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Protest against an MoU between the MRA and BAT
In June 2012, local press reports indicated that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) and the British American Tobacco (BAT) in view of reducing the illicit trade of tobacco products in Mauritius. VISA wrote to the Prime Minister of Mauritius, protesting against the MoU as it violated the Article 5.3 of the FCTC and its guidelines
VISA expressed its concern to the Prime Minister that the MRA signed the MoU with the tobacco industry when the Government of Mauritius has ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization (WHO-FCTC) since 2004. Ratification implies that Mauritius is a Party to the Convention and is, therefore, legally bound by its provisions. However, the MoU violates Article 5.3. of the Convention which states:
“In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”.
In addition, the WHO Guidelines on FCTC Article 5.3 clearly stipulate that “Parties should not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements as well as any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests.” They also state that “Parties should not accept, support or endorse any offer for assistance or proposed tobacco control legislation or policy drafted by or in collaboration with the tobacco industry.”
VISA informed the Prime Minister that it considered the signing of the MoU as an attempt on the part of the BAT to interfere with government policy on tobacco control. The objective of BAT was purely commercial, that is, to make profits by encouraging people to smoke tobacco, a product that kills more than 50% of its users and 6 million people worldwide every year. The objective of government in adopting tobacco control policies, including those relating to illicit trade, is to contribute to the improvement of health by reducing tobacco consumption. Thus there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.
The tobacco industry is known to pursue a deliberate strategy of collaboration with revenue authorities in many countries supposedly to introduce effective systems for controlling the illicit trade of tobacco products. This strategy allows the tobacco industry to establish control systems that fit its agenda and prevent government from introducing more sophisticated control measures for tobacco products.
VISA called upon the Prime Minister to support the adoption of strong measures to protect public policies from the interference of the tobacco industry, including the following:
(I) no public institution, including the MRA, should seek any form of collaboration with the tobacco industry in deciding on national policies with regards to tobacco control. In other words, all decisions on tobacco control should exclude the tobacco industry and organizations and individuals that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry.
(ii) involve the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life in all policy issues pertaining to tobacco control, including taxation and illicit trade, because tobacco control is primarily a public health strategy.
In conclusion, VISA quoted the World Health Assembly resolution WHA54.18 on transparency in tobacco control process which reads as follows:
“The tobacco industry has operated for years with the express intention of subverting the role of governments and the WHO in implementing public health policies to combat the tobacco epidemic.”