World Health Organisation director-general Dr Margaret Chan on Monday accused the tobacco industry for deterring governments from implementing tobacco-control policies such as raising taxes and banning advertising agreed upon under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world's first public health treaty.
"Full implementation of the FCTC would deal the greatest single preventive blow to (noncommunicable) diseases," said Dr Chan at the opening of the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) -- countries that have signed the FCTC -- in Moscow on Monday.
Russia, which has introduced strict anti-smoking legislation this year, is hosting a five-day meet, which has been boycotted by the US and Canada this year over Russia's support for rebels in Ukraine.
The participating countries are pushing for higher tobacco taxes to lower tobacco use, especially among young users who are the most sensitive to price increases.
"The tobacco industry is using bilateral investment treaties to try to deter governments from protecting the health of their citizens," said Dr Chan, a concern she had raised at the World Health Assembly in May, where she had referred to the "disturbing trend is the use of foreign investment agreements to handcuff governments and restrict their policy space."
More than 6 million people die from tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, which is one death every six seconds, estimates the WHO. More than one million of these deaths take place in India, where smokeless tobacco use is the highest in the world.
India has ratified the FCTC and introduced policies to reduce tobacco use, such as bans on smoking in public places, sale to minors, tobacco advertising and graphic health warnings on tobacco products, measures that have been contested by the tobacco industry.
"I've been called the enemy number one of the tobacco industry, it is a badge of honour for me," said Dr Chan. "Giving any tobacco company a place at the negotiating table is like appointing a committee of foxes to take care of your chickens," she said, amid concerns that tobacco industry representatives infiltrated discussions by registering themselves as "members of the public", who are allowed in as observers.
Following her statement, participating countries at COP6, including India, voted against "members of the public" from attending inter-governmental discussions.