Tobacco control: major steps made at the Conference of the Parties

15 October 2018

UICC and civil society organisations attended the Conference of the Parties (COP8) between the 1st and 6th of October in Geneva.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization and was developed in response to the global tobacco epidemic. Adopted by the 56th session of the World Health Assembly in May 2003, the FCTC entered into force in 2005.

The Conference of the Parties had its eighth session from the 1st to the 6th of October in Geneva. UICC and other NGOs such as the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) actively attended the conference. Ministers, Officials and representative from governments, international intergovernmental organisations and representatives from the civil society gathered to discuss, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, the future of tobacco control on the road to a healthier and sustainable world1. Twelve hundred delegates from all over the world came together for this important meeting.

COP8 delegates_credit WHOFCTC P.Virot

At the opening session, WHO’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the need to increase taxes, ban advertising and commit to universal health coverage. He highlighted that enough ratifications were secured for the protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products to come into force. Dr Tedros mentioned key achievements on tobacco control activities at the United Nations General Assembly, including the launch of the Tobacco Free Finance Pledge calling for the divestment of tobacco investments. Dr Tedros also highlighted the UN High Level Meeting of NCDs, held a few days earlier on the 27th of September in New York where world leaders committed to reducing premature mortality due to NCDs2.

At COP8, in her key note speech Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO FCTC, highlighted a new momentum by the convention in supporting and moving towards the delisting by the UN Global Compact of the tobacco industry from their roaster of private sector socially responsible companies bringing the tobacco industry to the level of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; and the promotion of ECOSOC’s recommendation to all UN agencies to adopt a model policy to not accept funds from the tobacco industry.

Dr Da Costa e Silva shed light on successful entry into force of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, a second treaty in its own right. She stressed the importance for this COP to focus around the need to protect the present and future generations and that tobacco control was pivotal in achieving the SDGs.

The WHO FCTC Secretariat released a report which provides an overview of the status of implementation of the Convention on the basis of the information submitted by the Parties in the 2018 reporting cycle. Presenting the report to all parties, Dr Vera da Costa e Silva said:

Dr Vera_ credit WHOFCTC P.Virot

“We are happy to report, based on the information received from the Parties in the 2018 reporting cycle, that progress is evident in implementation of most articles to the Convention, especially the time bound measures concerning smoke-free environments, packaging and labelling and tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship ban.”

The plenary ended with a high level segment on Tobacco control and global climate action involving a panel of experts. The role of Tobacco (its production, by-products and disposal) and its impact in health and climate change was brought up and the need for multi-sectoral action towards government policies on health and climate change was stressed at this session.

The rest of the week, the COP8 sessions were then mainly divided into two committees, Committee A, which dealt with technical matters and Committee B, which dealt with institutional and budgetary matters. The influence of the Tobacco Industry was clear by delay tactics and lack of support for amendments by some delegates. However, important decisions at this COP included the following:

Decisions adopted

  • The adoption of the medium-term strategic framework (MTSF), which can be used to adapt to local needs and to help parties implement the convention. The MTSF would help parties in prioritising activities and resources; a pilot project with two countries from each of the 6 regions was also recommended and agreed upon.
  • The concept of establishing the WHO FCTC investment fund, towards efforts for finding sustainable finances for implementing the FCTC (to be decided by COP9).
  • New strategies were adopted for preventing further interference by tobacco industry in public health policies, in line with Article 5.3 of the FCTC, which requires Parties to the treaty to protect national public health policies: “ from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.
  • The draft decision was submitted for adoption, regarding measures to strengthen implementation of the convention through coordination and international cooperation.
  • With regard to article 13 of the convention dealing with tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), it was decided to update implementation guidelines, especially to address cross-border TAPS and the depiction of tobacco in the entertainment media.
  • The setting up of an expert working group regarding articles 9 and 10 (regulation of contents and disclosure of tobacco products, including waterpipe, smokeless tobacco and heated tobacco products) in examining the challenges in the implementation of these articles.

Unfortunately, some decisions were suspended regarding human rights and postponed to the next COP which will be held in the Netherlands in 2020.

Overall, the spirit of the COP was positive with proactive engagement from the majority of delegates, who also acknowledged the progress of the implementation of the WHO FCTC and progress towards reducing mortality and morbidity caused by Tobacco. Also, another highlight of the week included UICC co-signing a letter with 105 NGOs to call on Switzerland to implement the WHO FCTC and to change its relationship with the tobacco industry.

How can we move forward?

UICC and its members can help in the implementation of the FCTC in their respective countries by encouraging their governments and policy makers to adopt and effectively implement the WHO FCTC treaty, to raise awareness on the harmful use of tobacco not just on prevention, but also for cancer patients who continue to smoke tobacco during their treatment. UICC is engaged in warning about ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery systems; and non-nicotine systems) and emerging heated tobacco products which are considered by the tobacco Industry as safe harm-reduction strategies, but for which clear evidence is lacking. In actual fact, lobby from the tobacco industry is very strong with powerful marketing campaigns targeted particularly at youth populations. Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and cancer death. In addition, tobacco has a negative impact on economies due to illicit trade, climate change and pollution and is linked to human rights abuses and child labour.

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Friday 7 June 2019