The IFMSA has been involved with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ever since its adoption more than?a decade ago. This year, we had the opportunity to attend the 7th Conference of Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India, as part of the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), the world’s leading alliance of NGOs on tobacco control. In this occasion, IFMSA sent a four-member delegation to represent its stance and learn from the discussions. The delegation was lead by Satria Nur Syaban, our Regional Director for Asia Pacific, and was comprised of Adit Desai (NMO President to MSAI-India), Susmita Reddy (NOME of MSAI-India), and Nagarjun Thota (NPO of MSAI-India).
The meeting, which happens once every biennium, brings together 181 Parties to the FCTC, along with some Non-Party states and observers to report, discuss, and improve the implementation of the “The first international legally binding treated negotiated under the auspices of the (World Health) Organization.” Overall, our participation in the process lasted for nine days, beginning from the 5th of November and ending on the 12th of November 2016. We started our adventure in this COP by participating in an introductory and briefing meeting for FCA members. Materials on several advocacy methods, sharing of ratification progress from various countries, and brainstorming on pertinent strategies was done during the first day, which was catered mainly for COP newbies like ourselves. This was followed by a deeper briefing and several working groups on the key issues which are going to be discussed by the Conference of Parties this year.
This briefing was an amazing crash course for us on the current state of the world related to tobacco control. Facilitators such as Dr. Francis Thompson of HealthBridge Canada, the Executive Director to the FCA and Dr. Mary Assunta from the Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) gave amazing presentations that helped us a lot in getting sense of the various articles of the FCTC, its implementation status in ratifying countries, new additions/ changes to expect and some tips on how to advocate effectively on those issues.
The COP discussed almost all aspects of tobacco control such as the economic, legal, environmental, social and health aspects that the parties need to consider in our fight to curb tobacco sales, proliferation, use, and effect on the health of our society. Prohibiting flavoring of tobacco products, a debate on Electronic Nicotine Delivery System / Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS/ENNDS), the need for more focus on smokeless tobacco, taxation issues and interference from the tobacco industry were some of the key issues tackled in this COP and side events were made for the benefit of the delegates, both country and civil society. Watching 181 countries debate these issues, involving a diverse range of experts from many departments within their own countries was truly a sight to behold.
After a grueling 6 days of negotiations and drafting groups tirelessly working, the parties managed to reach a consensus on several issues. The notable ones include the agreement to:
- Attempt to the utmost extent permitted by the parties respective national situations to remove tobacco industry influence from the future tracking and tracing system of tobacco packaging,
- Strengthen implementation of Article 5.3 and implement information exchange systems and expert support network on strategies and data to combat the various new plans of the Tobacco industry
- Consider applying measures against ENDS and ENNDS in accordance to national law
- Removal of Voluntary from the Voluntary Assessed Contributions to ensure clearer understanding of the importance of the contribution,
- Support the peoples right to gain justice from the Tobacco Industry through litigation and the provision of a guideline containing possible strategies for litigation
- Support the South-Sotuh and Triangular Cooperation to promote implementation of the convention
And one of the more unfortunate results of the conference is that the discussion on delegation transparency where a pre-vetting system was considered as a way to ensure that the Party delegates are free of tobacco industry influence did not reach a consensus and hence based on the agreement of all the parties, needed to be deferred to COP 8 with the secretariat having to prepare a report on the merits of such vetting system at the next meeting.
Even though our days started early in the morning and sometimes ended late at night, we enjoyed every bit of it. We looked forward to meeting new people and learning new things from fellow delegates every day. Through this COP, we hope to bring in new associations and opportunities for IFMSA. Overall, these 9 days have been wonderful and we are hoping to see more paths to contribute to this process for IFMSA members in the future.