12 Aug 2008
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization. The WHO FCTC is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. The WHO FCTC represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties, the WHO FCTC asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies as well as supply issues.
The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. The spread of the tobacco epidemic is facilitated through a variety of complex factors with cross-border effects, including trade liberalization and direct foreign investment. Other factors such as global marketing, transnational tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the international movement of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes have also contributed to the explosive increase in tobacco use. From the first preambular paragraph, which states that the “Parties to this Convention [are] determined to give priority to their right to protect public health”, the WHO FCTC is a global trend-setter.
The core demand reduction provisions in the WHO FCTC are contained in articles 6-14:
- Price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, and
- Non-price measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, namely:
- Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke;
- Regulation of the contents of tobacco products;
- Regulation of tobacco product disclosures;
- Packaging and labelling of tobacco products;
- Education, communication, training and public awareness;
- Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and,
- Demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation.
The core supply reduction provisions in the WHO FCTC are contained in articles 15-17:
- Illicit trade in tobacco products;
- Sales to and by minors; and,
- Provision of support for economically viable alternative activities.
Another novel feature of the Convention is the inclusion of a provision that addresses liability. Mechanisms for scientific and technical cooperation and exchange of information are set out in Articles 20-22.
The WHO FCTC opened for signature on 16 June to 22 June 2003 in Geneva, and thereafter at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Depositary of the treaty, from 30 June 2003 to 29 June 2004. The treaty, which is now closed for signature, has 168 Signatories, including the European Community, which makes it the most widely embraced treaties in UN history. Member States that have signed the Convention indicate that they will strive in good faith to ratify, accept, or approve it, and show political commitment not to undermine the objectives set out in it. Countries wishing to become a Party, but that did not sign the Convention by 29 June 2004, may do so by means of accession, which is a one-step process equivalent to ratification.
The Convention entered into force on 27 February 2005 — 90 days after it has been acceded to, ratified, accepted, or approved by 40 States. Beginning on that date, the forty Contracting Parties are legally bound by the treaty’s provisions. For each State that ratifies, accepts or approves the Convention or accedes thereto after the conditions set out in paragraph 1 of Article 36 for entry into force have been fulfilled, the Convention shall enter into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. For regional economic integration organizations, the Convention enters into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of its instrument of formal confirmation or accession.
The global network developed over the period of the negotiations of the WHO FCTC will be important in preparing for the implementation of the Convention at country level. In the words of WHO’s Director General, Dr Jong-wook LEE:
“The WHO FCTC negotiations have already unleashed a process that has resulted in visible differences at country level. The success of the WHO FCTC as a tool for public health will depend on the energy and political commitment that we devote to implementing it in countries in the coming years. A successful result will be global public health gains for all.”
For this to materialize, the drive and commitment, which was so evident during the negotiations, will need to spread to national and local levels so that the WHO FCTC becomes a concrete reality where it counts most, in countries.