COP 10: Nigerian activists, others pressure Big Tobacco over health, environmental harms

Ogunsakin Mustapha
4 Min Read

Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have renewed their demand for delegates to the ongoing World Health Organisation (WHO) biennial tobacco control summit in Panamá City, Panamá to make Big Tobacco pay for its abuses.

Led by the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and government champions, the CSOs on Tuesday urged the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, (the WHO FCTC). to accept a draft decision strengthening nations’ ability to hold the industry liable. 

According to a statement signed by CAPPA’s Media and Communications Officer, Mr Rober Egbe, the proposal is being championed by Oman, Pakistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iran and co-sponsored by Brazil, Djibouti, Ghana, Iraq, Kuwait, Panama, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen.

“Abusive corporations from Big Tobacco to Big Oil are selling a deadly product and saddling society with all the costs that come with it. It’s not right and it is past time for us to end this corporate stranglehold on society,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA’s Executive Director.

For decades, the tobacco industry has caused millions of deaths and cases of preventable disease, polluted the environment, and violated human rights.

Cigarette smoking is estimated to cost Nigeria ₦526.45 billion annually in direct treatment, while annual tobacco-related global healthcare costs are estimated at $422 billion and economic costs more broadly at $1.85 trillion. 

Holding the industry liable could help governments recoup billions in such costs.

“When an individual violates someone’s health or safety, we as a society are supposed to hold them accountable. The same is true of tobacco corporations, which have inflicted enormous harm around the world. We must hold them responsible for their actions – not only to redress past harms, but also to prevent them from continuing their abusive behaviour unchecked,” said Daniel Dorado, Tobacco Campaign Director of Corporate Accountability, a NATT member.

NATT and its allies presented COP10 delegates with a petition to make Big Tobacco pay for its harms, which was endorsed by more than 85 legal experts and garnered more than 30,000 signatures – representing people in 95 countries and territories and all 6 WHO regions.

Five member states are proposing a measure that would further strengthen Article 19 of the FCTC, a groundbreaking but underutilised provision that enables Parties to pursue liability. Several nations, including Brazil, Ireland, and Canada, have already filed health-related lawsuits against the industry, while the U.S. city of Baltimore launched a first-of-its-kind lawsuit to make tobacco corporations pay for cigarette butt pollution.

Delegates will decide on the proposal in the coming days of the talks, which opened on February 5 and end on Saturday, February 10. The decision could serve as a model to hold other abusive industries liable, setting a strong precedent for the United Nations (UN) climate treaty, the nascent plastic treaty, and other international bodies.  

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