WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – two decades for health
Twenty years have passed since the adoption of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. According to Professor Pekka Puska, the Convention has accelerated the reduction of smoking worldwide and supported the development of the Finnish Tobacco Act – despite opposition from the tobacco industry.
Professor Pekka Puska worked as a director at WHO from 2001 to 2003 and closely followed the negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control led by WHO. Subsequently, he chaired an international expert group that assessed the impact of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the first and only legally binding international public health treaty. The need for the Convention is undeniable.
“Tobacco is a truly exceptional product. It is the largest cause of health problems globally and the single leading cause of death. Every year, eight million people die because of tobacco,” Puska says.
At present, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been ratified by 182 parties, including the EU. Finland ratified the Convention as soon as it entered into force in 2005. The ratification was a natural step because, according to Puska, Finland is a pioneer in international tobacco policy.
“The Finnish Tobacco Act was already well advanced at the beginning of the 2000s and corresponded well to the Convention. There were no legal problems with the ratification process.”
Tobacco policy can be improved with the support of the Convention
Puska explains that the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has had the greatest impact in developing countries, almost all of which have adopted tobacco legislation as a result of the Convention.
In Finland and other Western countries, the Convention has provided support for tobacco legislation, as the international objective is to implement the Articles of the Convention as fully as possible. The Convention has been utilized, for example, in the case of e-cigarettes and new nicotine products.
“Dozens of countries have already banned e-cigarettes and new nicotine products with reference to the Convention,” Puska explains.
With the support of the Convention, the Finnish Tobacco Act can also be further developed. For example, it has been proposed to raise the age limit for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 20 years.
“Our smoking ban in restaurants is also slightly flawed by smoking booths, but this year the working group to develop tobacco and nicotine policy in Finland proposed that restaurants be made completely smoke-free.”
The Convention binds legally
Puska reminds us that the Finnish Parliament has ratified the Convention, which means that it is legally binding. However, according to Puska, Finland still needs to improve its compliance with the Convention, especially regarding Article 5.3. According to the Article, the interests of the tobacco industry must not affect the decisions of public authorities over the use of tobacco and nicotine products.
“Many people think that the Article only refers to health authorities, but in reality, it refers to the public administration as a whole. The tobacco and nicotine policy development working group has proposed that Article 5.3 be added to Section 1 of the Tobacco Act. The implementation of the article 5.3. is very important in Finland as well abroad.”
The tobacco industry slows down development
Although smoking has declined globally, the tobacco industry is struggling to hold on to their shares.
“When people started talking about the harmful effects of tobacco, the industry developed filters, followed by light cigarettes, which were later found to allow smoke to be inhaled deeper into the lungs. With new nicotine products, the tobacco industry is now trying to get in from every loophole, and the legislation cannot always keep up.”
Despite the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the tobacco industry remains very powerful, especially in developing countries. Without the Convention, however, it would be even more powerful, Puska believes.
“The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has provided international backbone in tobacco contol. However, more support is needed. It has been said in many developing countries that tobacco policy is governed by an invisible hand, the tobacco industry.”
Tobacco is mainly grown in developing countries and the least respected Articles of the Tobacco Convention specifically concern tobacco cultivation, Pekka Puska points out. Article 17 calls for tobacco farmers to be supported in the transition to alternative crops, but there are limited funds available for this in developing countries. Article 18, also poorly implemented, concerns the prevention of environmental damage caused by tobacco cultivation.
The Convention supports sustainable development
Puska emphasises that the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is also important from the perspective of sustainable development. Tobacco hampers sustainable development in terms of not only health but also, for example, poverty reduction, equality, the environment, and economic growth.
“The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a tool for the UN’s programme for sustainable development.”
Puska believes that without the Convention, globally smoking would have declined much slower. The Convention also has great value as an international example.
“The Convention is an example, and something similar would be needed for many other things. For example, a similar treaty has already been proposed for pandemics and alcohol.”
What is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control?
- The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was adopted by the World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003.
- The Convention entered into force in 2005 and was ratified by Finland in the same year.
- The Convention has been ratified by 182 parties.
- The Convention has 38 articles, which include obligations to protect citizens from environmental tobacco smoke, to ban direct and indirect tobacco advertising, to provide support for quitting smoking and to protect against the activities of the tobacco industry.
- The parties to the Convention are also encouraged to take more far-reaching measures, for example with regard to tax and price policy.