Opening Address

Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Geneva, Switzerland
21 June 2004

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you all to this Intergovernmental Working Group.

The adoption last year by the World Health Assembly of the Framework Convention was a great achievement. It opened up the way to effective action for tobacco control worldwide. Our task since then has been to ensure that the objectives of the Convention are achieved. Your proposals to the Conference of the Parties on its procedural, institutional, financial and budgetary implications will make a major contribution to this effort.

Although we have good reason to be confident, a relentless effort will still be needed for the foreseeable future. Tobacco is still the biggest preventable cause of death in our society. Its consumption is still increasing among women and in developing countries. 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. 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.

World No Tobacco Day this year focused on how tobacco exacerbates both ill-health and poverty, in a devastating vicious circle. The UN Secretary-General's recent report to ECOSOC on the work of the UN Task Force on Tobacco Control stressed the importance of its work for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

With 21 of the 40 ratifications needed, and 135 signatories, the Convention is well on its way to coming into force. I am pleased to announce that last Thursday, at a conference in Limerick, the instrument of formal confirmation of the Treaty by the European Community was signed. This is a great achievement for health in Europe and the whole world. We must continue to facilitate and speed up the process, and maximize its effect. I thank all countries for their commitment in this regard and urge them all to continue to strengthen their activities.

The implementation of the Treaty will mark a new era for tobacco control and for public health. Work within countries on the necessary programmes, plans and infrastructure is an essential part of the preparation for this new era.

To reinforce these activities, WHO is this week publishing a handbook called Building blocks for tobacco control. It provides practical advice, based on first-hand experience, on how to set up and run effective national programmes. We are also publishing information on best practices and successful strategies.

Recently, both Ireland and Norway have introduced comprehensive smoking bans in all public places, workplaces, restaurants and pubs. This has sent a very strong message to the world about how seriously the threat of tobacco has to be taken. Uganda is following suit with a similar law. Many other countries are revising their tobacco legislation to meet the requirements of the Convention. The more countries that do so, the clearer it becomes to others that strong measures can and must be taken.

These are very encouraging signs of progress. The Intergovernmental Working Group provides an excellent opportunity to consolidate these gains and prepare the way ahead.

When the Treaty enters into force, a permanent secretariat will support the States Party as they implement it. WHO will continue to be at your disposal for whatever technical, legal and institutional support it can provide for this.

On behalf of all those whose health and living conditions will benefit from it, I would like to thank you all for the hard work you are contributing to this worldwide effort. I wish you every success in your tasks of this week.

Thank you.