On World No Tobacco Day (31 May), the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates the successes of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in the fight against the epidemic of tobacco use. At the same time, WHO recognizes that challenges remain for the public health treaty to reach its full potential as the world's most powerful tobacco control tool.
Since it was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003, 172 countries and the European Union have become Parties to the WHO FCTC. Among other measures, the Parties are obliged over time to:
This year, the tobacco epidemic will kill nearly 6 million people, including some 600,000 nonsmokers who will die from exposure to tobacco smoke. By 2030, it could kill 8 million.
The treaty's ultimate success against the tobacco industry depends on the extent to which the Parties meet all of their obligations, says the WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. More needs to be done for the treaty to achieve its full potential. It is not enough to become a Party to the treaty. Countries must also pass, or strengthen, the necessary implementing legislation and then rigorously enforce it.
Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of non-communicable diseases – such as heart attack, stroke, cancer and emphysema – which accounts for 63% of all deaths, nearly 80% of which occur in low- and middle-income countries. Up to half of all tobacco users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.
Many of the Parties have made tremendous strides in implementing the treaty. For example:
However, much more needs to be done, as the Parties own reports indicate. For example, of the 65 Parties that submitted mandatory reports twice, 40 reported progress in raising tobacco taxes, 39 in making public places smoke-free and 35 in strengthening research and surveillance of tobacco control. One-third to one-half of the 65 Parties reported progress in strengthening health warnings on packages of tobacco, in banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in helping smokers to quit and in protecting public health policies from tobacco industry interference, among other measures.
The WHO FCTC is the most powerful tobacco control tool at our disposal, and countries should take full advantage of it, says the Head of the Convention Secretariat, Dr Haik Nikogosian. The need to fully implement the treaty is especially great in the low- and middle-income countries, which is where the tobacco industry is focusing its marketing efforts. International cooperation to facilitate Parties' compliance with the treaty is crucial.
Where technical and funding gaps exist, Parties must gather the necessary resources, with the essential help of the international community. WHO offers technical assistance and policy guidance to its Member States to help them meet their commitments under the treaty.
One area where we would like to see improvement is in the provision having to do with the protection of public health policies from influence by the tobacco industry, says the Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, Dr Douglas Bettcher. Ever hungry for profits, the tobacco industry routinely tries to undermine governments' attempts to control the epidemic. Although some countries have begun to implement policies rejecting partnerships with the tobacco industry and making their interactions with the industry fully transparent, we would like to see more progress in this area.
The WHO FCTC entered into force in 2005. The last country to become a Party was Turkmenistan on 13 May 2011. The Conference of the Parties is the treaty's governing body; it is supported by the Secretariat.
World No Tobacco Day is celebrated every year on 31 May as a mandate of the World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of WHO, which is comprised of the organization's Member States. World No Tobacco Day informs the public about the dangers of tobacco use, the business practices of tobacco companies, what WHO is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic and what people can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.