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WHO Criticizes UN Acceptance of Tobacco Firms and Air Quality, Staff Union Urges Smoke Detector Halt

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 7 -- The World Health Organization on Thursday took the wider UN system to task for allowing smoking in its buildings, for not barring all tobacco-related corporations from the UN Global Compact, and for allowing senior UN officials to accept money or rent from cigarette companies. WHO's Douglas Bettcher said that tobacco firms could not credibly be part of any corporate social responsibility initiative like the Global Compact, whose director Georg Kell previously told Inner City Press, after noting WHO's opposition, that since "tobacco is a legal product... we do not see this as an ethical issue." Video here, from Minute 37:51. Bettcher referred to an upcoming UN Task Force meeting, where he hopes that this issue and the issue of the smoking still permitted in UN Headquarters will be addressed. Inner City Press asked if it is WHO's position that that countries' Ambassadors can be made to obey UN administrative rules. Bettcher did not directly answer, but rather said that most smoking bans turn out to be popular even with smokers. Video here, from Minute 31:12. That doesn't seem true into UN headquarters.

            Following its exclusive report that UN Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro receives rent income from the Tanzania Cigarette Company, Inner City Press asked Bettcher if WHO thinks this is appropriate. Perhaps being diplomatic, Bettcher answered that WHO bans its officials from receiving any income or proceeds from tobacco-related firms.  Afterwards, Inner City Press asked if WHO makes any of its financial disclosure forms public, and hearing Bettcher answer "no," suggested that this take place.

            WHO's report on tobacco, largely funded by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, contained a mock cigarette pack filled with magic markers. Earlier Thursday, a reporter asked WHO's Director-General Margaret Chan and she replied -- flustered, some said -- that she hoped for a world in which such packages would all be filled with pencils and the like. Inner City Press asked Bettcher and his co-briefer, Patrick Petit, if WHO opposes for example chocolate cigarettes, as making smoking attractive to children. Yes, they both said, WHO is against this. But, Inner City Press asked, what is the difference between a cigarette pack containing chocolate and one containing magic markets? Petit said, pointing at the markers, "You don't put those in your mouth." Most of the time, at least...

Ban Ki-moon and WHO's Margaret Chan, tobacco rents and Compact members not shown

  In somewhat related news, the UN Staff Union on Thursday unanimously adopted this resolution

  Having been briefed by the Focal Point on the Capital Master Plan on an incident involving the release on Wednesday 6 February of large quantities of unknown dust particles at the 15th  floor of the Secretariat building while smoke detectors were being installed,

  Having management not given adequate assurances that the incident was not related to asbestos release or otherwise harmful to the health of staff,

Decides, To request the Secretary-General the immediate suspension of all work related to the installation of smoke detectors and related activities, as well as all other reconstruction and remodeling activities, and to order an independent investigation of the incident and other cases of major indoor reconstruction while staff members had to work in the immediate vicinity.

  So, anti-smoking Bloomberg demands smoke detectors at the UN, which leads to "unknown dust particles," and the call for halt above...

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These reports are also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540