171 Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) have finalized a groundbreaking public health treaty to control tobacco supply and consumption. They agreed on a final text for a WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) governing tobacco taxation, smoking prevention and treatment, illicit trade, advertising, sponsorship and promotion, and product regulation.
The negotiations, the final round of which began on 17 February, conclude four years of work to produce an international tobacco control treaty. The agreement is part of a global strategy to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world.
"The convention we have agreed on is a real milestone in the history of global public health," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "Moreover, it is a milestone in international collaboration in a globalized world. It means nations will be working systematically together to protect the lives of present and future generations, and take on shared responsibilities to make this world a better and healthier place. I congratulate our Member States on their courage and vision in drafting a treaty that will effectively reduce the impact of tobacco on the health of populations for decades to come."
"Tobacco kills in every country of the world, and probably most of us know someone who has died," she added. "Due to the actions that will follow from our shared commitments, millions and millions of lives will be saved. The treaty based on the determination and inspiration of the many who have worked so hard to conclude an effective and strong convention."
The final text will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May for adoption. Once it has been adopted, the FCTC will be opened for signature by Member States. The treaty will come into force shortly after it has been ratified by 40 countries.
The text requires signatory parties to implement comprehensive tobacco control programmes and strategies at the national, regional and local levels. In its preamble, the text explicitly recognizes the need to protect public health, the unique nature of tobacco products and the harm that companies that produce them cause.
Some of the key elements of the final text include:
Taxes - The text formally recognizes that tax and price measures are an important way of reducing tobacco consumption, particularly in young people, and requires signatories to consider public health objectives when implementing tax and price policies on tobacco products.
Labelling - The text requires that at least 30 per cent - but ideally 50 per cent or more - of the display area on tobacco product packaging is taken up by clear health warnings in the form of text, pictures or a combination of the two. Packaging and labelling requirements also prohibit misleading language that gives the false impression that the product is less harmful than others. This may include the use of terms such as "light", "mild" or "low tar".
Advertising - While all countries agreed that a comprehensive ban would have a significant impact in reducing the consumption of tobacco products, some countries have constitutional provisions - for example, those covering free speech for commercial purposes - that will not allow them to implement a complete ban in all media. The final text requires parties to move towards a comprehensive ban within five years of the convention entering into force. It also contains provisions for countries that cannot implement a complete ban by requiring them to restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within the limits of their laws.
The text also explicitly requires signatories to the convention to look at the possibility of a protocol to provide a greater level of detail on cross-border advertising. This could include the technical aspects of preventing or blocking advertising in areas such as satellite television and the internet.
Liability - Parties to the convention are encouraged to pursue legislative action to hold the tobacco industry liable for costs related to tobacco use.
Financing - Parties are required to provide financial support to their national tobacco control programmes. In addition, the text encourages the use and promotion of existing development funding for tobacco control. A number of countries and development agencies, have already pledged their commitment to include tobacco control as a development priority.
The text also requires countries to promote treatment programmes to help people stop smoking and education to prevent people from starting, to prohibit sales of tobacco products to minors, and to limit public exposure to second-hand smoke.
The elements of the treaty reflect WHO and World Bank policies on a comprehensive plan to reduce global tobacco consumption. While there have been nearly 20 World Health Assembly resolutions to support tobacco control since 1970, the difference with this treaty is that these obligations will become legally binding for Parties to the convention once it comes into force.