Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

The WHO FCTC: a global health treaty

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is the first global health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization. This convention is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. It represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties, the WHO FCTC asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies as well as supply reduction issues.

The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. The spread of the tobacco epidemic is exacerbated by a variety of complex factors with cross-border effects, including trade liberalization, direct foreign investment, global marketing, transnational tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the international movement of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes.

From its first preambular paragraph, which states that the “Parties to this Convention [are] determined to give priority to their right to protect public health”, the WHO FCTC redefines the role of international law in preventing disease and promoting health. The core demand reduction provisions in the Convention are contained in Articles 6-14, which detail the price, tax, and non-price measures necessary to reduce the demand for tobacco. The core supply reduction provisions are contained in Articles 15-17. Another novel feature of the Convention is the inclusion of a provision to address liability issues. Mechanisms for scientific and technical cooperation and exchange of information are set out in Articles 20-22.

This Convention shall enter into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the fortieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval, formal confirmation or accession with the Depositary. At that time, States Party to the WHO FCTC will become legally bound by its provisions. The Convention opened for signature on 16 June 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland. It remained open for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Depositary of the treaty, until 29 June 2004. States that have signed the Convention have indicated that they will strive in good faith to ratify it and committed themselves not to undermine the objectives set out in it. Although the Convention is no longer open for signature, states that did not sign the WHO FCTC may nevertheless become a party to the treaty through accession, which is a one-step process equivalent to ratification.

The global network of state and non-state actors developed over the period of the negotiations will be important in preparing for the implementation of the Convention at country level. In the words of WHO's Director General, Dr LEE Jong-wook:

The WHO FCTC negotiations have already unleashed a process that has resulted in visible differences at country level. The success of the WHO FCTC as a tool for public health will depend on the energy and political commitment that we devote to implementing it in countries in the coming years. A successful result will be global public health gains for all.

For this treaty implementation to materialize, the drive and commitment that was evident during the negotiations will need to spread throughout the national and local levels, so that the WHO FCTC becomes a concrete reality where it counts most: at the country level.

The Convention

More information

Share