28 Mar 2019
Message from Francis Thompson, Executive Director, Framework Convention Alliance
Imagine the world faced a deadly disease that had infected one quarter of the global population and was on track to kill half of those infected. And imagine we had a package of effective low-cost vaccines and treatments that had already been tested over decades in a number of countries. But imagine further that the world’s leaders couldn’t quite muster the political will and the funds to actually roll out that package in a timely way.
That’s a fair analogy with where we are in global tobacco control. The number of deaths from tobacco products – primarily cigarettes – continues to rise and is now more than 7 million per year. The death toll is falling in most rich countries but rising in many developing countries.
The news is not all bad, of course. Global cigarette sales – a good predictor of future deaths – are now falling. And smoking prevalence is falling in most of the world, albeit slowly.
So what is the package of vaccines and treatments, in our analogy? The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty that covers the overwhelming majority of the world’s countries (181 Parties). Since it came into effect in 2005, it has been supplemented by detailed policy guidance in the form of formal Guidelines for implementation of key articles. In 2018, the first Protocol (sub-treaty) to the FCTC came into effect: a Protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, designed to make it easier to raise tobacco taxes more rapidly.
Tobacco is the only global health threat that has its own international treaty, and the FCTC is one of only three treaties of any kind that is mentioned in the world’s development to-do list, the Sustainable Development Goals.
But public (i.e. government) investment in tobacco control lags scandalously behind other global health issues, particularly in the lower-income countries where death rates from tobacco are still rising. Per capita spending in low-income countries is less than half a US cent per person per year, according to WHO (compared to $1.14 in high-income countries). Implementation of the FCTC is accordingly patchy.
FCA’s focus for the last several years has been on closing this implementation and funding gap. In 2018, we made substantial progress at the FCTC Conference of the Parties (see our message on COP8), via the adoption of a new Global Strategy.
It will take an ongoing effort by FCA staff and the hundreds of FCA member organizations to ensure the benefits of the FCTC reach the potential future victims of tobacco in time.