The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 7th Conference of the Parties highlights tobacco industry tactics

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [WHO FCTC] 7th Conference of the Parties [COP7] met in New Delhi, India, 7 - 12 November. Delegates from 180 countries plus non-governmental organisations with official observer status, including The Union, attended. For the last 10 years COP’s purpose has been to build consensus across Parties on how the policies proven to reduce tobacco use should be developed and implemented. But COP7 focussed on how these policies can be implemented more quickly, effectively and consistently around the world.

‘The commitment and investment we have observed in many countries during these lengthy negotiations have resulted in real change, surpassing what even the most optimistic public health advocates projected when the WHO FCTC was first negotiated, ‘said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘Billions of people are now protected from tobacco use and its devastating effects on health and economies. But it still kills more than six million people each year. This COP helped us focus on how to expedite this life-saving work.’

Parties agreed that a new strategic framework for the WHO FCTC should now be developed to formalise the implementation review process. It will be designed to help prioritise assistance needs for Parties on specific areas of WHO FCTC implementation, and streamline reporting arrangements from Parties to the Secretariat. Sustainable measures will also be built into the new framework.

Other key areas of debate were the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP); e-cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems; and Article 5.3 – preventing tobacco industry interference. Although the ITP is not yet in force, countries were encouraged to work proactively on issues around illicit trade to ensure it can be implemented with impact when the time comes.

Tobacco industry interference remained forefront throughout the week. This COP brought to light a finessed industry strategy to obstruct and delay progress during sessions. Because country delegations do not have to declare links with the tobacco industry, COP has always been subject to some interference. But official observers to COP7 noted increased coordination between those seeking to delay and obstruct progress, especially with regard to the e-cigarette debate. Decision-making on e-cigarettes was affected, as legal and procedural issues were raised time and again.

Two agenda items relating to tobacco industry interference and transparency were significant: first, that Party delegates should declare any tobacco industry links, and that those with links could be excluded; second, that the presence of the media and public during COP debates should be subject to new, tighter rules.

‘We urge countries to wholeheartedly pursue the goals they committed to when they became Parties to this ground-breaking treaty,’ said Dr Latif. ‘Measures to prevent the tobacco industry from interfering in public health policy are now of the utmost importance if we are to succeed in curbing the tobacco epidemic and its current devastating trajectory.’

A major announcement during the week was a £15 million contribution from the United Kingdom to the Secretariat for national-level implementation of the treaty in low and middle income countries. It is hoped that other nations will follow the UK’s lead, resulting in additional funding from the international development budgets of high income countries.

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