Synopsis of INC-4 of the UN Negotiations for a Treaty to End Plastic Pollution: What about Cigarette Filters?


ASH joins the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance in attending the fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Conference (INC-4) of the United Nations Treaty to End Plastic Pollution in Ottawa, Canada from April 23 – 29, 2024. ASH’s Chief Operating Officer Liz Furgurson and Policy Director Chris Bostic will share updates and progress here for our community to stay engaged and informed.

April 30, 2024 – The fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for a treaty to end plastic pollution was relatively grueling. Eight days (Weekend? What weekend?) with informal meetings for the three days leading up to the official start. ASH and its allies in the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance (STPA) were there in Ottawa for the duration, with two major goals: an agreement to ban cigarette filters, and recognition of the nexus between plastic pollution and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

There’s good news and bad news on those goals. The good news is that several countries explicitly called for a total ban on plastic cigarette filters, and recognition of the FCTC was inserted into the draft Preambular text. It is important to note that nothing is agreed until it is all agreed; for now, there is draft text but no text will hopefully be adopted until the end of INC-5 in Busan, South Korea in December of this year. The support for a filter ban was strong, and no country came out explicitly or specifically against it.

Now the bad news. The treaty as a whole is endangered, with petrochemical and other industries pushing back on every front. ASH has been working with environmental groups to push for language to ensure transparency and reduce conflicts of interest.

In order to get a cigarette filter ban, we need two things. First, the INC needs to adopt a strong stance to ban nonessential, problematic plastics, and second, filters need to be included in Annex B, which will list the plastics and products that fall into that category. We’re optimistic about the second part, but there are powerful forces arrayed against banning any type of plastic, and the argument is about far more than tobacco products.

ASH is part of a broad group of NGOs participating in the negotiations called Break Free From Plastic, which has adopted our cause and was very generous with their time, support and assistance. We also want to thank the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) for their continuous support and guidance, and Surfrider Foundation Canada, which held a press conference and demonstration at INC-4 on the environmental harms of cigarette butts.

ASH would like to also thank its partners in the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance, as well as the World Health Organization, the Framework Convention Secretariat, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their very helpful statements.

Electronic cigarettes are also made of plastic and came up repeatedly in discussions. They are also nonessential plastics and, like filters, are problematic environmentally. But e-cigarettes bring an additional blight – the batteries. Tobacco product waste is nearly impossible to gather and recycle, and batteries confound further any viable solution. They are hazardous waste, and as such shouldn’t be dumped in the normal waste stream. Many school systems are stuck with thousands of e-cigarettes confiscated from students but without anywhere to send them.

ASH and STPA have been at each of the INCs and will be in Busan for INC-5 to see these negotiations through to their conclusion. A ban on cigarette filters and e-cigarettes would be a devastating blow to the tobacco industry and save perhaps millions of lives. In the meantime, we continue to work at the national and state level to push for cigarette filter sales bans.


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