U. S. Backing for Heated Tobacco Products Triggers Misrepresentation

By Wendell Balderas
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 14 2019 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision authorizing the sale of Philip Morris International (PMI)’s heated tobacco system, IQOS, in the United States inadvertently puts a foot in the door to increase sales of new tobacco products in the developing world.

In April this year, the FDA authorized the sale of IQOS heated tobacco products in the US. However, it clarified that it has not approved IQOS as a ‘modified risk tobacco product’ (MRTP). But PMI is riding on this ‘US-FDA approved for sale’ of its IQOS as also safer alternative to regular cigarettes to Asian governments.

In Indonesia, PMI’s local subsidiary PT HM Sampoerna signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (Kemenristek Dikti) to support IQOS research and capacity building.

Local tobacco control advocates have criticised this collaboration claiming this is an industry tactic to attract new smokers, especially among the younger generation. Meanwhile PMI’s plans to sell even more cigarettes in Indonesia remain on track reflected by its ubiquitous cigarette advertisements.

While Malaysia’s Control of Tobacco Products Regulation requires pictorial warning on all tobacco products, IQOs is being sold as safer alternatives to regular cigarettes without these warnings.

IQOS is marketed via social media and have escaped the arm of regulators. BAT and JTI are now applying pressure on the government to allow sales of their versions of heated tobacco products.

In the Philippines, PMI claims on one-hand that cigarettes are harmful, smokers should quit and children should not buy them, however in the same breath it continues to refute evidence about smoking.

PMI’s lawyer, representing the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), has filed two court cases challenging Balanga City, Bataan which has passed laws to ban smoking in public places and protect its youth from being exposed to cigarette promotions.

Also, the tobacco industry is trying to sneak Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs) into the bills being deliberated in the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives to regulate e-cigarettes (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems).

This deception is a typical duplicitous move by the tobacco industry to weaken tobacco product regulation simultaneously deceiving the public to embrace its HTPS as less harmful than regular cigarettes.

In Vietnam, PMI’s President of South and Southeast Asia has met with the Vice Chairman of the National Assembly (NA) promoting its research and development of less harmful product.

PMI’s request to the National Assembly leader was tactical – that they should provide a legal framework to enable its new products to be developed in Vietnam, and on its part, it will provide its own scientific research as well as research from organizations in the United States and Europe.

According to a press report, the Vice Chairman of the National Assembly was ready to create favorable conditions for foreign businesses to invest and expand their business. In investment talks, the emerging evidence on the risks associated with these new tobacco and nicotine products are somewhat lost and even challenged.

Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced in June last year that five cancer-causing substances were found in HTPs including PMI’s IQOS, British American Tobacco’s (BAT) Glo and Lil, with the level of tar detected in some of them far exceeding that of conventional cigarettes.

PMI has filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government to demand the disclosure of detailed information on Seoul’s test results of harmful substances found in electronic cigarettes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that all forms of tobacco, including heated tobacco products (HTPs), are harmful and that there is no evidence to demonstrate that HTPs are less harmful than conventional tobacco products.

A research paper from the University of California San Francisco also concluded “despite delivering lower levels of some toxins than conventional cigarettes, PMI’s own data fail to show consistently lower risks of harm in humans using its heated tobacco product, IQOS, than conventional cigarettes.”

In April 2019 a Swiss lab found a highly toxic substance, isocyanates, emitted from the filters of IQOS. According to pulmonologist and former vice-president of the Swiss Lung League, Rainer Kaelin, inhaling very small amounts of this toxic substance can cause serious health damage.

Tobacco is inherently toxic and contains carcinogens and toxicants even if not burned. HTPs such as IQOS are not harmless, and the precautionary principle to protect consumer safety must be applied to HTPs.

Around 40 countries already ban the sale of e-cigarettes and emerging tobacco products such as HTPs. Among these are four ASEAN countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand.

Others include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, East Timor, Kuwait, Taiwan, UAE, and Uruguay. The FDA’s decision should not cause these countries to roll back their ban. These countries have implemented strict tobacco control measures based on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and have seen their smoking prevalence decline steadily.

Under the guise of ‘harm reduction’, new and emerging tobacco products such as HTPs pose new threats to society. While continuing to increase sales of cigarettes, transnational tobacco companies are aggressively selling e-cigarettes and HTPs as part of their revamped “smoke-free” image and ironic claims to be part of the solution to the smoking epidemic.

Policy makers should be aware of these veiled attempts of tobacco companies to influence governments to create exemptions for their HTPs and roll back tobacco control policies so as to mislead the public, renormalize tobacco use, increase social acceptability for their products and get more people to be addicted to their products.

Asia-Pacific Region Falters on UN Development Goals

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2019 – UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a Chatham House meeting in London last week that the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of the legacies of the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “spawned tremendous progress” in the battle against poverty worldwide.

She pointed out that the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day was reduced from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015 — “the largest decline of its kind in human history”.

