By Al Munzer
Chair, Board of Trustees, Action for Smoking and Health (ASH)
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was developed in response to globalisation of the tobacco epidemic, and has been widely embraced by the world community. The FCTC now includes 176 parties, representing 88.6 percent of the world’s population.
However despite much early enthusiasm, the success of the convention is threatened by failure to engage all segments of governments in tobacco control, thus preventing the implementation of proven, effective tobacco control measures, particularly an increase in taxes on tobacco products.
The convention is also endangered by international trade and intellectual property rights agreements invoked by the tobacco industry, which could be interpreted as superseding domestic law; by an absence of resources for tobacco control beyond those provided by philanthropies; and by the failure of some countries to endorse the convention.
If the objective of the FCTC is to be met, tobacco control cannot be left to health ministries alone. Instead, it must be integrated in all government programmes and agencies, including those that deal with taxation and commerce, and woven into the whole fabric of international relations, especially international trade and mutual assistance.
For that to happen:
• The international community should stop protecting the tobacco industry and promoting its exports, and move to exclude tobacco from all free trade and intellectual property agreements.
• Donor countries should incorporate tobacco control in all bilateral and multilateral assistance programmes.
Tobacco is a uniquely lethal product; implementation of the WHO FCTC will bring us closer to a world free from premature death, disease, hunger and poverty.