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Global tobacco treaty enters into force with 57 countries already committed

Parties represent 2.3 billion people

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) enters into force on Sunday 27 February 2005. This represents an historical moment in public health, as the Treaty gives countries more tools to control tobacco use and save lives. On the 27th, the provisions of the Treaty will be legally binding for the first 40 countries that became Contracting Parties before 30 November 2004.

Tobacco is the second leading cause of death globally, causing nearly five million deaths a year. Estimates show that it will prematurely kill ten million people a year by 2020 if current trends are not reversed. Tobacco is the only legal product that causes the death of half of its regular users. This means that out of 1.3 billion smokers, 650 million people will die prematurely.

Seventeen additional countries have become Party to the treaty since 29 November. For these, and every country which becomes Party from now on, the Treaty becomes legally binding 90 days after their date of deposit of the instrument of ratification or equivalent at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

"Already 57 countries have become Party to the WHO FCTC, representing 2.3 billion people. Its entry into force is a demonstration of governments' commitment to reduce death and illness from tobacco use," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. "I encourage all countries to become Party to this Treaty, and to implement the range of measures which will make tobacco use less and less attractive to people. This can result in millions of lives saved, and that is where the real success of this Treaty resides," he added.

Now, with the entry into force, countries Party to the WHO FCTC are bound to translate its general provisions into national laws and regulations. These countries, for example, will have three years from the day it enters into force for that country to implement measures to ensure that tobacco packaging has strong health warnings, or five years to establish comprehensive tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans, among others.

"Many countries have already put these measures in place," said Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Director of the Tobacco Free Initiative at the WHO. "The difference for global tobacco control is that countries Party to the Convention will be able to implement these and other measures, especially those with cross-border implications, in a coordinated and standardized way. This will leave fewer loopholes for the tobacco industry, which currently finds ways to circumvent national laws."

Evidence shows that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Tobacco use is the cause of the majority of lung cancer cases and it has been linked to many other types of cancer, such as cervical and kidney cancer. Other health risks associated with tobacco include heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases; bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases as well as infertility. Tobacco use continues to expand, especially in the developing world, where currently half of the deaths due to tobacco occur. If current trends continue, seven out of every ten deaths due to tobacco will occur in the developing world by 2020.

Notes to editors

The WHO FCTC was unanimously adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly in May 2003. The WHO FCTC closed for signature on 29 June 2004 with 168 signatories (including the European Community). The first 40 Contracting Parties to the WHO FCTC were Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, Ghana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Qatar, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay.

Since 30 November 2004, the following have also deposited the instrument of ratification or equivalent: Botswana, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, Spain, Timor-Leste, Turkey, United Kingdom and Viet Nam.

The WHO FCTC has provisions that set international standards on tobacco price and tax increases, tobacco advertising and sponsorship, labelling, illicit trade and second-hand smoke among others.

The Treaty continues from now on to be open for ratification, acceptance or approval for those countries that have signed, and is open for accession for those that have not. There is no deadline for countries to become Contracting Parties to the WHO FCTC.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) will be the governing body of the Convention that will decide on technical, procedural and financial matters relating to the implementation of the Treaty. Countries that deposit the instrument of ratification or equivalent before November 2005 will be voting Contracting Parties during the first COP, which is scheduled to take place in February 2006.

For more information contact:

Ms Marta Seoane
Communications officer
WHO/Tobacco Free Initiative
Telephone: +41 22 791 2489
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5551