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Tobacco Control: WHO Director-General Addresses History-Making Conference

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Address to the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Seoul, Republic of Korea
12 November 2012

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to address this fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Our shared goal is to see this treaty fully implemented, to see its powers fully used to reduce tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke, everywhere in the world.

As this session opens, support for the Convention has grown to 176 Parties, representing nearly 90% of the world’s population. This shows the scale of the impact you can have.

Since the treaty came into force seven years ago, the work of this conference has given more than ten articles of the Convention teeth and traction by creating supplementary instruments.

You have done so in a spirit of solidarity, fully mindful of the transnational nature of the tobacco threat, and fully aware of the need to build implementation capacity among Parties with meager resources. Success depends on a capacity to implement, everywhere.

In crafting guidelines and recommendations, this body reaches well beyond the domains of medicine and public health. You gather evidence and support from multiple sectors, like trade, finance, agriculture, education, labour, the environment, law enforcement, and the judicial system.

The work of this conference is a model of multisectoral collaboration but also of an interagency response, as you will be discussing during this session.

The Convention is a powerful instrument for prevention, but also for international cooperation. This importance has been recognized in recent political declarations on noncommunicable diseases and on the social determinants of health.

You are inspired by the preventive power of what you are doing. I can think of no other undertaking that can make such a huge contribution to better health in every corner of the world. And that includes the health of young children and unborn babies.

This has always been one of the anti-tobacco campaign’s most compelling arguments. Tobacco use is the epidemiological equivalent of a drive-by shooting. It hurts the innocent bystanders as well as those held captive by an addiction that damages their health.

You are united by a shared spirit of determination but also out of necessity, given the nature of the opposition, of the forces that are equally determined to undermine, circumvent, and interfere.

The tobacco industry behaves like a corrosive substance that can eat through, or seep through, any crack or fissure in the armour of our defences. Our response must be to seal all these cracks and fissures, one by one, with science and evidence, supported by instruments for applying this knowledge and backed by the rule of law.

This is what you are doing. This is what makes the work of this conference so monumentally important. With the guidelines and recommendations you put forward, and now with the first protocol before you for approval, you are hemming in the enemy, cutting off its options, giving it less space to manoeuvre.

As we know from experience, the tobacco industry will challenge the best science, promote arguments that have nothing to do with the facts, and fund front groups to give these arguments a cloak of legitimacy. This industry will lobby lawmakers, woo the press and, now, fund plaintiffs to challenge legislation.

In a recent and most disturbing trend, the showdown between governments, seeking to safeguard the health of their citizens, and industry, seeking to maintain its profits, has moved to the courtroom.

I know you will want to join me in congratulating Australia and Norway for recent rulings that upheld the legality of their tough control measures. We are united in our support for other countries facing similar interference.

See the complete speech here>