Yet, she warned, much remains to be done to ensure a life of dignity for all. The new rallying point, she pointed out, is the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Still, a new report released last month by the Bangkok-based Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) warns that the SDGs – the successor to MDGs—have been falling behind in a region which is home to the world’s two most populous nations: China and India.

While there has been limited progress, “Asia and the Pacific will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs on its current trajectory”, the report declares. The targeted date to achieve the SDGs is 2030.

The study says “progress has stagnated or has been heading in the wrong direction in more than half the SDGs.”

The situation is deteriorating when it comes to providing clean water and sanitation (SDG6), ensuring decent work and economic growth (SDG8) and supporting responsible consumption and production (SDG12).

The region has made progress towards ending poverty (SDG1) and ensuring all have access to quality education and lifelong learning (SDG4). Measures are also underway to achieve affordable and clean energy (SDG7), according to the report.

“Yet even where good progress has been made, it is too slow for these goals to be met by 2030”.

Launching the report – titled Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019 during the 75th Commission session of ESCAP in Bangkok May 28– UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Alisjahbana called for urgent action to reverse these negative trends.

“I hope this report will contribute to targeting our efforts to accelerate progress towards all Goals and to strengthen the region’s commitment to improving the quality of data and statistics essential to measuring progress,” she said.

Responding to the report, Stuart Kempster, WaterAid’s Policy Analyst for Monitoring and Accountability, told IPS: “It is shocking that, on its current trajectory, Asia and the Pacific will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030”.

Referring to SDG 6 which was singled out in the report, he said: “We are especially alarmed that some nations will be years off track in meeting the human right to water and sanitation, the basic building blocks of any stable and prosperous community”, he added.

Kempster said at current rates of progress, everyone in low- and middle-income countries won’t have safely managed water until 2064, or sanitation until 2107.

“We have only 11 years left to keep the promise made to those living without clean water or a decent toilet. Governments must prioritise clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, ensuring proper financing is put in place to build a more sustainable world today and for future generations,” he noted.

Arman Bidarbakhtnia, Head, Statistical Data Management Unit (SDMU)
Statistics Division at ESCAP, told IPS the report only assesses regional and sub-regional progress and does not aim to do a country level assessment.

Even though there are many references to country cases at indicator level, he explained, the conclusions on the goals should not be generalized to countries.

The analysis is based on unweighted aggregations at regional and sub-regional level. So, results are not representative of China and India as the biggest countries, he said.

Also, small islands developing states (SIDS) are as important as China and India in this analysis.

He pointed out that “the region” does not mean an entire region or majority of the population but signifies a “typical country in the region” or “half or more countries of the region” (median values).

He said the report is only focusing on the progress and does not aim for a “cause-effect” analysis.

Meanwhile the report also shows major differences in progress between the subregions of Asia and the Pacific which have recorded different successes and face different challenges.

Each subregion needs to reverse existing trends for at least three Goals. For example, East and North-East Asia is regressing in sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), climate action (SDG13) and life on land (SDG15). South-East Asia has moved backwards on SDG8, SDG13 and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16).

Additionally, says the report, South and South-West Asia is moving in the wrong direction on SDG6, SDG12 and SDG13.

Since 2000, there has been a decline on gender equality (SDG5), SDG8 and SDG11 in North and Central Asia. The Pacific subregion has regressed on zero hunger (SDG2), SDG8, life below water (SDG14) and SDG16, according to the report.

“The lack of reliable data across all Goals and in all subregions is one of the Asia and the Pacific’s biggest challenges”.

Despite a significant increase in the availability of SDG indicators since 2017, data gaps remain for two thirds of the global SDG indicators. Nearly one-quarter of all SDG targets lacking evidence relate to the environment, according to the report.

Asked whether lack of political will or a shortfall in development aid were reasons for the setbacks, Bidarbakhtnia told IPS these cannot be deduced purely from results of this report.

But it definitely differs by country, including lack of political will, financial resource, development aid, prioritization, development models etc.

However, he said, “you can refer to one ESCAP publication that the cost of closing these gaps is affordable for governments, and it is definitely not all due to lack of financial resources”. https://www.unescap.org/publications/economic-and-social-survey-asia-and-pacific-2019-ambitions-beyond-growth

Asked how valid the conclusions are when the report singles out the “lack of reliable data across all goals,” he said the conclusion is based on a rigorous data availability analysis that is presented in part III of the report. The same part also provides some hint for closing the gap and overcome challenges.

He said administrative sources are a major primary source for SDG indicators at national level. Given their advantages over surveys (lower cost, more frequency, etc) investing in production and use of administrative data is one long-term strategy to close data gaps.

Also exploring use of other alternative sources of data such as satellite imagery, GIS, mobile data and open online sources.

Asked about the region’s rate of success in alleviating or eradicating poverty by 2030, and whether it includes two of the most populous countries in the region, Bidarbakhtnia said “the current rate for eradicating poverty is not enough to achieve the 2030 targets.”

“We have to keep in mind that under goal 1 we are not only talking about income poverty. The region (including China and India) is on track to eradicate “income poverty” if they can maintain the same pace of progress.

