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India’s Tobacco Industry Calls For Representation At WHO Conference

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India’s tobacco giants are not happy. The $11 billion industry has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to soften its hard-line stance on tobacco, ahead of the World Health Organization conference set for next month in New Delhi. Officials, however, says they will not succumb to “pressure tactics.”

Guests from around 180 countries are expected to attend the WHO conference this November 7-12, which will focus on the only global anti-tobacco treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The treat was enforced in 2005, and aims to prevent tobacco use, which kills over 6 million people worldwide yearly, Reuters reports.

India is the world’s third largest tobacco producer, and its companies want the government to lessen what it says are tough FCTC regulations.

According to the tobacco companies, these measures threaten the livelihoods of around 46 million people. India’s tobacco industry is reeling from new measures implemented this year that forced companies to print bigger health warnings on tobacco product packages.

Documents obtained by Reuters under India’s Right to Information Law states that the industry, headed by the Tobacco Institute of India, and farmer organizations seek to attend the conference as a part of the country’s delegation, in order to present and protect their interests. They sent a request to the agriculture ministry, along with a 6,000-page petition signed by over 100,000 farmers.

Tobacco companies all over the world have called the conference out, alleging that it lacks transparency because its proceedings had previously not been accessible to the public.

A farmer’s group questioned the legality of the FCTC’s enactment in India, and asked the Delhi High Court to force the government to allow them to attend the conference. A judge asked the government to “consider” the request, but did not rule on other topics raised.

For its part, the FCTC secretariat in Geneva welcomed India’s decision, reiterating that its guidelines state that no country should have delegation members connected to the tobacco industry. Conference decisions on treaties, which are implemented nationally by signatories, have a direct effect on the global tobacco industry. It is worth an estimated $784 billion this year, according to Euromonitor International.

The WHO conference will discuss alternative livelihoods for farmers, e-cigarettes, trade and investment issues.


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