December 10th is recognized worldwide as Human Rights Day. It commemorates the anniversary of the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR and other human rights treaties, both international and regional, protect myriad rights around the world, including the rights of women and children, and the right to life and health.
On human rights day, we believe it is important to draw attention to a human rights issue that is often forgotten: tobacco. Tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death in the world. A human rights approach to ending tobacco is unique because it implores or requires governments to protect their citizens by implementing tobacco control laws and strategies to end the tobacco epidemic. Governments are obligated to protect the health of their citizens, and international and regional treaties and tools like the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) provide best practices and suggestions for how to achieve those goals.
But how does tobacco apply directly to human rights issues and protected groups? Tobacco negatively impacts the right to life, right to health, right to education, children’s rights, women’s rights, and many others. Here are just a few examples-
• Tobacco farmers – people around the world who grow tobacco (many of them children), face many potential threats including pesticide poisoning and green tobacco sickness from the nicotine, which violate their right to health and life, and other harms that negatively impact human rights, like lack of access to education.
• Targeted populations – the tobacco industry often targets their advertising to specific populations based on gender, race, sexual identity and age. Some of these groups smoke at much higher rates than the general population, and they are all protected by various international and regional human rights treaties and instruments. Read more about targeted advertising to women and girls and the LGBT communities.
• The Environment – tobacco has an extremely negative impact on the environment throughout its entire life cycle, from growth through post-consumer waste. Protecting our environment also protects many human rights, such as right to health and life.
Tobacco and Human Rights progress in 2016
This year has been an exciting one for tobacco and human rights.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – In April, ASH and two of our partner organizations, Fundación InterAmericana del Corazón Argentina and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, were invited to give a presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This was the first time the Commission considered tobacco as a human rights issue and was an important step forward. You can read more about the IACHR and our presentation here> and here>.
Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – Several of our partners, including the two mentioned above, presented a report before CEDAW about tobacco use amongst women and girls in Argentina. The committee called on Argentina to ratify the tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to reduce tobacco consumption among adolescents and to address the health consequences of tobacco. In doing so, CEDAW recognized the importance of the FCTC and encouraged Argentina and other countries to utilize it to protect human rights – a huge victory! Congratulations to FIC-Argentina and the O’Neill Institute.
If you are interested in learning more about ASH’s tobacco and human rights program, read more here>