However, SDG1 goes beyond only income poverty, region is lagging behind because other dimensions, especially, government spending on basic services (education and health) and resilience against natural disasters.

The report does not present data on China and India but “our data shows that both are doing better than the region on Goal 1 and are on track if they maintain the progress”.

But they also (same as the region) need to accelerate spending on basic services. And there are several other dimensions such as social protection and multidimensional poverty that there is no data to measure, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

At the intersection of conflict, climate change and energy access

Given the far-reaching benefits and rising practical feasibility of renewables, it is likely that the global community is heading for a future that embraces clean power sources. Photo: SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP

By Tarannum Sahar
Jun 14 2019 (IPS-Partners)

With the advent of the 21st century, there has been a steady rise in energy access all around the globe. For the first time ever, the total number of people without access to electricity fell below 1 billion in 2017 according to the International Energy Agency. Despite the increase in the pace of electrification, 13 percent of the global population, mostly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, still lack critical access to electricity—a factor linked closely with productivity, health and safety, gender equality and education. Without much greater ambition and more intensified efforts, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 that has an objective of “ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” will be impossible to attain by 2030.

At the same time, as the global community faces the persistent and pervasive challenge of energy poverty, it also needs to address the intensifying human-driven climate disruption and the widespread displacement of people as a result of war, persecution and natural disaster. These critically important crises—energy poverty, climate disruption and displacement—are inexorably linked through the strong overlap in the populations affected by all three predicaments.

There is an unprecedented 68.5 million people forcibly displaced across the world. Many of them end in relief camps, where approximately 90 percent do not have energy access as stated by the Center for Resource Solutions. In addition to refugees and internally displaced persons, majority of the people lacking the most basic of electricity services also count amongst the population most vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of climate change. Mass migration ensuing from the dramatic shifts in our environment has the potential of fuelling political unrests and exacerbating conflict. The communities at risk often lack both the political and economic resources that are essential in maintaining stability through strengthening climate resilience and adaptive capacity. As a consequence, many countries with significant energy poverty will bear the worst effects of global warming despite having contributed very little to the historical build-up of greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking constructive steps towards climate change mitigation and achieving universal energy access supposedly seem to be in conflict. The reasoning behind this sceptical notion is the assumption that more people getting access to electricity will require further investment in carbon-intensive power systems and greater exploitation of fossil fuels which largely contribute to the vast majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, with rapid advancement in alternative energy technologies primarily in areas of efficiency and cost-reduction, it is no longer required to address one crisis at the cost of the other. In the current scenario, communities enduring extreme cases of energy poverty often depend on biomass burning to meet basic energy needs. Replacing biomass with clean sources of energy will significantly bring down deforestation, a step that is vital for climate mitigation and adaptation. Renewables like solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind turbines are less expensive than newly installed fossil-based power plants in many regions of the world and in some, it is even less expensive than using existing, traditional power plants.

Communities in remote, rural areas or refugee camps located near borders and inhospitable regions of the world are usually situated far away from traditional transmission lines. Installation of capital-intense grid network is economically unviable as reaching an affordable scale in these places is nearly impossible. In recent decades, decentralised energy solution is becoming an increasingly important factor for expediting electricity access. Deployment of distributed infrastructures is powering a disruptive transformation in the energy sector like never seen before. Through the latest policy brief for SDG 7, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs emphasised that for over 70 percent of those without access in rural areas, decentralised systems based on renewable energy will be the most cost-effective solution.

The new paradigm demands that decision makers think beyond the “grid versus off-grid” dichotomy and recognise the extensive value of autonomous mini-grids and distributed energy services that utilise local resources and effectively serve specific, regional needs. Reducing dependence on centralised generation further democratises the electricity distribution allowing for local ownership of energy services and increased support for alternative energy. Widespread adaptation of distributed systems based on renewables will put a check on the global demand for oil, ease the power struggle over resource-rich areas and cut down energy dominance in political negotiations. Such a transition will help nation states in reducing vulnerability to conflict, and strengthening socio-political stability.

Given the far-reaching benefits and rising practical feasibility of renewables, it is likely that the global community is heading for a future that embraces clean power sources. However, the ultimate question is, will the transition be fast enough to limit global warming to a safe level? The special report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that increase in temperature beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will lead to severe environmental catastrophes and the international community has 12 years to limit that.

As the 25th session of the Conference of Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change draws near, it is critical that governments, negotiators, and other stakeholders not only consider a rapid shift towards a clean energy future, but also a transition that is just and inclusive of unserved and underserved communities. While international support is certainly essential in achieving SDG 7, real and lasting progress will also require participation at the national as well as local and regional levels. With the emergence of decentralisation in electrification, the energy sector can greatly benefit from polycentrism—the contribution of multiple stakeholders from numerous spheres.

The present day is a unique moment in the history of energy access expansion, as distributed networks can viably reach the furthest corners of the globe. It’s critical to make the best use of this opportunity and drive action towards an energy system that will sustain the earth for future generations, while also stepping up electrification and promoting regional stability.

Tarannum Sahar is studying Economics and Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Energy Transition and Technology Development at Cornell University, USA.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh