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Illicit tobacco trade contributes to global disease burden

Illicit trade in tobacco products contributes to the global death and disease burden caused by tobacco consumption, said the World Health Organization during an international conference on illicit tobacco trade being held at the United Nations in New York.

Illicit trade in tobacco products is the focus of the International Conference on Illicit Tobacco Trade (ICITT) being organized by the United States Agency for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It is also one of the many subjects covered by on-going global negotiations conducted by the World Health Organization's 191 Member States on an international treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

WHO says the illicit trade in tobacco products contributes to the global rise in tobacco consumption by making cigarettes cheaper and more accessible. This makes it more attractive, especially to people who are price sensitive and least able to afford health care, such as young people and the poor. It also allows cigarettes to be sold as singles instead of in packs, for instance, or in unregulated outlets that make it more accessible to youth.

Data show that one in two smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease. Tobacco kills over four million people every year and by 2020, it is estimated to kill 8.4 million people. Over 70% of these deaths will occur in developing countries. Tobacco consumption is amongst the largest preventable causes of death today. Bringing down this consumption rate to save lives has been declared a public health priority by the WHO.

“WHO is very concerned about the pernicious public health effects of tobacco smuggling on national and international tobacco control programmes," said Dr Derek Yach, WHO's Executive Director for Non-Communicable Diseases, at the opening session of the ICITT. "Tobacco smuggling undermines national pricing policies, deprives governments of revenues used to combat smoking, permits tobacco companies to subvert and undermine international co-operation in tobacco control and, above all, undermines legal restrictions and health regulations such as those that deal with health warnings and sales to minors.”

Illicit trade is a world wide problem, leading governments to join public health agencies in calling for stronger measures to combat the practice. Smuggled cigarettes account for 6% – 8.5% of global consumption, according to the World Bank. Nearly a fifth of all cigarette production is exported. Of that amount, almost one-third (30%) – about 355 billion cigarettes a year – finds its way into the contraband market.

Alarmed by the rising death and disease toll of tobacco, 191 Member States of the World Health Organization have initiated negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Four negotiating sessions have been held so far, starting in October 2000. This is the first time that the treaty-making clause in the Organization’s constitution has been invoked to address a public health issue. Among the topics covered by the FCTC are tobacco advertising and sponsorship, smoke-free public places, tobacco taxation, tobacco product labeling, education and research and illicit trade in tobacco products.

The New York International Conference on Illicit Tobacco Trade will develop approaches, and recommendations on effective measures or best practices to address illicit tobacco trade. These recommendations will inform the next negotiating session on the FCTC to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in October 2002.

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For more information contact:

Reshma Prakash
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 3443
Fax: (+41 22) 791 4832
E-mail: prakashr@who.int

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