Tuesday 8 November 2016


Phew! What a long day that was!

So Monday was the day that the WHO's biennial back-slapping jamboree comprising the world's most accomplished miserable tax troughers began. COP7 was to take place at the Expo Mart complex in Noida, about an hour's drive from New Delhi centre.

I travelled with two Indian vapers and a representative of the newly-formed Association of Vapers India to the venue in the worst smog I've seen so far. This is just one of the pictures I took on the way; to be clear, it is not supposed to be in black and white.

The sun was up and is in that shot, not that you'd notice at first glance. After a trip up the expressway with the odour of sulphur blowing out of the car's ventilation system, we arrived at a heavily-guarded convention centre in the middle of absolutely nowhere, equally shrouded in dank mist.

On arrival, there were a dozen or so people hanging around who we'd later find out were Indian tobacco farmers, justifiably concerned about what those inside were threatening to do to their livelihoods. More about them later.

We entered the venue at just before 7:30am and joined the queue to apply for the limited number of public passes for the event at a registration plaza which catered for all different types of attendee ...

... and there we waited - in a stationary queue - for another three and a half hours!

It was quite clear what was happening. Delegates were turning up in regular coachloads, and it didn't matter how late they were, they were seen before anyone in the public queue. We watched as the inept registration system processed people lazily wandering in as late as 10:45, kept them in a queue of their own for a while before issuing them with a photo ID with which they then entered the venue for the joyless day ahead.

Finally, when the hall was emptied of about a thousand people it had seen that morning, the organisers contemptuously decided the public had waited enough and reluctantly accepted our registration forms and gave us a badge ... a full hour after the conference had started.

Now, no matter how paranoid they are about tobacco industry personnel applying for passes - and there were some there, all of whom declared their affiliations on the form as far as I could ascertain - to treat interested observers so shabbily illustrates the utter contempt they have for the public. If the FCTC really doesn't like the idea of allowing observers in to watch their dreary deliberations, they should be more honest about it and not offer the passes in the first place. They didn't seem to care that ordinary members of the public could be kept standing for such a long period of time, instead more interested in inconveniencing a few tobacco company employees who their skewed priorities have declared as the enemy rather than smoking, which they claim to be acting against.

Amongst those being treated so badly were a group of elected Mayors from Brazil, who jabbered entertainingly away in Portuguese before noticing one of the Brazilian delegation wandering through the hall. On seeing this, they surrounded him to make the case for the thousands of tobacco farmers in their constituencies, while he smiled weakly and tried to placate them.

Who knows what he said to them to ease their concerns, but it wouldn't matter one iota because the COP7 conference doesn't give a shit if farmers lose their businesses and die in poverty; the crusade against the tobacco industry is far more important to their neurotic bigotry than the small matter of people earning a living.

Talking of which, by this time word had reached us that the farmers we saw outside had held a brief protest before heading for a building down the road to have a meeting.

They weren't quite far enough away for the elites of the tobacco control industry though, so the police used a new rule that had been implemented the night before - banning more than four people walking together - to tell the farmers they had broken the law and that their meeting was cancelled. They were then told to get back on their buses and leave the area or be arrested. Most did but some were, indeed, arrested.

They were then escorted 40km away and told to go home and not venture back. It was a little after this that it was announced that delegates would come out to address the farmers' concerns ...

... but they were long evacuated and, d'you know, I think the delegates were well aware of the fact.

Which reminds me, while recording a sweeping shot of the hall, I inadvertently captured the Indian Health Minister thanking the police for not letting anything go wrong at the conference.

Like ensuring objecting farmers are kept miles away, does he mean? Now that's service!

Anyhow, back to your humble host's experience. Eventually, at just vefore 11am, I and others in the public queue managed to receive our passes and entered the venue. Quite impressive it was too.

I sat, with the others in the pen sectioned off for the public, and watched for the best part of two hours; I would like to say I was equally impressed with the speakers, but that would be a lie, I wasn't. What surprised me most was how amateurish and disorganised the whole thing was. It was clear that none of those I saw were good at public speaking, and amongst the mumbling and incoherent newspeak were long pauses while the room waited embarrassingly for something to happen. At one point, the whole thing was stopped while the head of the secretariat had a chat backstage with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister. It was quite surreal.

And as for the subject matter, well it was the same old tired paranoia, sadly.

This is very true. A large part of the COP events now seem to be taken up with justifying the FCTC's pathetic obsession with excluding anyone who doesn't agree 100% with their policies. Bizarrely, following this chain of deranged thought, Vera da Costa condemned "those amongst us" who worked for tobacco companies but sullied the public pass system by, erm, applying for one. I must admit to finding her concern for the public rather hollow considering the 300 minute wait her administrators had inflicted on us. But then, I don't think her focus was on the public at all, she - along with everyone else there - are just miffed they have to pretend to be transparent at all! A fact borne out at last knockings on the day as the customary evacuation of the heretics was announced. No public or press allowed for the rest of the week's proceedings, and that included even being in the grounds of the venue!

Not that those present had any intention of making the public feel welcome anyway, there was a camera trained constantly on our area ...

... and every now and then a delegate would come up and take pictures of the public gallery before scuttling off again, presumably to tell all their friends how nasty we were for coming along to watch. The most prominent of these - and the most hilariously surreal moment of the day - was Debs Arnott who darted, weasel-like, around us to take about five swift pictures from a number of different angles. 

She then trotted off to complain - like some pinch-lipped puritan seeing vape in a Polish assembly room - to an anonymous someone by furiously tapping at her phone's keyboard. All very amusing, I have to say.

All in all, a day packed full of the usual COP wince-inducing hilarity, but almost hypnotic despite the incredibly dull and colourless content being presented on stage; I find that observing events at the FCTC's flagship biennial events is one of those things you know you shouldn't do because you won't like what you see, but you can't help yourself ... rather like rubber-necking at a three car pile up.

Sadly - or not as the case may be - I was forced to exit at just before 1pm as my lift was leaving and I didn't fancy getting stranded miles from my hotel or to face getting a pricey cab without sufficient rupees on me. So we set off to sample some Indian street food before heading over to the Royal Connaught Hotel to meet some inspiring Asian vapers.

I'll tell you about that event in the next article because I wouldn't do them the disservice of sticking them on the same page as the lifeless, state-funded, soul-sucking, freedom-hating bog trolls at COP7 an hour up the road. Watch this space.

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