Global perspective Human stories

UN health agency hails agreement on global anti-tobacco treaty

UN health agency hails agreement on global anti-tobacco treaty

Gro Harlem Brundtland
In what is being hailed by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) as a milestone in the history of public health, representatives of more than 170 countries have agreed to the first-ever global anti-smoking treaty designed to impose restrictions on the advertising and marketing of tobacco.

The sixth and final round of negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) ended late Friday evening in Geneva, with WHO Member States agreeing on guidelines governing tobacco taxation, smoking prevention and treatment, illicit trade, advertising, sponsorship and promotion and product regulation.

Hailing the convention as a major step forward for the health of peoples and nations, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said millions of lives will be saved as countries will now be "working systematically together to protect the lives of present and future generations, and take on shared responsibilities to make this world a better and healthier place."

The final text will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May for adoption. Once it has been adopted, the FCTC will be opened for signature by Member States and will come into force shortly after it has been ratified by 40 countries. The text requires signatory parties to implement comprehensive tobacco control programmes and strategies at the national, regional and local levels. The text also explicitly recognizes the need to protect public health, the unique nature of tobacco products and the harm caused by manufacturers.

The Convention - the first-ever under the auspices of a UN agency - is part of a global strategy to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world. Without a coordinated international intervention, WHO predicts the number of deaths will rise to 10 million per year by 2020.

Some of the key elements of the final FCTC text include requirements that health warnings will cover at last a third of cigarette packaging, restriction on misleading terms such as "light," "mild" or "low-tar," and giving priority to public health in any conflict between health measures and trade agreements. The text also recognizes that tax and price measures are an important way of reducing tobacco consumption, particularly among young people.

While all countries agreed that a comprehensive ban would have a significant impact in reducing tobacco consumption, some have constitutional provisions - covering free speech for commercial purposes, for example - that will not allow them to implement a complete ban in all media. The final text requires parties to move towards a comprehensive ban within five years of the treaty entering into force, but also contains provisions for countries that cannot implement a complete ban by requiring them to restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within the limits of their laws.


to UN Radio report