Message from the Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat to the 8th ENSP-ECTC

Florence, Italy – 9-12 October 2023

“Hello everyone. I’m sorry I am unable to be with you in-person in Florence but I’m delighted to be able to share my thoughts with you about the tobacco epidemic and what we can do to end it.

We still lose over 8 million people a year dying as a result of tobacco use. It’s an appalling number although it would be much, much higher if the world had not acted.

This fight has been a long one, and we can look back on a proud history of saving millions of lives, an achievement that had only been possible because the public health community came together and said, “Enough is enough”.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (or WHO FCTC as it’s commonly known) has been at the heart of this work since its adoption 20 years ago at the World Health Assembly. We now have an extraordinary 183 Parties, representing 90% of the world’s population.

I should say there is a huge amount of work still to do.

And this year will be critical in making progress in the fight against the tobacco pandemic. The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, or Convention Secretariat, which I lead, is currently engaged in final preparation for the Tenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC (COP10) and the Third session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (MOP3) – the respective governing bodies meetings of both treaties that will take place in Panama in November this year.

Some of you may have already registered for one or both of these meetings.

It’s the first time since 2016 that both meetings will be held in-person in a host country; and it’s the first time since 2018  that we are meeting in-person following the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been a lot to prepare. And we know that other less helpful actors have also been getting ready. The tobacco industry is attracted to our tobacco control summits like hornets to honey. Awash with money and free from the normal constraints of business ethics, the tobacco industry has a well-established box of tricks which it uses to further damage global public health.

This means the use of fake front groups that it funds to pretend our work is damaging and to target our delegates. The industry has been willing to use all sorts of dirty methods to harm our work, including bribery and intimidation.

The threat has spread over time. When the Convention first entered into force in 2005, we faced a formidable foe in the tobacco industry. Now, we also face lobbying and sometimes manufactured untruths from a wider range of actors, including new, fake consumer groups. They will all be present in Panama and we must be alert.

They will attack the integrity of the COP and its organizers as part of their aggressive campaign in Panama City.

So, please, all of you — be alert. And please remind everyone at every opportunity that WHO FCTC has a shield. It’s called Article 5.3 and it’s very clear that the involvement of the tobacco industry in making national or global health policy is forbidden. We need to keep them out of the room because they’re an established menace. The tobacco industry is our opponent and it can play no part in our deliberations.

So more than ever, we need to double, triple, or even quadruple our vigilance facing this industry that thrives on addiction and death.

On a more cheerful note, I want to emphasise today that young people, with their high moral goals and determination to get things done, are a key element of our movement.

As you look around, you might see a few dinosaurs (I’m not naming anyone) who look like they’ve been working away at this issue forever. These people are in fact a treasure trove of knowledge so please speak to them about their experience. Most tobacco control representatives (including me) have seen the passage of a few summers, and we hopefully have lots of qualities, but maybe not as much energy as our more youthful participants.

You are the next generation who will take this battle into future decades of campaigning. The tobacco industry is heavily focused on you, and your friends and classmates, and younger workers. And we know why that is — because tobacco kills its consumers. So it always has to recruit new victims otherwise its profits will shrivel up and die.

I am really glad to know that the ENSP Conference is making a priority of engaging and building the capacity of young people, in order to establish a new generation of advocates and key actors. One day, I hope to see some of you up here, inspiring the rest of us with your achievements.

The Convention Secretariat that I lead is part of a much greater movement. It would not be as impactful without the support of the civil society, its expertise, its energy, and its passion.

Civil society shouts out the things that the Convention Secretariat cannot say and takes actions that we cannot. It takes the idea of tobacco control and multiplies its force and energy across the world.

The support that NGOs and other organisations provide to our Parties and their Focal Points, especially in lower- and middle-income countries, is absolutely invaluable and very much appreciated.

As Head of the Convention Secretariat, I personally wish to acknowledge your work and your engagement. I reiterate my commitment to facilitating and strengthening the collaboration between the civil society and the Convention Secretariat.

Let me finish by saying this. Thank you for all your work and ongoing support to the COP, the MOP, and the Convention Secretariat.

We recognise your importance in the work and preparation for the next COP and MOP, with your many exciting side events to showcase your work, and your participation in the various meetings.

We very much look forward to seeing many of you in Panama City.

Thank you ENSP for organising this great event, bringing together familiar (old) and new faces.

I wish everyone a very good and productive conference.

Thank you.”

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