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Anti-tobacco convention's fifth anniversary

26 February 2010 -- The fifth anniversary of world’s first global public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control provides a time to reflect on its achievements.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at the achievements of WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the world’s first global public health treaty. This internationally co-ordinated response to combating the tobacco epidemic entered into force in February 2005 and has just celebrated its 5th anniversary. Today 167 countries plus the European Community have signed up to the Convention. It aims to reduce the demand and supply of tobacco through a number of measures, such as protection from exposure to tobacco smoke, curbing tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and educating people to the dangers of the smoking habit.

Some years ago, tobacco company executives described WHO as the industry’s single biggest enemy. WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan gave us her reaction.

Dr Margaret Chan: We have always been extremely proud of this distinction and have actually worked really hard to improve our reputation. That distinction turned out to be farsighted. As time would tell, the industry’s biggest enemy had some truly big things in store.

As we all know, the tobacco industry is ruthless, devious, rich, and powerful. As we all know, neither WHO nor public health is rich, but with the Framework Convention now in place, we are indeed powerful.

As we mark this fifth anniversary, we are celebrating a true triumph of public health. We are also paying tribute to a model of international collaboration, for the sake of health protection, in a world of radically increased interdependence.

Veronica Riemer: Tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced with developing countries being the most vulnerable. They are the new frontier for the marketing of tobacco products. Mr Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Ambassador of Brazil to the Vatican City was responsible for leading the Framework Convention negotiations.

Mr Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa: Tobacco is by all means the deadliest substance widely available on earth. I firmly believe that the right to health is one of the core rights of any human being and that it should thus be actively ensured both at the national and international level.

We achieved an innovative, meaningful and effective public health instrument to curb the escalation of smoking and other forms of tobacco use in order to prevent tobacco related illness and death. The FCTC will mobilize governments worldwide to coordinate their policies in order to effectively deal with the many different requirements of tobacco control.

More than 9 lives are lost every single minute and 70% of them occur in the developing world. Such a tragic situation if allowed to continue will progressively set up another pattern of inequality between north and south; a fatal smoke screen, if I may call it so, that will further penalize the vast majority of mankind living in the developing world.

Veronica Riemer: Norway was the very first country to ratify the convention in 2003 and since then has been a very strong supporter of tobacco control. Mrs Bente Angell-Hansen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations at Geneva tells us why.

Mrs Bente Angell-Hansen: Norway with its long history of tobacco control has made use of the Convention and the process leading up to it in order to gain momentum for our national policy development and legislation. The process itself provided support to our prohibition of smoking in restaurants and bars that entered into force in 2004. During the last 10 years the percentage of the population smoking in Norway has been reduced by one third. Still however, 21% smoke on a regular basis - hence the job is also in my country is not yet done.

The national picture is influenced by the international one. The tobacco epidemic truly is a global one, meaning that no country can combat it alone. Even countries with advanced regulations and policy can risk to loose against multi national advertising, smuggling and illicit trade with tobacco products. The globalization of the epidemic has forced us to engage internationally to protect existing as well as future generations. We need strong instruments to curb this very serious health problem.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like further information about the work of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, please see the links on the transcript page of this podcast.

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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