Opening remarks

Intergovernmental Negotiating Body on the WHO framework convention on tobacco control at its sixth session

Geneva, Switzerland
16 February 2003

Chair, your excellencies, distinguished delegates, friends and colleagues,

At the first meeting of the Working Group on the WHO framework convention on tobacco control, in October 1999, I said at the opening:

“At this year’s World Health Assembly, Health Ministers and officials from WHO’s Member States had the foresight and courage to speak up strongly against tobacco. (…) Tobacco exporting and importing countries, surveying the death and destruction caused by tobacco on their people, their economies and their environment, called for accelerated work to begin on the framework convention. Their message was this: take action so that the global spread of tobacco is circumscribed. Take action so that the number of tobacco deaths can be brought down. Our mandate is clear.”

It was then. It is now. Our mandate is clear. We have to maintain the courage and vision that the then 191 Health Ministers showed, nearly four years ago. We must act this week so that we arrive at an effective framework convention on tobacco control, a framework convention that will assist countries in curbing tobacco use within their national context. During the four years we have spent negotiating this treaty, the annual death toll has jumped by 900 000 people. This alone is motivation enough to move forward, inspire and focus, to act swiftly and decisively.

This shows the power of the process. We have come a long way. Member States have led the way in taking actions, and nongovernmental organizations have galvanized international attention and support.

So what is an effective framework convention?

Surely, it is not a framework convention that just states the obvious, which does not direct us towards the goals needed to bring down the damage from tobacco, and only maintains the status quo. That would not be an effective treaty.

At the last INB, I told you how I had – during the INB4 – to plainly dismiss the letter about voluntary codes of agreement for advertising and promotion of tobacco and its products. As I did four years ago, I believe that the tobacco epidemic is an advertised disease. The Chairman’s text makes clear that on issues such as advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the ultimate objective is a complete ban, and it provides for such a ban through binding declarations. This is in accordance with WHO and World Bank policy.

An effective framework convention obliges us all, inspires action, sets clear goals, which can be taken home and used to forward the continuous national work which now lies ahead of us. The FCTC will set a foundation on which to launch a continuous process of international cooperation. This Convention is a universal instrument which aims at bringing solutions to the challenges and special needs of all countries. In the course of the negotiations and through related activities around the world, this concept has been reinforced.

The treaty is just a first step of a long process. We will soon need to turn our attention to creating protocols to address specific issues. Back in our countries, laws need to be written, advocated, passed and enforced. Budgets with the right tax provisions for tobacco products will have to be upheld every year. Smuggling must be fought, not once and for all, but every day of every year. Information campaigns and surveillance must be designed and carried out, not only once, but time and time again. I have myself witnessed how we in Norway saw tobacco use reductions stagnate and even partly reverse when we took things too much for granted.

Some will say that “setting goals”, “inspiring”, or “showing the way” is not enough, that without strict rules and prohibitions, the Convention will not “have teeth”. From my 30 years of experience in international work, for the environment, for democracy, for development, for women’s rights, and for global health, I know we depend on broad support to be able to move effectively forward. When I look back, the most effective international treaties are those which have set clear and realistic goals and which have inspired the many.

And they have had teeth: as will the FCTC. Effective international treaties start with powerful reporting systems which highlight deficiencies in the implementation of the treaty and help identify tools to resolve these challenges.

This week we need to work with mutual trust and confidence to find common ground, setting goals based on the clear needs of public health.

And let us always keep in mind that if we fail, we strengthen the hand of the tobacco industry. We may think that the tobacco industry would want a bland and unambitious treaty. That will be so, but even more, it would love a treaty that never will be ratified by a large number of key countries. Never be put into action. Never lead to less death and disease.

Two weeks ago I attended a meeting hosted by the European Commission in Brussels concerning tobacco control and development policy. In that meeting, several developing countries stressed the need for international assistance for national tobacco control efforts.

The replies from the Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Mr Poul Nielson and the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mr David Byrne were loud and clear: They stated that tobacco control is both necessary and possible and should be included as an integrated part of development policies. These important statements from the world’s biggest provider of development assistance – echoed also by the representatives of World Bank and bilateral donors – is most encouraging. The donors are ready to provide support if governments are ready to prioritize tobacco control.

Let us also keep in mind that this is the time for decisions.

Let us spend the coming two weeks mobilizing our best experience and resources. This is a treaty for all.

It is a treaty for those countries who struggle against an overwhelming onslaught of tobacco marketing, of smuggling and of a financial straightjacket, countries with young and incomplete legislation and lack of resources for enforcement and information.

It is a treaty for countries that have the most effective policies. Even they need FCTC to stop cross-border smuggling, advertising and marketing – and will benefit from sharing of cutting edge policies that work elsewhere. It is a treaty for countries which face constitutional or other limitations but that are determined to push forward.

This is a treaty for the global common good.

It is a treaty aimed at saving lives. Hundreds of millions of lives, only in our own lifetime.

We are fortunate enough to have a text in front of us that can achieve what we want to achieve. I would like to thank you, Ambassador Corrêa, for working so hard to produce it. It is a text, which, when voted into existence, can be an important tool for the government that wants to go to the greatest lengths in restricting tobacco supply and demand in their own countries, as well as for those who have no choice but to make compromises as they move forward towards our important goals.

We are all facing a unique and historical opportunity. Let us live up to the greatness of this moment and over the coming days find the solutions we need to save our peoples from the death and suffering brought on by tobacco.

Thank you.