21 May 2003 -- The world's first ever-global tobacco control pact was adopted at the 56th World Health Assembly. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) represents a key step in the global strategy to reduce tobacco-related death and disease worldwide. If left untackled, the tobacco epidemic could kill ten million people every year by 2020.

In 1999, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution requesting the WHO to submit to the World Heath Assembly of 2003 a Framework Convention for control of tobacco use. When ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) would be the first ever-international convention on health.

Negotiations lasted four years and after 6 meetings of the International Negotiating Body held during the four years, a final draft was approved by the member States of the WHO in the early hours of March 01, 2003. The reason for the lengthy negotiations was the stiff opposition for a strongly worded FCTC by the USA, Germany and Japan, the leading cigarette producing countries of the world.

There are two further steps required before the FCTC becomes operative. Firstly, it has to be adopted by the Health Ministers who will be meeting in Geneva at the World Health Assembly to be held from May 19-28, 2003. Secondly, the Convention after adoption has to be ratified by a minimum of 40 countries.

At the final plenary meeting of the International Negotiating Body, certain countries led by USA and Germany stated that they would reopen certain issues at the World Health Assembly when the draft FCTC is presented for adoption. Some of the contentious issues mentioned were advertising, minimum size of health warning, sales to and by minors, definition of advertising, sponsorship and promotion, and reservations.

South East Asian (which includes all the South Asian countries except Pakistan), African, and South Pacific countries of the WHO that fought hard for a strong FCTC, stand firm on the present text because these are the very countries targeted by the industry to expand its market. They were backed by members of civil society represented by over 180 NGOs from around the world that are members of the Framework Convention Alliance.

Some governments have already been approached by the world heavyweights and it is the role of every member of civil society, including the media, to ensure that Health Ministers remain undeterred by this behind the scene pressure when they meet this year at the World Health Assembly. Will health prevail over trade or will trade prevail over health ? that is the Million-Dollar question.

GENEVA—The 192 members of the World Health Organization today unanimously adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) aimed at curbing tobacco-related deaths and disease. This is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Convention requires countries to impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, establish new labelling and clean indoor air controls and strengthen legislation to clamp down on tobacco smuggling.

“Today, we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people?s health for generations to come. This is a historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle a threat to health head on,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO to the 56th World Health Assembly.

“Now we must see this Convention come into force as soon as possible, and countries must use it as the basis of their national tobacco-control legislation,” she said. Four years in the making, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been a priority in the WHO?s global work to stem the tobacco epidemic. Tobacco now kills some five million people each year. This death toll could double to reach 10 million by 2020 if countries do not implement the measures of the FCTC. While smoking rates are declining in some industrialised countries, they are increasing, especially among the young, in many developing countries. These will account for over seventy percent of that projected death toll.

“We must do our utmost to ensure that young people everywhere have the best opportunities for a healthy life. By signing, ratifying and acting on this Tobacco Convention, we can live up to this responsibility,” said Dr Brundtland. To bring the FCTC into force, forty countries are needed to ratify or otherwise accept it.

“Every country present in this room will testify to the challenges we faced as we worked on this final document. We now have to ensure the agreement we have reached will do what is intended to do ? save lives and prevent disease,” said ambassador Luis Felipe Seixas de Corr?a, the Brazilian diplomat who chaired the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body of the FCTC. The 6th round of negotiations, which arrived at the final text, finished on 1 March 2003.

The FCTC will be open for signature at WHO headquarters from 16 to 22 June 2003 and thereafter at the UN headquarters (New York) from 30 June 2003 to 29 June 2004.

Story from WHO