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WHO done it

The World Health Organization (WHO) just spent £1 million (€1.3 million, $1.6 million) on its conference for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Moscow. The results of the conference were proposals to impose heavier taxes on combustible cigarettes worldwide and to support the flawed Tobacco Products Directive passed by the European Union earlier this year. A high price tag for essentially nothing.

Critics have been vocal worldwide, on a variety of counts. With regard to vaping, the FCTC simply repeated the mistakes of the EU Commission, Council, and Parliament, supporting the intention to treat electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, or as pharmaceuticals. This will include restrictions on packaging, labeling, nicotine concentrations, and advertising, as well as taxation and extensive certification hurdles – all provisions which are certain to send many vapers back to smoking, and to death.

But the mistakes regarding e-cigarettes were only the beginning of the conference's fumbles. To the uninitiated public, the glaring faux pas was to spend exorbitant amounts on long-range issues while the entire world faces a desperate crisis with an Ebola epidemic that requires immediate action, a crisis for which funding is sorely needed. To be sure, it should be noted that the FCTC conference has been planned for months, and no one knew that a crisis epidemic was going to occur at the same time.

Regarding the proposal to raise taxes on cigarettes worldwide, critics have pointed out that the probable result will be a great upsurge in cigarette smuggling, which is already a problem of huge proportions. Flooding the market with even more cheap, contraband cigarettes is also likely to increase smoking, and raise death rates.

But the list of the foibles of the conference do not end with the foolishness of its resolutions. Holding the conference in Moscow may have seemed like a bridge-building move at the outset, but the timing was another disaster, given Russia's aggressive stance in geopolitics at the current moment. The US and Canada refused to attend on account of the current military actions against Ukraine. The US is not a signatory to the FCTC anyway.

Certain tendencies of Russian governments regarding information control became characteristic of the conference administration as well. On the first day of the proceedings, the general public was banned from the spectator area. On the second day, journalists, whose news agencies had spent a great deal of money sending them to Moscow, were kicked out. The deliberations of the conferees were all held behind closed doors, in Soviet-like secrecy.

A final Russian-style element: attendees were treated to a lavish banquet worthy of Catherine the Great and her grandees, with a menu including extremely expensive delicacies, at a hefty price tag.

All in all, the FCTC conference was an expensive bash with disappointing results, held at the worst possible moment. Its impact on the health of the world's peoples will certainly be as negative as its impact on their pocketbooks. 

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