WHO and the FCTC

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control External reference (FCTC) is the first international public health treaty. It was adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2003 and entered into force in February 2005. Over 160 countries plus the European Union are Parties to the Treaty. 

The FCTC’s objective is to establish a global agenda for tobacco regulation, with the purpose of reducing initiation of tobacco use and encouraging cessation. The Treaty’s provisions are divided into measures to reduce the demand for tobacco products and measures to reduce the supply of tobacco products. 

The FCTC’s provisions are intended to reduce the demand for and supply of tobacco products. WHO has characterized the following as the core demand reduction measures in the FCTC:

  • price and tax measures;
  • protection from exposure to tobacco smoke;
  • regulation of the contents of tobacco products;
  • regulation of tobacco product disclosures;
  • packaging and labeling of tobacco products;
  • education, communication, training, and public awareness;
  • tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; and
  • demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation.

The Treaty’s key supply reduction measures, according to WHO, are:

  • illicit trade in tobacco products;
  • sales to and by minors; and
  • provision of support for economically viable alternative activities.

The Conference of the Parties External reference (COP) is the governing body of the FCTC, comprised of delegates from each of the countries that have ratified the Treaty, as well as the European Union. The COP meets on a regular basis, with past sessions in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. It will meet again in 2012 in Korea. 

The COP has published non-binding guidelines External reference on several of the articles in the FCTC. To date, the COP has issued such guidelines on public smoking bans, limiting tobacco industry involvement in the development of tobacco policy and regulations, tobacco packaging and labeling, and tobacco marketing. 

Our View

We have viewed the FCTC as a positive catalyst for comprehensive regulation of tobacco products, focusing governments on the need to develop and implement effective tobacco policies. In many respects, the areas of regulation we support mirror provisions of the FCTC. However, we disagree with the provisions of the Treaty requiring a total ban on marketing, a total ban on public smoking, a ban on the sale of duty-free cigarettes, and the use of litigation against the tobacco industry. We also believe that excessive taxation can have significant adverse consequences, such as increasing the trade in illicit tobacco products. 

We also strongly disagree with several of the recommendations in the COP’s guidelines, such as generic packaging, point of sale display bans, a ban on the use of colors in packaging, and a ban on all forms of communications to adult smokers. These recommendations reflect extreme applications of the provisions of the FCTC that are punitive measures against the tobacco industry and are not proven to benefit public health. On the contrary, like excessive taxation, they are likely to have adverse consequences such as fostering illicit trade and encouraging cheap cigarettes, both of which undermine public health objectives.

Given the complexities of tobacco regulation, we urge governments to work with tobacco companies as well as with public health authorities in implementing the FCTC. Limiting the ability of the tobacco companies to participate in the political process is contrary to the long-established principles of participatory democracy and good governance rules in many countries. Transparency is appropriate; exclusion is not. Regulators should follow the principles of participation, openness, accountability, effectiveness and coherence. The expertise of tobacco companies is especially important in areas such as illicit trade prevention, fiscal policy, and product regulation.

WHO recently emphasized this point in its global strategy to combat obesity, stating that the food industry should be part of the solution: “Reducing the burden of death and disability from [non-communicable diseases] requires a multi-sectoral approach that mobilizes the combined energy, resources and expertise of all global stakeholders. The strategy sees industry as part of the solution, and recommends joint action with the food industry.”  [1]


[1] Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, WHO, 2004

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