EAST HANOVER, NJ - April 29 - As Philip Morris/Altria tries to divert public attention from its deadly track record, activists and health advocates are challenging top executives at its annual shareholders meeting. Last year the tobacco giant changed its name, and this year the location of its annual meeting in an apparent attempt to evade scrutiny. Infact, a leading corporate accountability organization whose actions at every Philip Morris/Altria shareholders meeting since 1994 have contributed to major changes in how the tobacco industry operates worldwide, will highlight the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC, the first global health and corporate accountability treaty, was unanimously adopted last May by the 192 countries of the World Health Assembly. Dr. Caleb Otto, the lead FCTC negotiator for the Pacific Island nation of Palau and one of the strongest voices in support of the treaty, is speaking at the annual meeting, urging the corporation not to interfere in the FCTCs implementation.
Negotiators of the FCTC overcame Big Tobaccos massive political influence to achieve a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The FCTC will enter into force and become binding international law when 40 countries have signed and ratified the treaty. To date 105 countries have signed and 11, including Palau, India, Norway and New Zealand, have ratified. The FCTC is well on-track toward implementation, but faces interference. Publicly Philip Morris/Altria claims to support the treaty, but Infact and others familiar with the negotiations say evidence indicates otherwise.
Sophisticated public relations strategies dont change the facts. Philip Morris/Altria and its friends in the US government worked all along to derail this global treaty and oppose its most central provisions, including a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Despite Philip Morris/Altrias attempts to evade scrutiny, there is a growing movement of ordinary people and many governments for swift FCTC ratification, says Infact Executive Director Kathryn Mulvey.
Internal industry documents released through litigation show that Philip Morris/Altria sought advice from the notorious public relations firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin on how to prevent or delay adoption of the FCTC. The documents include an analysis of which countries are resistant to the framework convention approach, and a summary of the benefits of setting up an industry-friendly non-governmental organization (NGO) to represent its interests. Bush Administration officials tried to protect the tobacco industry during negotiations on the FCTC. Philip Morris/Altria has ties to Bush Administration officials like Karl Rove and has been a major Republican funder.
The FCTC process has demonstrated that people across the globe are rejecting the addiction, disease and death spread by Big Tobacco. The momentum that led to a strong treaty text continues to grow as people around the world call for the FCTCs swift implementation. From Palau to Norway and India to New Zealand, things are changing and its no longer business as usual for Philip Morris/Altria and its cohorts, says Dr. Otto.
The tobacco industry is deeply concerned about the impact of the FCTC on its profits and ability to expand internationally. According to a cover story in the industry trade journal Tobacco Reporter last year, While it remains to be seen whether the FCTCs bite is as bad as its barkall provisions must be translated into national laws and there is no enforcement mechanismit is safe to assume that business will not get any easier for the tobacco industry.
With its comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the treaty will eliminate images like the Marlboro Man that have been lethally effective at spreading tobacco addiction, especially to youth. With measures to protect public health policy from interference by tobacco corporations, their subsidiaries and affiliatesand to prioritize health over the tobacco industrys commercial intereststhe FCTC sets a new standard for international regulation of industries that threaten health, the environment and human rights, concludes Mulvey.
From 1994 until June 2003, Infacts Boycott of Kraft Foods became an increasing liability for Philip Morris/Altria. The Kraft Boycott was lifted in June 2003 in recognition of the adoption of the FCTC. Infact and its allies also attended the Kraft annual meeting this week to expose and challenge the corporations abusive practices. Infact continues to monitor Kraft and its parent company Philip Morris/Altria to make sure they do not interfere with the FCTC as it moves swiftly toward implementation.