Special Announcement from the Tobacco Control Alliance
To the Speaker of Parliament of Georgia, Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze; Prime-Minister of Georgia, Mr. Giorgi Kvirikashvili; Chief Prosecutor of Georgia, Mr. Irakli Shotadze.
We would like to kindly remind you that on April 5, Georgian Parliament adopted amendments to the tobacco control legislation on the first hearing. The package of amendments was elaborated in 2013 in the Ministry of Health with participation of all key stakeholders. The proposed changes to the tobacco control legislation aim to: meet the requirements of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), part of which Georgia joined in 2006; harmonize with the EU accession requirements; ensure universal human rights and the rights of children; guarantee rights under the Constitution of Georgia in order to create a healthy environment for all; ensure the security of the country- because no other products bring economic and humanitarian catastrophes in such large scale as tobacco products, which directly affects the demographic and economic interests of the country.
We would like to remind you that in 2013, your government stated the political will to improve the tobacco control situation in the country and, because of this, the appropriate governmental commission was created and a state strategy and action plan adopted. It is especially noteworthy that in the 2016 governmental plan, 2 articles are dedicated to increasing tobacco taxes and banning smoking in public places. Even more, for years the population (app. 90%) has been supporting stricter regulations regarding tobacco control.
On the level of principles, the Parliament of Georgia has affirmed the political will, that:
1. Smoking will be prohibited in all public places except private homes and prisons from 2018;
2. Electronic cigarettes will be regulated as tobacco products, from 2018;
3. All kinds of tobacco advertisement, sponsorship and promotion will be prohibited, including display of tobacco products in points of sale both outside (from 2018), as well as inside (from 2019);
4. The size of health warnings on cigarette packs will be increased from 30% to 65% and pictorial warnings will be introduced, from 2018;
5. The administration process will be simplified and size of fines increased.
Despite the fact that in June 2016, the Government officially presented its conclusion on the proposed legislative package and the majority of items were considered in the draft adopted by the first hearing; on April 5 this year, in Parliament, a new consolidated conclusion of the Government, signed by the Parliamentary Secretary of Government, Mr. Tadumadze, was hastily distributed. It aimed to influence the decision of Parliament and derail adoption of a draft legislation at the first hearing.
The “conclusion” of the Parliamentary Secretary is extremely weak. The majority of new comments directly repeat the official positions of the tobacco industry and pose a threat to public health and life. Namely, the Government requests the participation of tobacco industry representatives in decision-making processes regarding health issues, which directly contradicts the requirements of FCTC article 5.3 and guidelines to said article.
The Government requires consultations with the tobacco industry, which contradicts the same internationally taken obligations, violates international regulations and affirms official relations and collaboration of government officials, in the elaboration of health decisions, with tobacco industry, which is responsible for every fifth premature death in Georgia. This creates concern that the Parliamentary Secretary is in illegal relations with the tobacco industry or is forcing other governmental bodies to legalize such relations, which is clear violation.
Following the interests of specific businesses, the Government requires loopholes be made in tobacco control legislation, namely requires allowing smoking in some enclosed places, the circle of which could be quite wide and not banning the display of tobacco products in trading points. In such changes, the lobbying of the tobacco industry is visible, which will put hospitality sector providers in unequal conditions and create risks for implementation of the law.
The Parliamentary Secretary also leaves the issue of enforcement unclear and had no transparent consultations in this regard in order to clearly mark in the conclusion which governmental structures will be responsible for the main pillars of the law. Therefore, this issue may cause postponement or even failure of the final adoption of the legislation. This is the interest of tobacco industry and hopefully not the interest of the Government. Said industry wishes us to leave this law a powerless piece of paper and continue involving our youth in this abusive business, causing the deaths of our people and in this way gaining enormous profits, transferring millions of Lari from our country and pushing the economic crisis in the country.
Several days ago, the Secretariat of the FCTC, with the support of the British Government, decided to support the Georgian government in its initiative to halve tobacco consumption by 2030. The situations developed recently in the country and, namely, the irresponsible activities of several governmental officials, make this support questionable.
Following the above mentioned, the Tobacco Control Alliance categorically requests that:
1. The Prime Minister make an official statement and declare his position regarding the ongoing processes;
2. The Chief Prosecutor of Georgia to begin investigation of relations and financial interests of high governmental officials and public servants involved in elaboration and decision making of tobacco control legislation with the tobacco industry and during this investigation suspend their authority;
3. The Parliament of Georgia realize the political will declared during the first hearing and ensure real protection of public interests and not the interests of specific businesses. Once and irreversibly, Georgia should join the list of countries that care for their citizens;
4. If, during the second hearing, the Parliament changes its position and votes in favor of the requests of the tobacco industry, we, as the co-authors of the draft legislation, will be forced to distance ourselves from these dirty games and declare publicly that the Government is serving not the people, but the tobacco industry.