WHO tobacco convention set to become law by year's end



One of the most rapidly embraced UN conventions — the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — is set to become binding international law by the end of 2004, just one year after the landmark document originally opened for signature in Geneva.

The Convention closed at the end of June with signatures from 167 WHO Member States as well as the European Community and 23 ratifications or equivalent — over half the number required to make it a legal instrument. Adopted unanimously by all WHO Member States in May last year, it is the first public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO.

Whilst the rapid response to the Convention demonstrates increasing commitment by governments in controlling the epidemic of tobacco-related diseases, WHO Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook, said yet more action was needed.

"Although we have good reason to be confident, a relentless effort will still be needed for the foreseeable future. Current projections show a rise of 31% in tobacco-related deaths during the next twenty years, which will double the current death toll, bringing it to almost ten million a year," said Lee during a meeting of the Intergovernmental Working Group in Geneva which took place between 21 and 25 June. "When the treaty comes into force, national and local activities aimed at reversing these trends will be enormously strengthened. The result will be improved public health and reduced poverty."

WHO has urged signatory countries to ratify the Convention as soon as possible and is currently helping governments to prepare for the moment the Convention is brought into force.

"The sooner the 40 ratifications are in place, the sooner effective and coordinated actions within the Framework Convention at country level can begin," said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, Assistant Director-General from WHO's department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "Countries can rely on WHO for continued support," she added.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was designed as a tool to manage what WHO describes as the single biggest preventable cause of death. There are currently 1.3 billion smokers worldwide. Half of them — some 650 million people — are expected to die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease.

Containing provisions that set international standards on tobacco price and tax increases, advertising and sponsorship, labelling, illicit trade and passive smoking, the Convention will become law for those countries which have ratified it (or adopted an equivalent instrument) 90 days after the fortieth ratification.

The parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — those who had ratified it or adopted an equivalent instrument as of 30 June 2004, are Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cook Islands, Fiji, Hungary, Iceland, India, Japan, Kenya, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia and Sri Lanka.

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