fund for tobacco control

At the other COP, countries eye an investment fund for tobacco control

At the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or COP 9, countries have adopted a proposal to set up an investment fund that would help generate additional resources for tobacco control.

The proposed investment fund aims to raise $50 million, mainly from governments, and will be managed by the World Bank and an oversight committee nominated by parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Revenue from the $50 million capital is currently projected at $2 million per year, subject to market fluctuations, and will go to the FCTC Secretariat to help implement the tobacco control treaty. This will include providing technical assistance to countries in setting up and strengthening their tobacco taxation systems.

“It’s all about … sustainable funding for the budget and work plan of the COP,” said Sara Rose Taylor, principal researcher and policy analyst at the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control, which is made up of nearly 300 organizations from over 100 countries.

The current budget ask of the tobacco control convention secretariat to support the implementation of the tobacco control treaty for the next two years, for instance, is just $19.1 million. This is funded in part by countries’ assessed contributions, and partly through some countries’ extra-budgetary funding, which isn’t always guaranteed. Thus the need for additional revenue sources for the secretariat, Taylor said.

She hopes it would help fill gaps in tobacco control funding and lead to the development of other additional sustainable financing mechanisms in the future, particularly ones targeted to help countries in the national implementation of the treaty.

Tobacco control advocates said more funding is needed to implement all the measures of the treaty and counter aggressive tobacco industry tactics. In the lead up to the conference, a civil society-led report detailed how the industry preyed on governments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In countries where the industry made pandemic-related donations, the report found the industry received tax incentives, including reduced taxes or tax exemptions.

The industry has also been aggressive in the marketing of new products it claims to be less harmful than cigarettes. However, there is growing evidence on the harmful effects of these new products, often referred to as e-cigarettes, on cardiovascular health, according to the latest WHO 2021 global tobacco epidemic report.

Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS, also contain nicotine that is highly addictive and thus may create addiction among nonsmoking youth for which many of it is marketed. The diversity of these new products however present a “challenge to understanding, monitoring, and regulating them,” according to the report.

Against this challenge, funding for tobacco control efforts remains small. Apart from the $19.1 million budget of the FCTC Secretariat, a percentage of international development assistance for health also goes to tobacco control programs, as well as some domestic country spending. However, estimates reveal these funding sources are still insufficient to fully implement all measures of the treaty. The FCA estimated the funding gap in 2018 to be at $27.4 billion.

Meanwhile, based on 2019 estimates, they found that $66.23 million or just 0.16% of all international development assistance for health went to tobacco control programs.

This is insignificant when compared to industry spending. In the United States alone, tobacco companies spent $8.2 billion to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The resources put into tackling this global problem is minuscule compared to the proportion of the damage that this product [tobacco] causes,” Mary Assunta, head of global research and advocacy at the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, told Devex.

She said the investment fund should consider adopting the “polluter pay” principle, a practice often applied by countries in their environmental laws, to boost funding for tobacco control. Under the principle, polluters should bear the cost of the damage they’ve made.

“They [tobacco companies] should pay for the damage that they cause,” Assunta said.

Tobacco accounts for more than 8 million deaths globally, and it’s estimated to cost the global economy $1.4 trillion a year.

Governments should also make progress in implementing Article 19 of the tobacco control treaty to hold tobacco companies liable for the damage they cause, including financially. This will create an additional revenue source for tobacco control, said Bobby Ramakant, board member at Corporate Accountability.

Article 19 of the treaty requires parties to “consider taking legislative action or promoting their existing laws, where necessary, to deal with criminal and civil liability, including compensation where appropriate”.

“The industry will be held liable legally and financially, [and] governments will be better in position to implement more effective tobacco control measures,” Ramakant said.

Funding has been one of the central topics at COP 9, as most substantive items have been pushed to COP 10 in 2023 to allow for more lengthy discussions that observers say aren’t viable in a virtual setting.

Source: Devex