Press release of the Healthy Latin American Coalition
– Industry interference in the design of public health policies that have ample evidence of effectiveness is unacceptable;
– Heads of State must lead the fight against noncommunicable diseases;
– NCDs have become the world’s biggest killer because of government inaction.
New York, Friday, 6 July 2018 – “The tobacco, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and ultra-processed foods industries should not participate in the development of public health policies, although they do have to collaborate with governments in their application,” said Beatriz Marcet Champagne, leader of the Healthy Latin American Coalition (CLAS), speaking today at the UN Interactive Hearing for the High-Level Meeting on NCDs.
The hearing, held at UN headquarters in New York, was attended by 400 representatives of governments, academia and civil society organisations, as well as people living with NCDs. Champagne reiterated that industry interference is unacceptable, and warned those leaders who reach agreements with them that this bad business is harming the health of their citizens.
Voluntary commitments unacceptable
“Voluntary commitments by companies should not be accepted; instead, they should comply with the regulations established by national authorities,” said the CLAS representative. She gave the example of leadership from the mayors of Mexico, Buenos Aires and San Paulo, who launched smoke-free zones, which later were replicated by other jurisdictions in their countries.
Katie Dain, CEO of the global NCD Alliance (NCDA) had previously pointed out that global military expenditure amounts to twice the resources allocated to NCDs, yet investing in NCDs generates higher returns by reducing premature deaths, disabilities and negative effects on productivity. Dain proposed the following five points to those writing the declaration that Heads of State will sign at the UN HLM on 27 September:
- Rely on high-level leadership. Heads of state, not health ministers, should lead the NCDs fight. At the same time, progress can be made only by incorporating the actions of many different branches of government such as finance, commerce, education, agriculture and transport;
- Include more data on NCD expenditure in national budgets;
- Establish health-promoting fiscal measures, such as taxes on tobacco products, alcohol, SSBs and ultra-processed foods, despite opposition from the private sector;
- Provide aid for catalytic development to benefit governments and societies;
- Take advantage of existing mechanisms and established commitments, such as those agreed with the World Bank.
Colombia’s tobacco tax
Concerning financing, Dr. Banca Llorente shared the success of Colombia. The South American country achieved a 15% reduction in smoking prevalence thanks to a special tax increase on tobacco products, established in December 2016.
“NCDs have become the world’s biggest killer, with overwhelming numbers, but they are surpassed by the realities that they point to,” said Dr. Sania Nishtar, Co-Director of the High-Level Independent Commission on NCDs. “That is why we need to put the NCD agenda back on track, negotiate the corresponding political space, and urge national governments to establish long-term goals,” she added.
In turn, Alafia Samuels, Director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre, highlighted inequality in the Caribbean region. Countries there face high levels of alcohol consumption and prevalence of diabetes and hypertension, and also suffer the consequences of agreements established by governments with suppliers of unhealthy products, Samuels added.
Delegates from CLAS (from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico) condemned as misinformation the statement at the Hearing by a representative of the Latin American Alliance of Beverages and Foods. Without citing any independent study, the statement attempted to discredit the tax on SSBs established in Mexico, claiming that “consumption had not fallen”.
However, studies by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health showed that consumption had decreased from the first year that the tax was applied.