Argentina Lags Behind in Tobacco

ABU DHABI – Argentina is still the only country in Latin America and among the 10 percent in the world that did not ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), experts pointed out, as the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health started on March 17, 2015 in Abu Dhabi.

The five-day event brings together policy-makers, health experts and advocacy professionals to shed light on the latest developments on tobacco use and control.

On February 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the FCTC – a unique legal instrument to foster global action to reduce tobacco use.

Nestor Kirchner only signed it. It is once you ratify a treaty that you have to implement it. Otherwise, it is not binding. And this country has one of the highest smoking rates in the region.

It also leads the way in cocaine and alcohol consumption in Latin America, according to a 2013 ranking by Bloomberg. The study found we’re the 14th “most decadent” country on the planet.

This is a crucial public health issue as tobacco kills more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It is the main cause of preventable death.

In Argentina, cigarettes produce over 40,000 deaths a year and generate 21 billion pesos in health care costs, according to a 2013 report by Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness (IECS) in Buenos Aires.

The study also set out that tobacco kills 111 Argentine women a day.

One factor is the low price of cigarettes. One pack cost US$1.7 in 2014 compared to US$3.8 in Colombia, US$5 in the United States and US$8.3 in France.

Pressure from the tobacco industry

Notwithstanding the fact that Argentina implemented tobacco control measures, such as smoke-free environments and health warnings, the country has traditionally favored tobacco production over public health.

Tobacco producers are concentrated in the northern provinces of Jujuy and Salta, the eastern province of Misiones, as well as Tucumán, Corrientes, Chaco and Catamarca.

“In some countries – those which have not ratified the [FCTC] treaty – the tobacco presence is very powerful and they have a strong influence on decision-makers,” said Tibor Szilagyi, Technical Officer at the FCTC, during a journalism training on March 17, 2015 organized by the National Press Foundation in Abu Dhabi.

International tobacco companies, namely Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Lorillard and RJ Reynolds International, have been exerting pressure on Argentine policy-making since the 1970s.

For instance, disregarded or rejected more than 50 draft laws on tobacco control in the past 40 years due to the pressure of tobacco lobbies.

“It is very important that the measures preventing tobacco interference are strengthened. This is the difference between the countries that have successfully ratified the convention and those which have not”, explained Dr. Szilagyi.

For example, former (two-day) President Ramon Puerta has a tobacco-producing farm in Misiones.

Banning interference

Article 5.3 of the FCTC provides recommendations to prevent the interference of the tobacco industry in policy-making.

It suggests rejecting any partnership between politics and the tobacco industry, as well as avoiding conflicts of interest for the public sector employees, among other measures.

Regardless, local tobacco producers gave the Senate in 2006 a document titled “Legal Observations Regarding the FCTC” (Observaciones Jurídicas al Convenio Marco Antitabaco) to argue that ratifying the FCTC would create economic losses.

A June 2013 report by the Interamerican Heart Foundation, a non-governmental organization in the United States, explained the ways the tobacco industry has advanced its commercial interests in the region.

In Argentina, it has developed ties with allies in important sectors. In Mexico, the tobacco industry has lobbied against taxing tobacco products. In Colombia, it has impeded bans on advertising and sponsoring tobacco products.

The problem is, the study says, that in Latin America, tobacco companies have a positive image and are deemed socially responsible.


This piece was published in The Bubble on March 20, 2015. Click here.

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