18 Feb 2015
The strength of the Convention, an international legally-binding health treaty with 180 Parties, lies in adopting a truly comprehensive and global approach to tobacco control. When too many countries lag behind in implementing the FCTC, its governing body – the Conference of the Parties (COP) – should look for solutions, not shy away. In this sense, the spirit of the FCTC was put to the test at the last two COP sessions.
At COP5, a handful of Parties, led by Bolivia, tabled a proposal to set up a working group that would review and address barriers to FCTC implementation. At that time, there was little confidence in this inter-sessional mechanism: no budget was allocated for its meetings, and Parties that signed up for it did so reluctantly. The title of the working group, Sustainable Measures to Strengthen Implementation of the FCTC, and its seven-point mandate seemed complicated or unappealing to some, and suspicious to others.
While on paper the purpose of the working group was a bit confusing, the intentions of Parties that championed it were clear: All Parties together, not individually, need to come up with strategies to overcome obstacles that delay implementation of the FCTC at country level.
At COP6 in October 2014, after two meetings of the working group (funded by Australia and the European Union) the working group reported its initial findings. It identified three major obstacles to FCTC implementation:
- Continuing industry interference in tobacco control;
- Lack of resources, such as staff and funding, to implement FCTC measures;
- Weak coordination among stakeholders that are in positions to support FCTC implementation, both at country level and internationally.
The working group, led by key facilitators from the Cook Islands, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay, also submitted to the COP an initial set of over 25 recommendations to address these challenges, and requested that its mandate be extended until COP7 (scheduled for 2016).
Among others, the working group recommended that Parties promote inclusion of FCTC implementation in the post-2015 development agenda, and that they launch or support campaigns to raise the profile of the Convention.
The key recommendations however, were directed to the FCTC Secretariat and organisations such as the World Health Organization, UN Development Programme and the World Bank. They were asked to support Parties with implementation of the FCTC by:
- Developing a tool to determine a price-tag for FCTC implementation at country level, which would enable countries to calculate the resources they need to turn FCTC commitments into reality; and
- Establishing a methodology to quantify the costs of the tobacco epidemic to national economies.
- Having both these tools would tremendously support country-level efforts to demonstrate current capacities to implement the FCTC, the resource gap between desired and existing funding, and the return on investment to countries that tackle the tobacco epidemic. In summary, Parties would be equipped with solid data and evidence to make the case for additional resources for tobacco control.
As with every COP decision, the challenge now remains to follow up. COP6 neither established a timeline for the inter-governmental organisations to provide these tools to Parties nor allocated funding to develop them.
But implementing the working group’s recommendations is perhaps the easier part of the COP6 decision on sustainable measures. The working group has so far only scratched the surface: it identified barriers to FCTC implementation, but not yet all strategies needed to overcome them. Its next steps are far more ambitious than its initial mandate.
The renewed mandate of the working group contains three key elements:
- Identify what types of support Parties need to step up implementation of the FCTC;
- Assess the tools and assistance that currently exist for Parties, and identify remaining gaps
- Develop a longer-term strategy to ensure that all needs for implementation assistance are gradually met.
In addition, the working group was also tasked to develop options for the establishment of functioning national multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms, in line with Article 5.2(a) of the FCTC.
Yet again, the success of the Convention is being put to the test. The working group will have only one meeting (according to the FCTC workplan and budget) to address its mandate before reporting to COP7.
The stakes are high: millions of lives can be saved by the FCTC, but only if countries can implement its provisions, reach out for support when they need it, and work hand-in-hand to find solutions when they hit roadblocks.