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 170 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 the 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, 2010 and 2012. It will meet again in October 2014 in Moscow, Russia.

In 2012, after four years of negotiations, the COP adopted a Protocol External reference to fight illegal trade in tobacco products. The countries that ratify the Protocol will commit to take measures to control the supply chain of tobacco products and to cooperate internationally. PMI supported this Protocol, read our statement on its adoption here

The COP has also adopted 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, tobacco marketing and product regulation.

Our View

In many respects, the areas of regulation we support mirror provisions of the FCTC. For example, we have long advocated for laws that strictly prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors, limit public smoking, mandate the placement of health warnings on tobacco product packaging, and regulate product content to ensure that changes to the product do not increase the adverse health effects of smoking. We also support the development of a regulatory frameworks to govern less harmful products, as well as support the use of tax and price policies to achieve public health objectives, provided that they do not result in increased illicit trade.

We do not, however, agree with the current views of the WHO and others who are pursuing policies that reflect an extreme application of the treaty, are not based on sound evidence of a public health benefit, and in many cases are likely to lead to adverse consequences.

These extreme policy recommendations include point-of-sale display bans, standardized or “plain” packaging, a ban on all forms of communication with adult smokers, and measures to prohibit or restrict ingredients. In addition, bans on charitable contributions from tobacco companies, measures to prevent the use of journalistic expression or political commentary “for the promotion of tobacco use,” and restrictions on the rights of the tobacco industry to participate in the democratic process as tobacco policy and regulations are developed, all go beyond the original intent and scope of the FCTC. 

The evidence does not show that these measures will help achieve the public health goals of the original treaty provisions. In fact, some are likely to undermine the original goals of the FCTC and public health by leading to a further increase in the black market, the greater availability of low-price cigarettes and, in the case of measures such as standardized packaging, violate trademark and intellectual property rights, harm competition and violate international treaties.

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