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COP 10: Who Is Invited to the Tobacco Control Conference?

The tenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 10), which runs from Feb 5th to 10th, is underway. COP conferences are open to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). 183 Parties (member countries) are part of the FCTC, representing more than 90% of the world’s population. 

Over five days, the Parties agree to new tobacco control rules and regulations. Topics include, but are not limited to: 

  • Vape flavors
  • Open-system (refillable) vape products
  • Disposable vapes
  • Nicotine salts 

Parties will also debate redefining the term “smoke” to include smoke-free vapor and taxing nicotine products the same as cigarettes. Given the recent trend toward banning vapes, we would not be surprised to see FCTC Parties agree to harsh anti-vape regulations. 

COP 10 was initially set to be held in Nov 2023, but was postponed due to security concerns in Panama, the host country. This is not the first time that COP conferences have been rescheduled. The COP is scheduled once a year, but COVID-19 and political unrest have blocked in-person meetings for the last few years. COP 9 was due to be held in Nov 2021, but was postponed and then held virtually. 

Excluding COP 10, FCTC Parties have not met since COP 8 in 2018. 

The U.S. has not ratified the FCTC, despite implementing many of its regulations. As far back as 2004, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson signed the treaty1“2004.05.11: United States Signs Tobacco Control Treaty,” wayback.archive-it.org. https://wayback.archive-it.org/3926/20130930183847/http:/archive.hhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040511.html on behalf of the U.S., but former President George W. Bush failed to send it to the Senate for ratification. 

Speaking on the issue in 2004, Senior Climate Change Negotiator Dr. Harlan L. Watson said, “The United States does remain committed to the Framework Convention and to achieving its ultimate objective”2B. of P. A. Department Of State. The Office of Electronic Information, “U.S. COP-10 Press Conference,” 2001-2009.state.gov. https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/oes/rls/rm/2004/39557.htm, but notes that the U.S. is taking “a different path” than many of the Parties. 

This political side-step was met with outrage, with professionals formally asking the U.S. to ratify its FCTC membership3T. K. Mackey, B. A. Liang, J. P. Pierce, L. Huber, and C. Bostic, “Call to Action: Promoting Domestic and Global Tobacco Control by Ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the United States,” PLoS Medicine, vol. 11, no. 5, p. e1001639, May 2014, doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001639. The failure to ratify by the Nov. 8th deadline meant that the U.S. did not participate in the Feb 2006 FCTC meeting, leading some to worry about the U.S. being isolated from important discussions4“Failure to Ratify Tobacco Treaty Leaves the U.S. Isolated,” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Nov. 03, 2005. https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press-releases/id_0875.

Alongside ratified Parties, “observers” take part in COP conferences. Although the name suggests these observers have a listening-only role in proceedings, it is far from the truth. 

Anti-vape campaign groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Vital Strategies, write policy proposals for Parties to vote on, inform the FCTC Secretariat, and set topics for discussion. 

The Global Alliance for Tobacco Control (GATC) is also an observer. It acts as an umbrella organization for tobacco control groups. At COP events, the GATC makes policy recommendations on proposed agenda items5“Global Alliance for Tobacco Control www.gatc-int.org Summary of GATC Policy Briefs COP10.” Accessed: Feb. 10, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://gatc-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Summary-COP10-Policy-Positions_EN.pdf. It even creates a daily bulletin6“GATC COP10 BULLETIN DAY 4,” gatc-cop10-bulletin.my.canva.site. https://gatc-cop10-bulletin.my.canva.site/day4 that summarizes events and scolds Parties that do not agree to its proposed agenda items.  

Clive Bates, the creator of the vape-positive blog The Counterfactual, argues that observers are “carefully selected activists, chosen for their allegiance to the WHO and almost always funded by foreign interests.”7C. Bates, “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Commentary on the Annotated Agenda,” 2024. Accessed: Feb. 10, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://clivebates.com/documents/COP10commentary.pdf He goes on to say that the selection process “deliberately filters out any person or organization that might be critical of the policy proposals” and that “it also unfairly excludes small organizations and individuals not part of the umbrella group”, aka the GATC. 

Interestingly, the general public is not permitted to enter COP conferences, even as observers. On the first day of the COP, delegates can allow or block the press from entering the conference. Without fail, delegates vote to exclude the press.

Despite criticisms, there is nothing to suggest that the selection process will change anytime soon and, with the press banned from the event, Big Tobacco will have to wait with bated breath to discover what new regulations it has to adhere to. Meanwhile, FCTC Parties and GATC ambassadors continue to advocate for harsher taxes, restrictions, and laws on e-cigarettes.


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Lexi Burgess
Lexi Burgess
I keep my ear to the ground to report on Vaping, emerging health research, and new vape legislation. When the ever-changing landscape of the vape industry isn’t on my mind, I play badminton and read old horror novels.
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