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Meeting at UN Headquarters agrees on need to stem illicit tobacco trade

Meeting at UN Headquarters agrees on need to stem illicit tobacco trade

As the International Conference on Illicit Tobacco Trade wrapped up at United Nations Headquarters in New York today, a senior World Health Organization official said the event had served to generate widespread agreement that will enhance upcoming negotiations on a global tobacco-control treaty.

Dr. Derek Yach told correspondents that the three-day meeting, organized by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, had served to produce a "strong, agreed text" for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and possibly a protocol on smuggling. Negotiators are set to resume talks on the treaty in Geneva this October.

Among other points of accord, participants shared "a sense of global solidarity about the need for people to join forces and strengthen border controls," Dr. Yach said.

Underscoring the need to tackle the illicit tobacco trade, he pointed out that, "smuggled cigarettes are cheap cigarettes, cheap cigarettes mean more consumption among the young and the poor, [and] that increases consumption markedly." Black-market cigarettes also evade health warnings while causing a "massive" loss of revenue of governments. At the same time, the illicit trade generated funds that can be used for criminal activity, including terrorism.

Some participants suggested that a percentage of the tax on cigarettes should be used to strengthen law enforcement - an approach which the United Kingdom had adopted with profitable results, Dr. Yach said. "With an investment of $300 million [the UK was] able to reap increased revenues of $3 billion by strengthening customs."

Although the meeting brought together two groups - public health professionals and law enforcement officials - who traditionally have different agendas, Dr. Yach said it fostered "a common sense of purpose of tackling tobacco control that will help us all."

The Conference was attended by representatives from 145 countries as well as several international agencies, including Interpol and the World Customs Organization.