The WHO and tobacco control: An interview with Margaret Chan

Not really, she stood me up. Well, to be fair, she was never invited. But if she had joined me at the Rugby Tavern last night for a beer as not agreed, then I imagine the interview would have gone something like this.

Me: Margaret, you’re late!

MC: Words are useless. Gobble, gobble, gobble…

Me: Err, right. Beer?

MC: Please. A pint of Spitfire.

Me: So, how are things? How’s life post-WHO? Miss it?

MC: “I never look back darling. It distracts from the now!”

Me: Quite. You do know that you’re not Edna Mode, don’t you?

MC: Would you like me to sing?

Me: No.

MC: Getting to know you, getting to…

Me: Shut it!

MC: Ok, so ask me.

Me: Right. Tobacco. The shit’s hit the fan with that recently, hasn’t it.

MC: Has it? What shit? I’ve been in Ibiza with David.

Me: Hasselhoff?

MC: Nabarro.

Me: You know, the shit with the Trump administration’s ties to tobacco companies, and that Africa thing.

MC: What ties?

Me: Vice President Mike Pence, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, health secretary Tom Price, and head of the U.S Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb all have close links to the Tobacco industry. Trump himself has earned $2.1m in the past 3 years from tobacco holdings – stocks now sold we’re told.

MC: What’s wrong with these people! I thought I made it perfectly clear back in 2016 what the problem with all of that was. Then, I said: “it is vital that governments recognise the inherent conflict between public health and the interests of the tobacco industry. Representatives from the latter should be completely excluded from government delegations”.

MC: And the Africa thing?

Me: The Guardian newspaper reported on the 12th July that big Tobacco is challenging African governments’ anti-tobacco legislation through the courts.

MC: Oh, FFS!! Here we go again! Just last month during my re-election speech….

Me: Pretty sure you weren’t re-elected….

MC: I said: “The dirtiest fights came when the tobacco industry used trade agreements to sue sovereign governments for introducing laws…The tobacco industry has long regarded the WHO as its biggest enemy, and I will work hard to improve that reputation”.

Me: Not sure you quite said that. You’re not the head of the WHO anymore. Tedros is.

MC: You mean Butros?

Me: No, I mean Tedros. Butros was that other guy. Anyway, British American Tobacco are getting all legal with Kenya and Uganda, and are accused of using “intimidatory tactics” against Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkino Faso. Big tobacco has the African continent in its sights, with the number of smokers in Africa predicted to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels by 2030.

MC: Those motherfuckers!

Me: I don’t remember you swearing quite so much in your public addresses Margaret.

MC: So, this Butr..Tedros person. What’s he saying about tobacco in Africa? It’s a priority, right?

Me: Not sure yet. He’s been a bit quiet on the tobacco front. His vision statement doesn’t mention it specifically, nor do the few speeches he’s made thus far where he’s outlined his main priorities. And remember there was that question mark over his term in the Ethiopian Government as Foreign Minister when, apparently, BAT were authorised to post hundreds of posters advertising Rothmans cigarettes in Addis. The implications for increased tobacco consumption in Ethiopia were also raised by Frank Ashall, Director of Africa Tobacco-Free Initiative, when Ethiopia sold off a 40% share in its tobacco monopoly to Japan Tobacco International in 2016, again when Tedros was Foreign Minister.

MC: So tobacco is something for Tedros to get his teeth into, then, once I’ve finished my final term as DG.

Me: Which, to be clear, you have already.

Me: But, yes, he has yet to prove his supporters right on this one. Previous Ethiopian MOH Kesetebirhan Admasu reckons “There will be no stronger anti- tobacco advocate as WHO DG than Dr Tedros”. Now would be a good time for him to make good on that prediction.

MC: Another beer?

Me: Thanks. Mine’s a double.


Published by andrew

One comment on “The WHO and tobacco control: An interview with Margaret Chan”

  1. As an indication that the WHO is taking tobacco seriously, the institution has just issued an invitation to attend the Global Launch of the “WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017” – Wed 19th July in NY

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