Achievements during 2016 and expectations for the coming year

The tobacco control highlight of the year was the international gathering of the treaty’s governing body, the seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7) in November. This was the culmination of an extensive period of work for the staff at the Convention Secretariat, helping prepare delegates for the largest agenda in COP history. The volume of reports and agenda items indicates Parties’ enthusiasm for the Convention and the growing role of tobacco control within areas of development and human rights, as well as public health.

Before the commencement of COP7 in New Delhi, a series of regional preparation meetings were held for Parties around the world, enabling delegates to gain insights into the main issues on the agenda. All documents for COP7 were successfully prepared and made available to Parties 60 days before it began.

The decisions reached in New Delhi will shape the Convention for the next two years and these are set against the urgent need to support strong tobacco control measures if the world is to avoid the estimated one billion deaths during the twenty first century caused by tobacco use.

Noting with concern that the tobacco industry’s tactics at the international level affects implementation of the Convention at a country level, COP7 urged Parties to intensify multisectoral actions and cooperation to address tobacco industry strategies which aim to undermine or subvert tobacco control.

The decision on electronic nicotine delivery systems and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems was widely reported by the media. Those Parties that had not yet banned the importation, sale and distribution of ENDS/ENNDS were invited to consider either prohibition or regulating such products. COP7 called for further unbiased, commercially independent and scientifically-based research to ascertain the overall health impact and long-term public health risks of ENDS/ENNDS.

Issues linked to tobacco growing and developing alternative sustainable livelihoods for farmers proved important at COP7. The decision encouraged Parties not growing tobacco to not start cultivation. It urged Parties to adopt a whole-of-government approach and participation with stakeholders to promote alternatives to tobacco growing and avoid tobacco industry obstruction in programmes meant for welfare and diversification of tobacco growing, supporting workers and the protection of the environment.

Parties also adopted the report from the expert group on liability, which included the development of a toolkit to help Parties implement Article 19, on civil liability. Parties were encouraged to consider options, including developing their legislation or liability procedures to recover health care costs caused by treating victims of tobacco.

Breaking new ground at COP7, the Parties considered how tobacco use and tobacco control has consequences for girls and women, as well as boys and men. Apart from calling for further research on gender aspects of tobacco control, the Parties also sought special attention to be paid to vulnerable groups.

Strategically, the connection between the environment and human rights and tobacco control was accepted by the Parties. COP7 tied tobacco control to a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Looking to 2017 the Convention Secretariat will be strengthening links between the Convention and other international agencies and frameworks, enhancing synergies towards common SDGs.

These advances were assisted by the Convention Secretariat’s increased collaboration and coordination with UNDP, WHO, and other observers during 2016. This involved the Convention Secretariat working with different United Nations agencies as well as and the World Health Organization in promoting and supporting the prevention and control of NCDs.

The team in Geneva led the drafting of material on implementation of the WHO FCTC for the inter-agency task force on tobacco control report for the 2016 session of the UN Economic and Social Council. The team also updated the matrix of collaborative work among members of the task force and for the first time the Convention Secretariat’s unique role in supporting implementation of the Convention was highlighted. The report, adopted in June 2016, call on task force members to support implementation of Target 3.a of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to create smoke-free premises and adopt the model policy on preventing tobacco industry interference.

An important announcement during COP7 sees the launch of a large new project aimed at supporting low- and middle-income countries wishing to increase implementation of tobacco control strategies. The fund is provided by the government of the United Kingdom and will be implemented by the Convention Secretariat in collaboration with UNDP, WHO and other UN agencies Parties are encouraged to submit proposals so that new initiatives can get underway by spring 2017.

Meanwhile, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products now only needs 16 Parties for it to enter into force. It is anticipated many more Parties will ratify the Protocol during 2017, in time for the first Meeting of the Parties, to be held along with COP8 in 2018.

The Protocol offers real advantages to the well-being of society and the economy at large. Eliminating the illicit trade in tobacco is estimated to produce an annual tax windfall of US$ 31 billion for governments. It will also improve public health, help cut crime and curb an important revenue source for the tobacco industry.

The Protocol adopts specific measures on supply chain control, including the establishment of a global tracking and tracing regime, on law enforcement and on international cooperation. If left unchecked, the illicit trade increases access to, often cheaper, tobacco products, fuelling the tobacco epidemic and undermining tobacco control policies.

2017 is shaping up to be an equally important year for the WHO FCTC as its influence extends into new areas of implementation. The Convention Secretariat is also preparing the largest workplan in its history, promising to deliver even greater support for global tobacco control measures.