It’s now a little over 5 years since the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) jointly established the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer. We celebrated our fifth birthday just a few months ago, on World Cancer Day in February. Our mission is to contribute to the effective use of the law for cancer prevention, treatment, supportive care and research.
The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day Tobacco – a threat to development resonates deeply for us.
It’s the first World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to fall during one of our intensive legal training programs (ILTP). This program builds capacity among government lawyers from low- and middle-income countries in using the law for cancer and non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and control, with a focus on achieving coherence across health, trade, investment and sustainable development. We’re privileged to have with us here in Melbourne 18 wonderful participants from across different sectors of government in 15 countries – Brazil, Colombia, The Gambia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kiribati, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Tonga. We’ve now had almost 120 participants from 55 countries over 6 courses, since we started running the program in 2014.
Tobacco is the single greatest focus of our program, for two main reasons:
Through our training program, both our biannual intensive Melbourne courses and related regional and national workshops that we’ve run with partners in Denmark, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Russian Federation, Norway and South Africa, we’ve met extraordinary people doing fantastic work – developing, implementing and enforcing legislation in politically challenging circumstances; defending their governments in court proceedings against multinational tobacco companies armed with unlimited litigation budgets and an incentive to drag court proceedings on for as long as possible; and generously sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise with their counterparts in other countries.
For our part, we’ve been able to share with the rest of the world many of the lessons that Australia has learned through being the first country in the world to introduce tobacco plain packaging, and to defend its laws against legal challenges domestically (in our High Court) and internationally (under a bilateral investment treaty and in the World Trade Organization). We’ve done this in our role as the Convention Secretariat’s Knowledge Hub on legal challenges to implementation of the WHO FCTC, a role we took on in December 2013, and have performed with great pride ever since. We’ve been able to do all this because of the longstanding global tobacco control leadership of the Australian Government and the support it has provided to our work over the last 5 years, both the Department of Health, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which is the primary supporter of our ILTP. One of the highlights of our current course has been a session at which officials from Health, DFAT and the Attorney-General’s Department joined us from Canberra to share the Australian Government’s experience and lessons learned through defending international trade and investment challenges.
For me personally, it’s been an incredible gift to be able to use my legal training, and my love for the law, in such meaningful and exciting ways.
Next year will mark 20 years since I had the very good fortune of stumbling my way into a role working on a CCV State tobacco control project, a young lawyer hoping to somehow use my law degree to do some good, with little idea of the opportunities that lay ahead.
We wish all our friends and partners around the world a very successful WNTD. Let’s commit to scaling up our collective efforts to tackle this terrible epidemic of premature and unnecessary death, disease and suffering. We have a global treaty and sustainable development agenda to support us, and the power of law on our side.