On 3rd and 4th May the UNESCO hosted an international seminar in São Paulo, Brazil, on the topic of freedom of expression. One of the sponsors was the Brazilian tobacco company Souza Cruz. Souza Cruz has been a subsidiary of the British tobacco multinational British American Tobacco since 1914. It is one of the most important tobacco leaf companies in Brazil.
The UNESCO seminar is no isolated case. Tobacco companies in Brazil often sponsor events attended by lawyers and judges. For the companies it is important to build strong contacts to lawyers, as these can help them win legal battles against ever stricter tobacco regulations.
The Brazilian NGO “Aliança de Controle do Tabagismo” (Tobacco Control Alliance) criticised the sponsorship in an open letter. Amongst other things, the authors invoked the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which was ratified by Brazil in 2005. Under article 5.3 of the convention signatory states have committed themselves to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
This is no easy feat. Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (Agencia Nacional de Vigilancia Sanitaria, ANVISA) has been trying for months to put a ban on flavoured cigarettes. So far they have failed because of opposition from the tobacco lobby and numerous members of Congress. Thus although ANVISA has announced that flavoured cigarettes will be taken off the market by 2014, there is resistance from the Parliament against the endeavours of the agency. “ANVISA can not take such decisions alone, as though it had legislative power,” criticised deputy Arthur Maia from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) in Bahia in the daily Folha di São Paolo.
In order to prevent interference from the tobacco lobby, the Ministry of Health has issued guidelines to protect members of the Committee for WHO FCTC Implementation from the lobbying work of the tobacco industry. These ethical guidelines mean, amongst other things, that members of the committtee may only meet representatives of the tobacco industry when accompanied by another public servant. They should if possible remain in their offices and make a detailed record of the meeting. Members of the committee can only attend events sponsored by the tobacco industry if this is in the “institutional interest of their agency”. In this case the government must cover the participation costs (rather than the tobacco industry).
Article from Folha di São Paolo: http://www.actbr.org.br/comunicacao/noticias-conteudo.asp?cod=2174
Article on tobacco industry interference through sponsoring and the open letter to the UNESCO: http://www.actbr.org.br/
Article in English on the new regulations: http://www.who.int/fctc/implementation/news/Parties_news_Brazil/en/index.html
The guidelines in detail: http://bvsms.saude.gov.br/bvs/saudelegis/gm/2012/prt0713_17_04_2012.html