UN tobacco control convention marks fifth anniversary

Pictorial warnings on tobacco packs

26 February 2010 – The United Nations tobacco control convention ¬– called a true triumph for public health by the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) and among the most widely embraced treaties in UN history – turns five today.

“The tobacco industry is ruthless, devious, rich, and powerful. As we all know, neither WHO nor public health is rich, but with the Framework Convention now in place, we are indeed powerful,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, in her opening remarks at today's celebration in Geneva of the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO, the Convention entered into force on 27 February 2005 and has since become one of the most widely embraced UN treaties with 164 parties.

An estimated 5 million people annually – the equivalent of one person every 6 seconds – die from tobacco-related illnesses such as cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The Convention aims to lower these rates by calling for and supporting measures that reduce the demand for and supply of tobacco, such as stronger tax and price measures.

"The Convention demonstrates that health can indeed persuade other sectors to take action, through taxes, graphic health warnings, legislation, and marketing bans," Dr. Chan said.

According to a recent analysis of 117 national implementation reports, nearly 80 per cent of the Parties to the Convention prohibited sales of tobacco products to minors and 70 per cent have introduced large, clear and visible health warnings on the packages of tobacco products.

Dr. Chan noted that while levels of tobacco use have dropped in many affluent countries, they are on the rise in developing countries which are seen as “the new frontier for the marketing of tobacco products” particularly to girls and women. She also noted that the world is shaped by “the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles,” which includes smoking.

She added that more could be done to curb tobacco's popularity using already established tools.

“Tobacco taxes are the most effective way to reduce tobacco use. Yet only 21 countries have tobacco tax rates greater than 75 per cent of the retail price,” Dr. Chan said.

The first protocol to the Convention aimed at combating illicit tobacco trade is being negotiated, and Dr. Chan noted that the tobacco industry is describing itself as “responsible” and asking to be a part of the negotiations.

“The answer is a firm no,” she said.

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