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To What Extent Is Tobacco Control an Example of Governance Without Government?

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To what extent is tobacco control an example of ‘governance without government’?

   ‘Governance without government’ is a form of governance, where certain policies are put in place in contravention of democratic process and are usually initiated by certain self-interest groups, might have a ‘just’ (moral) purpose and are carried through the means of persuasion (such as lobbying). In political theory, ’governance without government’ is often linked to a distorted version of democracy, where social institutions serve private interests of the few, creating some kind of modern-day oligarchy.  Global manifestation of this phenomena can be seen in the fact of existence of international organisations such as UN NATO or WHO  and their attempts to ‘influence the policy behaviour of sovereign states, especially those in the developing world’[1]. In this essay I will examine modern day tobacco control measures and legislation, in order to decide whether it can be perceived as an example of global ‘governance without government’.

   The idea of imposing some anti-tobacco measures was first brought to the attention of the global community after Richard Doll’s discovery of link between smoking and lung cancer in 1952.  As a result, some controls and regulatory measures (such as age restriction, advertising censorship, health warnings) were introduced in Western countries, such as USA and Great Britain. However, the problem remained relevant for the developed world for at least three decades after Doll’s discovery, partially because of the role of tobacco industry, which was desperately trying to save their business by the means of disinformation, ‘alternative research’, etc. The most distinctive example of tobacco company impact on the performance of the national policy process are given by those particular cases where the tobacco industries got involve through lobbying has possibly formed the result of proposed legislation. For instance, the record of the activities by Philip Morris International Cooperate Affairs in 1986 directly revealed, amidst other form of achievements, their accomplishment in diminishing, blocking and switching methods to control advertising. The concept of ‘comprehensive’ tobacco control emerged in 2000’s, with the help of advanced medical research and WHO initiatives, such as World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of 2003.  Global success of anti-tobacco campaigns was a result of not only medical research, but the way activists and health organisations portrayed consuming of tobacco. International organisations, such as WHO and UN gave a very negative outlook to the issue, speaking of a ‘global smoking epidemic’ in both developed and developing world. Tobacco use was named to be the one single cause of ‘preventable morbidity and mortality worldwide, killing more than Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria combined’[2]. More than that, many campaigns emphasised the ‘evil’ role of corporations and tobacco industry, stating that the scale of health problem was ‘the product of their  greed and deceitful strategies’[3].

   Nowadays, legislation at the state level is to the certain extent influenced by the international organisations and norms they follow. Whereas recent events witnessed that states can choose to separate themselves from international organisations, it is evident that that some norms,  shared by many, still remain very powerful. Anti-tobacco legislation can be seen as such norm, especially since it is now perceived as a matter of human rights.  An increasing number of organisations, focused on anti-smoking promotion use ‘human-rights-based approaches’[4], for instance both WHO and PAHO use such formulations in their workshops and factsheets. More than that, The Bloomberg Initiative for the Reduction in Tobacco Use currently finance the work of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law on human rights and smoking (Myers 2010, Cabrera 2011, O’Neill Institute 2011a). An important role is played by HTCs (human rights and tobacco control collectives), as they insist on introducing ‘the right to health’ in international human rights treaties like the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)[5].  Whereas one might certainly acknowledge good intentions of these liberal proposals, the whole idea of a ‘global smoking epidemic’ and its linkage to human rights can be seen as a political tool of manipulating public opinion and therefore gaining more power. David Reubi suggests, that such actions can be beneficial to a certain self-interest groups,  as ‘HTC (human rights and tobacco control collectives) framed tobacco control as a human rights problem in order to tap into the powerful, judicial monitoring and enforceability mechanisms that make up the international human rights framework’[6].  Scruton (2001) also argues that WHO pursue self-interest, as several members of the organisation are ex-politicians ( e.g. head of WHO in 2001- ex-prime minister of Norway) , often work with lobbyists/think tanks/pressure groups and are not scrutinised properly ( as organisation is not elected- not accountable to anyone). WHO is also criticised for its focus on non-communicable diseases at the time where communicable diseases are a real problem, especially in the Third World (such as HIV epidemic in Africa). More than that, many argue that tobacco control can’t have the same priority with more urgent human rights issues, such as war crimes, famine, etc.

   Criticisms of WHO and especially their Framework Convention on Tobacco Control can serve as a negative reaction to the ‘governance without governance’, therefore proving the existence of phenomena itself. Scruton, for instance, writes about country’s right for self-determination, and importance of democratic process in making the decision, individual to each country. Sure, the medical aspect of the problem is not a subject for discussion, however, if a sufficient part of (regional) economy is dependant on tobacco exports, it must be their people’s decision on how to regulate this area. For instance, in US in 1998, central government attempted to introduce Tobacco Control Bill, but failed because of the state’s representatives opposition. Despite the fact that advocates of anti-tobacco legislation blamed the industry and lobbyists of ‘buying votes’, it was a democratic process, initiated and undertaken by democratically elected government.  The public discourse re-opened again in 2003, when FCTC was introduced, and US introduced some restrictive measures. During Obama’s administration, 28 states of 50 enacted smoking bans for public areas. Restriction measures spread at the same time with  modern ‘liberal globalisation’, with WHO using new means of communication to spread their message ( e.g. using UN mission to educate people in Africa) effectively. Ironically, modern day anti-tobacco activists and lobbyists are now being accused of corruption and undermining the democratic process, using ‘soft power’ of governance without government.

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