Fifty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee
13-17 September 2004, Shanghai, China
Government commitment to tobacco control in the Western Pacific Region* faces a crucial test next year with the proposed implementation of more stringent and comprehensive tobacco-free intervention measures to reduce the health and economic costs of smoking.
The World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, meeting in Shanghai, China, is expected to endorse tomorrow its regional plan of action for the Tobacco Free Initiative, 2005-2009.
All countries in WHO's Western Pacific Region have now signed the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. So far, ten countries in the Region have ratified the FCTC: Brunei Darussalam, Cook Islands, Fiji, Japan, Mongolia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Singapore and Solomon Islands. The 17 remaining Member States who have yet to ratify the Convention were encouraged to do so as soon as possible.
Only 11 more countries need to ratify the Convention for it to become law. WHO is optimistic that by the end of the year, 40 countries will have ratified the Convention, enabling it to enter into force.
The FCTC seeks to reduce tobacco-consumption through advertising bans, larger health warning labels on tobacco products, measures to protect against second-hand smoke, tax and price increases and efforts to eliminate illicit trade.
The Initiative urges countries to find national funding to ensure sustainability of the programme. Prior to this, plans of action relied on external sources of support to fund country activities.
In the Western Pacific Region, 3000 people die each day from tobacco use, one-third of tobacco-related deaths in the world.
"A steep rise in deaths-particularly in developing countries-is the grim forecast for the near future, unless strong concerted action is taken worldwide," Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, reported to the Regional Committee. "The complex nature of tobacco epidemic requires a transnational approach for effective control."
"Tobacco control is an ongoing process that involves long-term investments in capacity and sustainability and it is important that recent progress be sustained," said Dr Omi.
Tobacco not only impoverishes those who use it but also places an enormous financial burden on countries through higher health costs, lost productivity due to illness and early death, foreign exchange losses, and environmental damage.
WHAT IS THE WHO FCTC?
The World Health Organization Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a legally binding treaty negotiated by the 192 WHO Member States. As WHO's first public health treaty, it provides the basic tools for countries to enact comprehensive tobacco-control legislation. Key provisions in the treaty encourage countries to:
- Enact comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
- Obligate the placement of rotating health warnings on tobacco packaging that cover at least 30% (but ideally 50% or more) of the principal display areas;
- Ban the use of misleading and deceptive terms such as "light" and "mild" cigarettes;
- Protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in workplaces, public transport and indoor public places;
- Increase tobacco taxes.
Final agreement on the WHO FCTC was reached at a gathering of the World Health Assembly, WHO's governing body, in Geneva in May this year, after nearly four years of negotiations.