Strengthening FCTC implementation: An overview from Seoul

Francis Thompson
Framework Convention Alliance

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Conference of the Parties (COP) held its fifth session in Seoul, Korea from the 12th to the 17th of November 2012. There were a number of important developments, both in adopting new policy guidance for the 176 Parties to the FCTC and in discussing how to speed up implementation.

On the policy side, the highest-profile decision was the adoption of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade (commonly referred to as the ITP). This new treaty, which has been under formal negotiation since 2008, will come into force once it has been ratified by 40 Parties, a process which may take several years. A comparatively small amount of money ($350,000) was set aside in the 2014-15 budget for preparing the first Meeting of the Parties to the ITP, with the Convention Secretariat being mandated to raise further money to prepare implementation.

In a related discussion, the COP rejected an application by Interpol to become an official observer at the COP because of concerns about Interpol’s decision, announced in June 2012, to accept a €15 million donation from Philip Morris International. This rejection was both highly embarrassing to Interpol, and an important signal to governments, as the tobacco industry is widely expected to attempt to offer ‘technical assistance’ for ITP implementation.

ITP adoption was largely a formality, the heavy lifting of finalising the text of the Protocol having been completed in April. On tax and price measures (Article 6 of the Convention), the task facing the COP was considerably more complicated: an intersessional working group was proposing draft guidelines that were seen as generally good but needed some further editing. The draft was referred to an open-ended working group that met in parallel to the two main committees of the COP.

In the end, the Parties were unable to complete the drafting process, but did adopt a ‘set of guiding principles and recommendations’ – which is expected to be useful for tobacco tax advocacy. In particular, the adopted document recommends regular adjustments to tax levels to take into account both inflation and income growth; specific tax systems, or mixed specific/ad valorem systems with a minimum specific tax floor; and long-term tobacco tax policies with tax rate targets. Australia undertook to pay for further work on the guidelines in 2013.

Other developments on the policy front:

  • The COP established an expert group on liability issues (Article 19), which should make recommendations on how to help Parties pursue litigation against the tobacco industry;
  • Draft policy options and recommendations on sustainable alternative livelihoods for tobacco growers (Articles 17/18) were referred back to the relevant working group, as the Framework Convention Alliance and a number of Parties had advocated. The tobacco industry-funded International Tobacco Growers’ Association had run an extensive scare campaign against this draft in tobacco-growing regions of Africa, South America and Asia.
  • On the regulation of product ingredients and emissions (Articles 9 and 10), further partial guidelines on ignition propensity and disclosure of information were adopted. The working group will pursue discussions in 2014-15, although its meetings will be limited      (key facilitators will meet with up to two representatives of each of WHO six regions), which will be accompanied by online communication.
  • On smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, the COP reached no particular conclusions, but is asking the WHO for further reports.

Discussions on FCTC implementation were more fruitful than at past sessions of the COP, with a number of important decisions taken.

First, Parties agreed to set up a working group to strengthen sustainable implementation of the FCTC – in other words, to look at why Parties have had such difficulty in getting technical assistance and financial resources for FCTC implementation. The working group can be expected to make recommendations on how to unlock domestic and international support for the FCTC.

Second, Parties agreed in principle to set up what is known as an implementation review mechanism – in other words, a formal system for reviewing Parties’ biennial reports.

Third, building on 2011 achievements, the Secretariat was mandated to continue promoting the FCTC within the UN system through the work of the UN inter-agency task force on tobacco control, which should increase the odds of tobacco control becoming a funding priority for bilateral and multilateral funders.

Fourth, as announced already in 2011, extrabudgetary funding will allow the Secretariat to pursue numerous needs assessment missions and up to six South-to-South cooperation demonstration projects in 2013.

Fifth, the Secretariat was requested to propose a comprehensive impact assessment of the first 10 years of the WHO FCTC being in effect.

The date and venue of the next COP are to be formally decided by the newly elected Bureau of the COP; Russia has offered to host the session, which is likely to be held in 2014 or early 2015.

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