23 Feb 2015
In the ensuing decade, the Convention has developed at astonishing speed.
Countries where effective tobacco control seemed politically impossible have banned indoor smoking (Article 8), or jumped from tiny, text-only health warnings on the side of cigarette packs to large pictorial warnings on the back and front, and even to plain packaging (Article 11).
Meanwhile, the Conference of the Parties has taken form and drafted extensive guidelines on all the demand-side articles of the FCTC. Parties submit regular implementation reports. To facilitate the implementation of Article 6 (tax and price measures), the COP not only developed guidelines but also an entire sub-treaty: the Illicit Trade Protocol.
These are all very promising developments. But, like a child on the cusp of adolescence, there are a number of things that the FCTC COP hasn’t yet quite got the hang of, to do with accountability, follow-through and money.
COP6 was the first session at which Parties set themselves a target and a deadline for the FCTC’s impact: a 30 percent relative reduction in tobacco use prevalence by 2025, compared with 2010. (This is, of course, the voluntary global target already agreed by the World Health Assembly in 2013, as part of a broader discussion about non-communicable diseases.)
Regular tax increases
What needs to happen in the next decade is a serious effort to actually achieve this target. That means not just improved reporting – including reporting what is actually being enforced and what the barriers to implementation are, not just what is in national legislation – but also regular discussions about what is further required to push prevalence down. Starting, in most cases, with repeated large tobacco tax increases.
More broadly, the COP (and all the FCTC Parties) needs a plan to implement the Convention. The Global Progress Reports discussed at each COP show varying level of implementation of different articles of the FCTC, and highlight some of the obstacles Parties report, including lack of resources for tobacco control and tobacco industry interference.
A “grown-up” treaty body needs to go beyond noting these problems, and start figuring out solutions. These will surely include greater regional and international co-operation (e.g. joint development of warnings, possibly even of legislation), much more consistent technical assistance (from legislative drafting to mass-media programming and tobacco tax administration), and more robust financing arrangements.
More robust financing doesn’t necessarily mean a dedicated FCTC implementation fund, as exists for some environmental treaties. (Although we certainly wouldn’t object to one!) It could be that better integration of the FCTC in global development efforts and national health/development plans can open the door to routine funding of tobacco control as part of broader efforts to support health systems.
Framing tobacco control as a national development priority will also help get ministries other than health (and their staff and budgets) to contribute to tobacco control. And, as increasing numbers of developing country Parties are demonstrating, allocating even a modest proportion of tobacco tax revenue to FCTC implementation can be enough to pay for a strong national tobacco control programme. Private philanthropy should continue to have an important role.
The FCTC with its guidelines is already an invaluable blueprint for national legislation and a reliable guide to best practice. As a mature treaty, by 2025 it should also include mechanisms for Parties to analyse and jointly tackle the many implementation challenges that the tobacco epidemic will continue to throw at us.
Today, let’s take time to say ‘Happy birthday FCTC! You’ve made us proud. We can’t wait to see you all grown up’.
See photos and more on our page to mark the FCTC’s 10th anniversary