Happy Human Rights Day! December 10th is International Human Rights Day, in observation of the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This landmark document set out, for the first time, the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being. Tobacco, and the actions of the tobacco industry, violate a number of human rights, most clearly, the right to health.

At ASH, we’ve been working on a human rights approach to tobacco control for several years, but in 2020, the intersections between all of our programs and human rights have been clearer than ever.

ASH, along with our partners at the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association are suing the FDA for their inaction on menthol cigarettes. We are encouraging them to ban menthol flavors and protect American lives. This is particularly relevant this year, as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum. Nine out of 10 black people that smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes due to long term targeted advertising by the tobacco industry.

This is not only a case about health, but about racial inequities as well, and ASH has illustrated those connections in both the national and international systems. ASH is working with local partners in California and D.C. to help teach local advocates how to use international tools like CERD (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination) and human rights arguments to further their advocacy, and also using human rights arguments to support our own work, like in the case against the FDA.

While human rights treaties like CERD are important, the tobacco treaty (the FCTC), is crucial to tobacco control, and can be helpful in a human rights approach. ASH and our partners have been calling for a decision on human rights at the next FCTC Conference of the Parties. ASH recently hosted a webinar on this topic, and the panelists subsequently wrote an editorial, explaining why a human rights decision is important to further tobacco control efforts. A COP decision on human rights would link the FCTC and human rights more formally, and make the connection clearer for governments.

In addition to liability and human rights, another prominent program at ASH is called Project Sunset- the goal of which is to bring about the end of the commercial sale of cigarettes. Tobacco, tobacco advertising, and the actions of the tobacco industry are a barrier to the right to health of many people. If governments take steps to phase out the sale of cigarettes, they are both improving the health of their citizens and meeting their human rights treaty obligations, a win-win for politicians, governments, and citizens.

Human rights are a thread that runs through all of our work at ASH. We believe that a human rights-based approach can help ASH end the tobacco epidemic for good and we are proud to celebrate another year of working to protect the rights to life and health from big tobacco. Happy Human Rights Day!

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