Tobacco industry exposed
….industry interference rife in Solomon Islands
TOBACCO Industry interference in political levels and in the current tobacco control policy has been reported as active and rife in the Solomon Islands.
The industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery to try and manipulate authorities, most notably on the Tobacco Control Act that was passed in parliament in 2010 and enforcement which commenced in 2012.
The industry has also requested to be part of the Tobacco Control Task Force, and a space to contribute on regulations of the Tobacco Control Act, it is reported.
Non-communicable Disease (NCD) Director, Dr Geoffrey Kenilorea, who is the Country’s Tobacco Focal Point Coordinator, revealed to Island Sun in an exclusive interview yesterday that this is a big problem in the Solomon Islands.
“Obviously, they gain easy access to the cabinet. On one occasion last year, a letter was directed to us from the Office of the Prime Minister urging us to have proper consultation with the industry.
“On similar occasion, we the members of the Tobacco Control Task Force were summoned to the cabinet,” he said.
Dr Kenilorea said when they arrived at the cabinet office, they were asked on why they refused to meet with the representatives from the tobacco industry as they are a main stakeholder of the government.
Solomon Islands Tobacco Company (SITCO), a subsidiary of the powerful Anglo-American giant monopolised the tobacco market in the Solomon Islands until late 2015 where it was joined by the Solomon Sun Cigarette Company.
Dr Kenilorea however, stressed that, “If we thought of them as stakeholders, that is pretty much wrong because they are not stakeholders in tobacco control policy, but they are on the commercial or business side.”
“If we talk about stakeholder, we should have common interest but their interest is totally different.”
Dr Kenilorea then, went and gave a presentation to the cabinet members on how the tobacco industry manipulated government, authorities and turned them into becoming puppets of the industry.
He purported that the Solomon Sun Cigarette Company has offered bribes in form of large amount of cash, smart phones and at one occasion a representative from the company brought in a young Chinese women to his office to which he knew exactly the intentions.
He has refused to accept the bribes.
This was when the Ministry of Health has been pressured to issue a licence to the then newly registered tobacco manufacturing company.
“If you accepted their offer, you will be obligated to what they told you, and this occurred at the time when they are in the process to set up the company and that were pursuing for a licence to operate.
“The licence was delayed which prompted them to call into my office,” he revealed yesterday.
However, Dr Kenilorea said the Tobacco Control Act does not specify limitations on number of companies allow to produce or manufacture cigarettes in the country.
“Unfortunately if any company applies for a licence, they can easily make their way in,” he said.
Dr Kenilorea said he had told the Chinese man that came with the bribe that the law governed what he wanted so he has to abide by the law.
He said Solomon Islands ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and, in having done so, is committed to implementing tobacco control measures aligned with the FCTC.
“Solomon Islands is a member of the convention, and whatever the convention puts out, we as a country will have to abide to, and implement as part of tobacco control work in the country.
“And article 5.3 speaks loudly about tobacco industry interference. Tobacco industry has commercial interests, where as we are concerned of the health of our people,” Dr Kenilorea pointed out.
He said they have stated in some of their letters circulated to the industry that only issues with regards to law or compliance should be discussed because interference is a big issue.
He said the tobacco industry can get anywhere they can get into, but adds that the Ministry of Health is no longer entertain them whenever they wanted to have dialogue with them.
“We would like to advise other ministries to do the same thing to enforce the control against tobacco interference.
He said in the meantime, how to counter and deal with tobacco industry interference is still not in any part of the country’s laws.
“But we want that part of the article to reflect inside Solomon Islands laws to restrict them from interfere with authorities.
“Tobacco industry has a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy.
“Revenue, employment of locals are some of the things among others they commonly talked about, this is their normal argument and we are working with the Ministry of Finance to minimise interaction with the industry.
“We want other ministries to do what we have already done here. This is if the industry want to interact with us, it must be in a written form on hard copy, because text messages, email and phone calls are restricted.
“Everything we meet about must be made transparent to the public, these are the conditions that are set to meet with them, but once it comes to administrative matters, law and compliance then that is an area we can allow them to come so that we can tell them on areas they need to comply.
“It doesn’t mean we should follow what they say, we follow what is best for the country. The industry access with the Members of Parliament is quite easy, especially the ministers but we want to discourage those activities for the wellbeing of our people,” Dr Kenilorea reiterates.