When the World Health Organization convened in Moscow this week, everyone knew tobacco control would be a top issue. However, everyone was shocked when delegates pushed for all media and public spectators to be removed from the room. In the past, meetings were open and transparent, but that is all changing and this week, WHO decided to conduct business behind closed doors.
The Washington Post reported that multiple delegates campaigned to remove spectators from the room before the meeting got started. Uganda’s delegate declared, “We don’t need the public here!” This soon started a sweeping movement where delegates from around the world insisted that Moscow authorities clear the room. “We don’t know who these people are!” said Libyan delegate Mohamed Ibrahim Saleh Daganee. A South American delegate also fought to have the meeting closed to the public saying, “I don’t see the usefulness of having the public in these meetings.”
They took the issue to a vote and soon after, Russian security officers entered the room and demanded that all spectators and media representatives leave immediately. As shocked bystanders were forced to leave, the WHO delegates closed the door and started their meeting. So what was the point in kicking everyone out? Apparently they knew that this week’s discussion topic could create major global controversy and they wanted to be covert.
WHO is now working to enact a brand new global taxation on tobacco that would drive cigarette prices up to around $33 per pack, about triple the current price. This is the first time we have ever seen any talk of global taxes and there is no precedent to determine whether it is appropriate. If the tax is enacted, it will force almost every major country in the world to create a new tax on tobacco products worth 70 percent of the retail value. The only countries that would not be involved are those that have not signed the UN anti-tobacco agreement: Indonesia, the United States, and Switzerland.
By adopting a global tax, WHO completely ignores any individual national needs and they will undoubtedly face a lot of opposition from tobacco companies and possibly politicians that receive funding from cigarette makers. But worst of all, this could set a dangerous new precedent allowing global taxes to form for other commodities, whether it is firearms, Internet, or even fast food.
This controversial new plan was likely the reason for banning spectators from the meeting. Delegates must know that they will face pressure to oppose global taxation, but they seem to be determined to ignore the taxpayers that it would impact on a daily basis.
For now, smokers would be smart to look at other non-tobacco options like electronic cigarettes, but if this tax is adopted, some fear that ecigs will be taxed in the same way soon after.
Does it worry you that WHO is making these plans in secret? Are they going too far by imposing a global tax?