What a year! Corona has presented the world with new challenges. Let’s hope that the next year will slowly bring us back to normality. But wait: normality was not okay for many people even before Corona. Human rights violations, environmental pollution, climate crisis – all of these existed before and continued to rage during the pandemic. Many corporations play their part in it, for example the tobacco industry which has been endangering people’s health for many years.

The pandemic clearly shows the importance of health. Our health systems are not as resilient as they should be. All the more it is important to accelerate the fight against preventable diseases caused by tobacco consumption, among other things. The tobacco industry has acted in the crisis as usual: it used the opportunity to polish up its battered image.

We observed and documented the activities of the tobacco industry, because smokers have a higher risk of infection and of a severe course of COVID-19 due to their tobacco use. So it really is better to stop smoking now.

The strategy the industry uses during the pandemic is what we call crisis washing – presenting themselves as saviours in times of crisis. However, they act as saviours after they have sunk the ship. The industry’s charitable behaviour should not be taken seriously, it rather serves marketing purposes. We presented our findings at the German Conference on Tobacco Control in December combined with a statement at the press conference.

Focus on child labour

We worked on the issue of child labour and supply chains throughout the year. As a member of the Supply Chain Law Initiative (Initiative Lieferkettengesetz), we are demanding a supply chain law. Among other actions, we have jointly handed over 222,222 signatures calling for such a law to the Federal Chancellery. The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs is still blocking this important law.

Above all, children’s rights to health, decent living conditions, education, leisure and protection from exploitation are ignored in tobacco farming. We discussed how children in Ivory Coast and Malawi would benefit from a supply chain law together with Forum Fairer Handel in Berlin in January. In September, we talked about the cocoa and tobacco supply chains with Leonard Rupp from the Make Chocolate Fair campaign, human rights and tobacco control expert Laura Graen and Maja Volland from Forum Fairer Handel in an online session.

Children’s rights on World No Tobacco Day

On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day 2020, we joined hands with our partners from the German Network on Children’s Rights and Tobacco Control and demanded: Implement children’s rights, boost tobacco control!

Additionally, we discussed in an online seminar how the tobacco industry violates children’s rights, joined by Ute Mons from the German Cancer Research Center and Nina Ohlmeier from the German Children’s Fund.

As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Germany is obliged to strengthen children’s rights and to regularly report on them to the UN. At the same time, Germany must comply with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. We have therefore submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. We demand that the German government immediately takes stronger tobacco control measures to protect children’s rights.

In an exciting project on children’s rights and tobacco, we accompanied Berlin students. They spoke out about tobacco and expressed their views in the film We want tobacco to stop being sold. They sent it to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child accompanied by a personal letter.

Meanwhile, we produced more films on children’s rights featuring voices from the Global South. Together with our partners UBINIG, TOFAZA and Katarana Productions we expose the consequences of tobacco on children and young people using the examples of Bangladesh, Zambia and Indonesia:

Women’s rights and tobacco control

We also focused on women’s rights, which are massively violated by tobacco. In order to strengthen women’s rights, we sent a submission to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in January joined by nine other organisations. With success: the committee included our concerns in the list of issues on which the German government has to report.

Together with our partners from UBINIG, we show the hardship of women in the tobacco fields in Bangladesh. The video Tobacco Farming – Disempowering Women was directed by Farida Akhter. In October, we invited her to an online conversation about tobacco and clothes. Gisela Burckhardt, founder of FEMNET, talked with her about the exploitative conditions in the textile sector and tobacco cultivation in Bangladesh.

Politics in Germany and tobacco control

Another success is the new German law to ban tobacco advertising which has been long overdue. However, the necessary law amendment has been blocked by the CDU/CSU in recent years. Now the parties have agreed to a bill in the German parliament. The new law will come into force gradually beginning in 2021. We welcome the new law, but we criticise the generous deadlines and exemptions for advertising opportunities for the tobacco industry.

This flawed law is certainly a result of the tobacco industry’s influence on political decisions which is still far too strong. To expose it, we jointly published with 10 organisations the new Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 for Germany. The report was written by Laura Graen, one of the two founders of Unfairtobacco.

Speaking of Laura! We congratulate Laura to have won the 1st prize of the Young Professional Awards of the Association of European Cancer Leagues this year. In Germany, she is the first to have shaped tobacco control as a human rights issue. Through her tireless work, she has formed the German Network for Children’s Rights and Tobacco Control and guided it to a fruitful collaboration.

What a busy year – despite the Corona crisis, much has been achieved. 2021 can come. Next year, we want to come even closer to our vision: A tobacco-free world by 2040.

We thank you for your interest and support! Stay healthy!