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History of the Human Rights and Tobacco Control Network (HRTCN)

The Human Rights Tobacco Control Network (HRTCN) began at a first international meeting, held in Lausanne, Switzerland in November 2008 with a small cohort of approximately 20 partners from around the world. The meeting was to discuss the Human Right Based Approaches (HRBA) to tobacco control, and the consensus at the end of the meeting was to form HRTCN. A summary document was produced including a declaration and a set of action steps and the organization was born. Negotiations with the global tobacco control network – Globalink – produced a dedicated forum for discussion under ‘Human Rights’.

The organization was first incorporated as a non-profit organization in the USA, initially in Arkansas and then, in Massachusetts.  HRTCN joined the Framework Convention Alliance as a global human rights and tobacco control non-profit.

The 2009 World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in Mumbai addressed the HRBA to tobacco control in several sessions and importantly, presented the Resolution: “By 2012, the United Nations would have convened a General Session of Discussion on human rights and tobacco control”.

The second meeting of HRTCN occurred in Mumbai, India, immediately following the World Conference on Tobacco or Health. The meeting was hosted by the Tata Institute and approximately 40 participants from around the world participated. It was energizing to hear not only from the former Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court, but also from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health – Anand Grover. During his presentation, he addressed the importance of the HRBA to tobacco control and would be a valued ally as the outreach from HRTCN and partners moved forward. In addition to the Special Rapporteur, there were numerous other participants who have long been active in tobacco control and have utilized a HRBA, albeit have not exactly described it as such.

Board Members

– Brenda Chitindi
– Belen Rios
– Chris Bostic
– Carolyn Dresler
– Dick Daynard
– Dolors Marin Tuyet
– Harley Stanton
– Harry Lando
– Laura Graen
– Marty Otanez
– Mary Okioma
– Mira Aghi
– Nick Schneider
– Rangita deSilva
– Stephen Marks
– Patricia Lambert
– Paula Johns

Bloomberg School’s Tobacco Watcher tool shows a trend for articles mentioning both “human rights” and “tobacco” over the past six years. https://tobaccowatcher.globaltobaccocontrol.org/

The meeting in Mumbai was particularly useful in illustrating the power of using the various human rights conventions and their reporting structure to include or highlight the needs for tobacco control attention.

In January 2010, the WHO hosted a joint meeting between the Health & Human Rights program and the Tobacco Free Initiative. At this small meeting a few external partners participated with the WHO contingents who are engaged in utilizing the HRBA for tobacco control. It was exciting to meet the team within WHO that addresses HRBAs for health and discusses their interests in tobacco control. Key leaders for the various human rights conventions presented approaches to utilize their organizations in promoting tobacco control. They were all very inviting and willing to work with the tobacco control community.

In February 2010, at the UN Ad-hoc Inter-agency Task Force on Tobacco Control, a portion of the agenda was dedicated to the HBRA to tobacco control.

In Spring of 2010, the password protected HRTCN website went live. This website included a list of members, their profiles, summary documents of previous meetings, and helpful articles on HRBA to tobacco control. HRTCN also maintained a listserv.

A second pre-meeting symposium of HRTCN was held just prior to the 2012 World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore.  It was a very exciting session, with many global leaders presenting. The presentation by Amos Hausner to this group was one of the first international presentations of the possibility of criminal liability against the tobacco industry.  The meeting energized all the participants!

At this meeting in Singapore, recommendations were drafted by HRTCN for possible adoption at the WCTOH:

  • Recommendation: All states parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) will include within their periodic reports on the right to health information on tobacco control with special reference to their obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
  • Recommendation: Treaty bodies responsible for monitoring compliance with the right to health, (such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and special procedures (such as the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health) shall pro-actively seek information from governments on tobacco control measures and make recommendations to them on policies and practices conducive to realizing the right health in this area.

HRTCN was able again to host a larger symposium at the World Conference on Tobacco Control or Health held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018.  ASH (USA) and Unfairtobacco presented the Cape Town Declaration on Human Rights and a Tobacco-free World, which was eventually adopted by the WCTOH conference as a whole and presented to the full WCTOH for adoption. During the HRTCN Board meeting held in Cape Town, South Africa at the 2018 WCTOH, it was agreed that the best method to continue the mission of HRTCN was to merge with ASH (USA) who had become increasingly active in the human rights-based approach to tobacco control.  With that, the non-profit HRTCN was set to close prior to its 2019 annual year.

Throughout the lifetime of HRTCN, there were 38 ‘Short Reports’ submitted to the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that discussed the respective country’s status in tobacco control.  These Short Reports came out of a recommendation from Stephen Marks as a method to influence a prominent human rights committees with respect to the right to health.  In a review paper, it was found that nearly 30% of the countries had responses or recommendations back from the CESCR on ways to strengthen their tobacco control efforts.

ASH is extremely appreciative of the support from HRTCN and thrilled to be able to carry on the work that HRTCN began. HRTCN was a catalyst without which ASH’s work on human rights would not have progressed.