As reported in News Analysis in the January edition of Tobacco Control, the Dortmund city-owned company Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH (Germany) is organising Inter-tabac Asia, a trade fair for the tobacco industry, to be held on the Indonesian island of Bali on 27 & 28 February. An international campaign against the event has attracted support from around the world, and a petition on change.org has been signed by more than 11,5000 people. The Dortmund mayor has indicated he will refuse to receive the petition. Meanwhile, the Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika has reportedly blocked the fair, drawing praise from the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
On January 10, Pascal Diethelm, President of Swiss NGO OxyRomandie, joined nearly 18 international health organisations and German politicians in sending an open letter to the mayor of Dortmund, the Honourable Ullrich Sierau, urging the cancellation of Inter-tabac Asia 2014. On 23 January, he received a reply from Dr Andreas Weber, from the Marketing and Corporate Communications Department at Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH. In it, Dr Weber advises that the trade fair is directed at professional visitiors, and that children and young people are not permitted. He goes on to state: “Tobacco is a legal product in Indonesia, as it is in Germany. Economic stakeholders therefore have a right to a trading platform of this kind, as in any other industry. Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH respects all political laws and regulations in countries where it organises trade fairs and will of course continue to do so in the future.”
Mr Diethelm’s response, reproduced in full below, outlines how Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund Gmbh’s organisation of Inter-tabac likely breaches Germany’s legal obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco or Health, as well as the moral and ethical implications of its involvement:
Dear Mr Dr Weber,
Thank you for communicating to us the position of Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH concerning the organization of Inter-tabac ASIA 2014 by the city of Dortmund.
Unfortunately, I have to say that your company’s statement misses our point entirely.
The official implication of the municipality of Dortmund in such an event, even indirectly through your company, of which the city of Dortmund is the sole shareholder, clearly violates Germany’s legal obligations emanating from article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty ratified by your country on 16 December 2004. The treaty was also ratified by the European Union on 30 June 2005 and all EU Member States are now Parties to the treaty, which could therefore be also considered as providing a European legal framework for tobacco control.
The Guidelines on Article 5.3 of the treaty (see attached German translation) indicate to parties how to fulfill their obligations emanating from the Convention. The city of Dortmund breaches several key dispositions of these Guidelines:
– It violates point 2.1 which states that “Parties should interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products.” The organization of Inter-tabac ASIA by the city of Dortmund can hardly be described as “strictly necessary.”
– It violates point 3.1, which states that “Parties should not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements as well as any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests.” The organization of Inter-tabac ASIA will inevitably lead the city of Dortmund, via Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH, to conclude multiples agreements with the tobacco companies who are exhibitors in the tobacco trade fair.
– It violates point 4.7, which states that “Government institutions and their bodies should not have any financial interest in the tobacco industry.” By organizing Inter-tabac ASIA, the city of Dortmund has a vested interest in the tobacco industry. The return on its investment is directly linked to the commercial success of its exhibitors, the tobacco companies.
– It violates point 7.1, which states that “Parties should not grant incentives, privileges or benefits to the tobacco industry to establish or run their businesses.” By facilitating their business in Asia, the city of Dortmund grants privilege and benefits to the tobacco industry.
Your company’s statement misses the point in even a more worrying way. You company does not seem to understand, or even have minimal appreciation, of the ethical and moral implications of the decision of the city of Dortmund to organize a trade fair in Bali aimed at promoting tobacco in Indonesia and Asia.
Currently, tobacco kills 6 million people per year and this toll continues to rise while it is at the same time shifting from the highly developed world to lower income countries. In the 20th Century, tobacco was responsible for 100 million deaths. If nothing is done to change the course of the tobacco epidemic, the World Health Organization and all public health authorities predict that the number of tobacco deaths will reach 1 billion in the 21th Century.
In Indonesia, where over two-thirds of the men smoke and where the age of initiation of smoking is commonly below 10, the toll caused by tobacco is taking genocidal proportions. Tobacco kills 260’000 Indonesians each year and this number is rising rapidly. Nowhere in the world can we witness a more striking manifestation of what professor Robert Proctor, historian of science at the University of Stanford, calls the Golden Holocaust.(1)
In such a context, we were stupefied when we read that your company, Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH, and therefore the city of Dortmund, feel comfortable with having contributed to this Golden Holocaust for 30 years, as it claims to have done it “with integrity”. This line of defense evokes some of the darkest memories, having connotations of what Hannah Arendt calls “the banality of evil.”
Fortunately, there are people in this world with a conscience, a high sense of morality and who are prepared to act in conformance with their values. This is the case of our tobacco control colleagues in Indonesia, who, with insignificant means compared to the financial power of the tobacco industry, are fighting with courage and determination to reduce the tobacco epidemic in their country and eliminate the grip tobacco multinationals have on it. Over the recent days, they scored a major victory by rallying the support of the Governor of Mali, Made Mangku Pastika. The Governor has publicly announced his commitment to prevent Inter-tabac ASIA from taking place in his province. He has issued orders that no permit be granted to the tobacco trade fair.
This decision of a man with real integrity sends a clear signal to the city of Dortmund, whose reputation is being tarnished in this affair. Let us hope Mr. Ullrich Sierau listens and learns the lesson and does not miss this opportunity to get better educated in the ethical and moral implications of the tobacco trade.(2)
The ties between Dortmund and the tobacco industry are indeed highly detrimental to the city’s reputation: a lot of people in the world now know Dortmund mainly through the slogan “Dortmund Kills.” Your company and the mayor should realize that the city’s involvement in Inter-tabac is irremediably doomed – soon or later, Dortmund will have to give up all activities linked – directly or indirectly – to the tobacco industry and comply with the legal requirements of the FCTC. The tobacco issue is not going to fade away – on the contrary, it is now considered a priority risk factor in the global fight against non-communicable diseases.
Today, the FCTC has 177 Parties, covering 90% of the population of the world. Situations where a public institution is in bed with the tobacco industry are no longer acceptable and will be increasingly targeted as aberrations to eliminate. It is illusory to think that Dortmund’s Inter-tabac will escape this worldwide phenomenon. The sooner Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH will cut all links with the tobacco industry, the better and less painful the process will be. On behalf of my association, I urge your company and the mayor of Dortmund to do it without delay.
(1) Proctor, Robert N. (2012). Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. Berkeley: University of California Press.ISBN 9780520270169
(2) For example, see : Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (2005). Die Tabakindustriedokumente I: Chemische eränderungen an Zigaretten und Tabakabhängigkeit, Heidelberg (https://www.dkfz.de/…/Tabakindustriedokumente_I.pdf)