Monday 12 February 2024

COP 10 - what happened?

I got back from Panama City on Saturday after a great few days with some of the best people in tobacco harm reduction. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance did a terrific job of running an alternative conference to the WHO farce and it was good to speak to so many journalists who had come from far and wide.

Inside the WHO conference, who knows what went on? The meeting is so secretive that outsiders can only feed off scraps. From what I can tell, there was no success in getting the corrupt and incompetent WHO to endorse products like e-cigarettes but nor was it able to toughen its stance against them. A whole bunch of public sector troughers got a little holiday in Latin America and very little was achieved. We can perhaps call it a defensive win.

This account from EU Reporter is worth reading:

The WHO’s tenth conference of the parties (COP10) to its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has spent the week in heavily defensive mode. Like many journalists, I was refused accreditation but that made little difference as the conference voted to exclude the press. That was shortly after the organisers cut off the microphone of a delegate who had the temerity to suggest that the priority should be harm reduction.

 It might seem an obvious point that harm reduction -getting people to stop smoking cancer-causing cigarettes- should be the focus but it’s hard to overstate how heretical that view has become. Science has gone out of the window and when another delegate posted a mocked-up picture of a ‘cancer flavour’ vape it went viral. 

The conference organisers took no action over this incident. They were too busy getting the Panamanian authorities to stop consumer activists handing out leaflets to delegates urging them to support e-cigarettes and other non-combustible alternatives to smoking.

Panama itself tells you a great deal about what happens when countries embrace the neo-prohibitionist approach, as I explained in The Critic...

Panama has done everything the WHO has recommended. E-cigarettes are not only illegal to sell, but are illegal to use. Smoking is banned almost everywhere, including on roof top bars and within two metres of buildings. No smoking signs are invariably accompanied by no vaping signs. Tobacco is heavily taxed and tobacco products come with graphic warnings.

Panama has a low smoking rate but it had a low smoking rate long before it introduced any of these policies. What it also has is an extraordinarily large black market in tobacco. 92 per cent of all cigarettes sold are counterfeit, a fact that is bizarrely advertised by Panama’s health department on billboards. Single cigarettes and cigars are sold by children on the street. Unregulated vaping products are openly sold on street corners. Despite the sale of e-cigarettes being illegal, I saw an advertisement for one in the middle of Panama City. The laws on smoking and vaping in public are casually and routinely flouted, especially in bars. On paper, Panama is a model of neo-prohibitionist tobacco control. That is why the WHO decided to come here. But outside the conference centre, the reality is very different.

It's worth remembering that the WHO treaty that spawned all these COP meetings is so ineffective that a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2019 found “no evidence to indicate that global progress in reducing cigarette consumption has been accelerated by the FCTC treaty mechanism.”
There's lots of content from the alternative conference here if you want to catch up or get a flavour. Regulator Watch also ran regular shows throughout the week. The one below is from the first day and features me towards the end.

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