Monday, 8 October 2018

The World Health Organisation's week

Enjoying myself outside the conference venue

I was in Geneva for a couple of days last week to check out the WHO's Conference of the Parties meeting (COP8). Not that there was much to check out. As is traditional, the public and press were kicked out at Monday lunchtime and weren't allowed back in.

It wasn't clear what was being discussed inside. Even now, two days after it finished, it's not clear what was decided. Neither the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) website nor its Twitter feed suggested that anything substantial had been agreed.

The closing address contained some waffle about sustainability and the usual paranoia about industry. I heard rumours that they had decided to regulate heated tobacco products as if they were cigarettes but the only thing that has been publicly agreed is the creation of yet another anti-tobacco organisation - the Global Strategy to Accelerate Tobacco Control - to 'reinforce government policies and accelerate global action for more effective implementation of the tobacco control treaty'.

I thought that was what the FCTC's job? Never mind, it will keep the money rolling in. At one point last week, the Framework Control Alliance (yet another NGO sucking on the taxpayer's teat) told us exactly much this shindig was costing us...

And they were right. It is even worse than I thought - and we Brits are footing the bill for most of it.

I suspect that the WHO is doing journalists a favour by kicking them out after a few hours. At the end of the day, COP is a 'public health' conference and therefore bound to be about the most boring thing on Earth. I expect it's one tedious presentation after another while all the grubby deals take place in hotel rooms. If the public weren't booted out, they would soon leave of their own accord.

Hats off to my friends from INNCO who were in town all week, speaking to the public about vaping and harm reduction at the Broken Chair, the only place in Geneva where you're legally allowed to protest - and, even then, only if you have a permit. I caught up with them on Friday...

And then I popped down to the main venue for a quick photo...

On Friday evening I held a meeting at the Mon Repos Hotel down the road to find out what the hell was going on. Spoiler alert: no one really knew, but it was good to have a chat with a few people anyway. Thanks to Dick Puddlecote, who filmed it with my iPad, you can see some of the conversations. The indefatigable Simon Clark also said a few words but, alas, we ran out of memory space two minutes into his remarks.

So here's Kim D. Peterson of INNCO...

Heneage Mitchell of FactAsia...

And Aaron Biebert (director of A Billion Lives) who I was delighted to meet for the first time...

I expected this to be my last time at a COP but apparently it's going to be held in the Netherlands in 2020 so there's a chance I might go again, especially if it's in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the Dutch government is already trying to get in the WHO's good books by announcing an extension of its smoking ban and putting plain packaging on the table. Plain packaging is, of course, just the kind of utterly ineffective virtue signalling that COP delegates can't get enough of.

So too is divestment from tobacco stock. I have often wondered whether people in the divestment campaign have any idea of how the stock market works. This quote from the FCTC confirms that they they doesn't.

The campaign also has also begun striking at the heart of tobacco profits. In January 2018, ABP, the biggest Dutch pension fund and the largest pension fund in Europe, announced it would stop investing in tobacco. This has resulted in 3 billion Euros less in investments from the finance sector going to tobacco companies, said Mr. Blokhuis.

Regular readers know that the 'public health' mob struggle with the distinction between profits and revenue. Now it seems that they don't know the difference between profit and the sale of secondhand shares on the stock market.

“We need to convince more financial companies that investing in tobacco is bad for business, bad for their profit margins,” said Mr. Blokhuis. “This would be the final knockout for the tobacco industry.”

I regret to inform you that Mr Bolkhuis is the State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport in the Netherlands.

The FCTC is still in Geneva because today saw the start of MOP1 (yes, really), which aims to 'Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products'. That's right, eliminate. With this kind of expertise, how can they fail?

Oh, and needless to say, the FCTC didn't take the opportunity to retract its warm words about vaping prohibition during COP8. Rumour has it that the UK delegation barely said a word all week.

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