Tobacco farmers, who grow tobacco for cigars, protested on Monday outside the Tobacco Convention conference in Panama. The message: there are different forms of tobacco use and cigars, unlike cigarettes, are not products that cause the smoking-related harm that the WHO is supposed to prevent.
"We want the WHO to recognise that not all tobacco can be treated equally. We represent tobacco farmers from several countries in South and Latin America who make a living from producing cigars. Children don't use cigars and rules and guidelines should reflect that," said Mr Perez. Enriqe Ruiz, spokesperson for tobacco farmers from Latin and South America.
Not allowed to participate in the meeting
Like many other stakeholders working on tobacco and nicotine issues, the group was not allowed to participate even as observers during the COP10 meeting in Panama. While the Tobacco Convention policy states that tobacco industry influence should be kept at arm's length from the conference, this also means that consumer groups, as well as tobacco growers, are excluded.
Sceptical about e-cigarettes
Tobacco farmers in Panama have thus found themselves on the same side of the fence as many anti-smoking groups, vejp and harm minimisation activists. Despite this, there are clear anti-vejp elements in the tobacco farmers' banners. "Puff bars are 'toys for children' while cigars are not," reads one of the messages.
"We work with the tobacco plant, and represent a product that is very different from cigarettes. We know that the cigar is not used by children, and that is the main message. Vaping has increased recently and we don't know how dangerous e-cigarettes are for health, at least not yet", he says, but admits that harm minimisation and the rights of vejpare are not his main priority.
"But," he continues, "as we see it, ALL voices should be heard on this issue. For these people it is a question of economic survival. Tobacco farmers depend on their crops and should not be left out of the discussion on tobacco regulation. It affects their livelihoods."
Got to speak with COP10 delegate
The demonstration took place just outside the COP10 convention centre on the outskirts of Panama City. The media attention was not overwhelming but Enrique Ruiz did some interviews and managed to get his message across to at least one delegate of the conference, a representative from Panama.
"That was our main goal. If we can't get in, at least they know we are here and have something to say. Hopefully someone hears it and listens," he told Vejpkollen.