25 MARCH 2004 | GENEVA -- This week, with the signatures of Ecuador and The Republic of Congo, a total of 100 countries and the European Community have so far signed the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
"With their signatures, 100 governments which represent 4.5 billion people have underscored their intention to become a party to the Convention and thus protect their populations from tobacco-related diseases. I commend these countries, urge the remaining ones to sign and encourage all signatories who have not yet ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to do so," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General.
The Convention was unanimously adopted by all WHO Member States just ten months ago. Three months remain before the end of the signature period. The WHO FCTC is deposited at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and is open for signature until 29 June 2004. Thereafter countries that have not signed may accede to the Convention. WHO reminds Ministers of Health and other stakeholders involved in tobacco control of the work that remains to be completed. The Convention will enter into force and become a legally binding document 90 days after the 40th ratification or equivalent instrument.
"The WHO FCTC has surpassed the 100 signatories milestone. This is a significant achievement," said Dr Vera da Costa e Silva, WHO Director of the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI). "Among these, nine countries have ratified, which means that more than one billion people have a strong commitment from their governments to act firmly on tobacco control as set out on the WHO FCTC."
The tobacco epidemic is still expanding, especially in developing countries where, currently, seven out of every ten tobacco-related deaths occur. Tobacco use kills 4.9 million people each year, and it has been estimated to cause an annual global net loss of US$ 200 billion in health-care costs and lost productivity. At current rates, the total number of tobacco users is expected to rise to 1.7 billion by 2025 from 1.3 billion now.
Signing before or on 29 June 2004 is beneficial for countries, as it means more time to move towards ratification and full national implementation of their obligations. The periods between signature, ratification and implementation give the country the time to lay the necessary foundation that will be needed during the implementation phase, once the Convention has entered into force.
Countries that have not signed by 29 June 2004 can still become parties to the WHO FCTC at a later date by means of accession, which has the same legal effect as ratification, but does not require prior signature. Once the WHO FCTC enters into force, countries that are Parties to the Convention are obliged to implement its provisions.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, negotiated under the auspices of WHO, is the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world. The Convention has provisions that set forth international minimum standards on tobacco-related issues such as tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, tax and price measures, packaging and labelling, illicit trade and protection from second-hand smoke. These provisions are designed to guide governments, which are free to legislate at higher thresholds if desired.
The total number of signatories to date is 101, which includes 100 Member States and the EC. The EC has signed as a Regional Economic Integration Organization with competence in certain measures set forth in the WHO FCTC. The EC's signature is in addition to the signature of member countries, which have their own competence to sign the Convention independently.
Member States signing the Convention indicate their intention to take steps to ratify it, and in the meantime, they should refrain in good faith from acts that would defeat the purpose and object of the Convention. Ratification is the formal expression by which a country consents to be bound by the provisions in the WHO FCTC when it enters into force. Once a country has signed there is no deadline for ratification. The nine countries that have ratified the WHO FCTC are Fiji, India, Malta, Mongolia, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.
The WHO FCTC will enter into force 90 days after the deposit of the 40th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval, formal confirmation or accession. Once the WHO FCTC enters into force, countries that are Parties to the Treaty are bound by it and are expected to legislate according to its provisions.
WHO will convene an Intergovernmental Working Group on the WHO FCTC from 21 to 25 June 2004, where all 192 Member States will be invited to attend and submit proposals to the first session of the Conference of the Parties, which will take place within a year following entry into force of the WHO FCTC.