The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

South-East Asia takes stock of FCTC implementation

By Dr Mira Aghi

In late July, countries in WHO's South-East Asia region gathered to review progress towards fulfilling their obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and to identify emerging threats and opportunities.

At the gathering in New Delhi, 23-26 July, Parties discussed in detail various time-bound commitments, including smoke-free spaces, tobacco package warnings and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

They agreed that while it was important to introduce and amend legislation and regulations in line with the WHO FCTC, enforcement of measures remains a significant challenge. It was proposed that the next regional meeting should include a component on enforcement.

Among emerging threats, Parties highlighted smokeless tobacco (SLT). Its high prevalence, variety of products and poor knowledge of its harms make it a unique threat to the region.

Parties also discussed obstacles to implementation of the convention, such as the lack of dedicated funds, absence of functional coordination mechanisms and interference from the tobacco industry. Many participants called for greater multi-sectoral collaboration, especially policy coordination.

Effective coordination of tobacco control throughout governments – not only health ministries – as well as mobilization of resources, will be addressed later in 2013 by the newly established working group to strengthen implementation of the FCTC.

Detailed discussions also took place on the newly adopted Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (ITP), including the process of signing and ratifying the document. Representatives of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also participated in this discussion.

The meeting, which was organized by the FCTC Secretariat and hosted by India's Ministry of Health, was attended by delegates from FCTC Parties including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste. Indonesia, a non-party to the FCTC, also attended. Other agencies in attendance included the UN Development Programme and the World Bank.

FCA was represented by Dr. Mira Aghi, Dr. Olcott Gunasekera, Ms. Shoba John and Regional Coordinator Mr. Shailesh Vaite. Other FCA members from India also attended, along with heads of tobacco control cells from various Indian states.

During the closing session, participants were reminded about FCTC Article 2.1, which encourages Parties to "implement measures beyond those required by the Convention and its Protocols". The outcome document included recommendations and suggestions to step up work on tobacco control in the region.

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